Protecting Your Intellectual Property

Just like you protect your physical property — locking your car doors, keeping a close eye on your wallet or purse, or maybe even installing a home alarm system — any intellectual property that belongs to you needs to be protected as well.

Intellectual property (IP) is any product of your human “intellect” that the law protects from unauthorized use by others. It could be an invention, a song, a book, a brand or slogan, a formula, or an algorithm. It’s essentially any original piece of work or idea that you create, and therefore, should be protected from others who may try to copy it or profit off of it in some way, without giving you proper credit or compensation. 

4 types of intellectual property rights

Depending on the type of IP you have, there are different categories of protection rights. The most common categories are trademarks, copyrights, patents, and trade secrets.

Copyrights

A copyright protects original works like books, articles, paintings, photographs, illustrations, musical compositions, computer programs, and movies. The creator of the work has immediate copyright as soon as they write, draw, film, compose, or design it. You can register your work with the U.S. Copyright Office and your registered copyright will typically last for your entire lifetime plus 70 years. And like any physical property you own, your copyrights are transferred to the heirs of your estate after you die. Even when you’re no longer around physically, your IP lives on (and can continue to make money) — Michael Jackson made $48 million last year and Dr. Seuss raked in $33 million.

Companies or organizations can also be copyright owners. Copyright law allows ownership through “works made for hire,” which means if you create something as an employee or contractor, the copyright will, in most cases, belong to the company that employed you.

Trademarks

A trademark protects a person or company’s brand name and/or logo. Companies take the protection of their trademarks very seriously, as the brand is often a company’s most valuable asset. Google’s trademark is the most valuable in the world, worth an estimated $44 billion, which is more than a quarter of the company’s overall value.

You can search for registered trademarks and file for your own with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A trademark examiner will review your application to make sure no one else has already registered something like it, then it will be published in a public register to allow anyone to object. If it’s approved, the trademark will remain in effect for 10 years and need to be renewed every decade thereafter.

Patents

Patents protect new ideas, processes, and inventions. After a patent application is filed with the USPTO, an examiner reviews and makes sure the invention is not already patented by someone else.

If a patent is granted, it’s valid for 20 years from the application’s filing or 17 years from when the patent was issued (whichever is longer). One thing to note is that not just any random thing can be patented — patent law specifies that something must be “useful” and operate to perform its intended purpose (in other words, it needs to actually work) to be granted a patent. Also, if you invent something on behalf of your company, your employer is generally entitled to that IP — unless there’s a contract that states otherwise. 

Trade secrets

A trade secret is specific, private information that gives you an economic edge over your competitors and has value to others who cannot legitimately obtain it. It’s also subject to “reasonable efforts to maintain its secrecy” according to the USPTO. A couple of well-known examples of trade secrets are the recipe to Coca-Cola and KFC’s secret blend of 11 herbs and spices.

The Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA) established a private civil cause of action for the misappropriation of a trade secret. This provides a reliable, uniform way to protect trade secrets. (So Colonel Sanders can rest easy!)

Protect yourself and your business

Intellectual property laws were created to obtain, protect, and enforce your IP rights. They protect you and/or your company from others who may try to steal your IP for their own financial gain. In doing so, they also protect the very foundations of innovation and creativity. 

As Washington D.C. intellectual property lawyer Kevin Bell says, “IP laws encourage more people to come up with new ideas, inventions, works of art, literature, and music, which fosters to create new things and improve old things.”

If you have an idea or piece of work you want to protect, or if you’re considering starting a business that will have intellectual property, there are many things to consider. 

You might consider establishing your business legally, in order to better protect your assets. A Limited Liability Company (LLC), for example, combines the best parts of corporations, sole proprietorships, and partnerships into one business entity and will offer certain liability and personal asset protection. This helps protect you against lawsuits or creditors that may try and go after your personal assets. With an established LLC, creditors can only collect against your business assets, which can be handy if something like a lawsuit involving valuable intellectual property comes into play.

It’s helpful to consult an attorney when trying to best understand your options for protecting your IP. You can even search for attorneys and law firms in your area who specialize in intellectual property law, via the LegalMatch database.

 

*Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and not intended to provide specific advice or legal recommendations. It is only intended to provide general education about intellectual property protections. Any ideas or strategies discussed should not be undertaken by any individual without consultation with a qualified legal professional.

Call for Nominations: Regional Director – Western Great Plains

Alpha Kappa Psi is seeking nominations for a volunteer to fill the position of Western Great Plains Regional Director. Due to unforeseen circumstances Ryan Miller, West Virginia State’12, has resigned as regional director.
The regional director is charged with working closely with the chapter educational resource coordinator, regional volunteers, and the vice president to ensure a quality student experience. Through the support of effective chapter operations and the learning and development initiatives of the fraternity, the regional director has a lasting impact on the professional and personal growth of Alpha Kappa Psi students and volunteers. A list of chapters in each region can be found here on akpsi.org.
Specific duties include, but are not limited to:
  • Supporting the chapters in the region, including ensuring deadlines are met, and policies are followed;
  • Setting goals for the region which align with and support the Fraternity strategic plan and goals;
  • Evaluating the chapter success plans to ensure chapter sustainability and individual member growth;
  • Recruiting, training and maintaining a Regional Management Team, including chapter advisors, regional managers, and section directors; and,
  • Maintaining communication with the Professional staff, Management Team, and the Western Great Plains region.
Nomination and Application Process:
  • Parties interested in the position must be nominated by a student or alumni chapter, the Fraternity President, or the CEO.
  • A nomination from a student or alumni chapter must be accompanied by the signatures of eight (8) members in good standing, excluding a member of the Fraternity Board of Directors. Eligible candidates must be an alumnus member in good standing.
  • Nominations and all necessary signatures must be submitted, via email to Jason@akpsi.org
  • Those interested in the position must also submit an application via the MyAKPsi Community. Once logged in, navigate to Volunteer Central and click the Vacancy name to submit an application.
  • As a part of the application and review process, you’ll be asked to complete the Volunteer Orientation course (approximately 30 minutes).
Upon nomination, qualified candidates will participate in an interview process with the fraternity Management Team. Upon the recommendation of the vice president, the fraternity president and/or CEO will nominate a candidate to the Fraternity Board of Directors for appointment. The appointed regional director will take office effective immediately.

How to Raise Funds When Starting a Business

Entrepreneurship is an essential driver of our economy and impacts nearly every area of our lives. Think about the various products and services you use every day. Ever stop and wonder about their origin? Some visionary from the past invented that toothbrush you used this morning and that electric coffee maker that dripped out your cup of joe. Our country was founded by entrepreneurs — Ben Franklin invented everything from bifocals to the flexible urinary catheter. He’s even credited with establishing America’s first free library.

Maybe you have a business idea you’ve been ruminating on, or maybe the idea of entrepreneurship just feels like a great path for you. There are so many opportunities out there and different avenues for getting your business off the ground. 

Tracy York, co-founder and vice president of customer success for HG Insights, recently joined the AKPsi Business Edge Podcast to share his experiences as someone who has successfully founded multiple companies — one which went on to acquisition in 2010. “For those thinking about starting a company, there’s opportunity out there. All kinds of firms looking to build teams, to fund companies… it’s a pretty amazing environment in the ecosystem,” he said.

Securing seed money

Regardless of the size or scale of the business you hope to build, you’ll need some level of financial investment to get started. The first step is to calculate your costs and funding needs. The plan and vision you have for your business will shape what that need looks like. No financial option is one-size-fits-all, so once you figure out how much initial money you’ll need, you can start evaluating the various options for acquiring that funding.

Bootstrapping

If you already have a few bucks in the bank (or know someone who does), self-funding or “bootstrapping” might be a good option for getting your business off the ground. Self-funding can come from dipping into your savings, investment from family and friends, or even tapping into current investments like your 401k.

The benefit of self-funding is that you get to retain total control of your business. On the flip side, you also take on all the risk. It’s important not to bite off more than you can chew financially, so talk to a financial advisor about your best options.

Crowdfunding

If you’re on social media, you’ve no doubt seen crowdfunding campaigns for just about every product and idea imaginable. Platforms like Kickstarter and CircleUp have made crowdfunding a popular avenue for raising small amounts of money from a large number of people (the “crowd”). It’s low risk for entrepreneurs to raise money this way since the people who contribute aren’t considered investors and don’t get a financial stake in the business.

Crowdfunders usually contribute because they’re passionate about your idea and want you to see it through. They’re essentially giving your project money upfront in order to be a future customer or be involved in some way. Even though you won’t technically owe your crowdfunders anything financially (whether the business takes off or not), you can still offer extra incentives or perks to those who choose to invest. 

Small business grants & loans

Another way to retain control of your business aside from bootstrapping is with a grant or small business loan. With most lenders, you’ll need a business plan, expense sheet, and financial projections for the next five years in order to secure a loan (and just having those items doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to get it). 

If you have any trouble getting a loan (e.g., the bank thinks your business idea is too risky) you can look into SBA-guaranteed loans. With an SBA-guaranteed loan, if for some reason the borrower (you) can’t repay the loan, the lender can still recover 50 to 85 percent of the outstanding loan balance from the SBA (Small Business Administration). This reduces the lender’s risk, making them more likely to approve the loan. But as the borrower, you’re still on the hook to pay that money back.

Depending on what your business idea is, you might also qualify for a federal grant. Government agencies often give out grants to small business owners and entrepreneurs. Grants.gov has a database of grants administered by various federal agencies, from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Justice.

Venture capital

Whether you’re just starting out with an idea and a dream, or you’ve already gotten your seed money and are a few years into your business, venture capital firms can provide you with funding to grow your business. 

Venture capital is funding that’s provided by investment banks or well-off investors (aka rich people) to startups and small businesses that these investors believe have the potential to grow and give them a big return on their money. Venture capital investments are typically offered in exchange for ownership and an active role in the company.

The biggest question many entrepreneurs have is where to find venture capital funds and how to get these investors to share the wealth. One way the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recommends connecting with VCs is through a referral from a financial professional, like a lawyer or CPA. Networking is also important — try to make genuine connections with venture capitalists in your extended network and always be ready to pitch if you find yourself in the room with one.

What VCs care about most is getting a good return on their investment, so do some financial projections and know your balance sheets. The better you can sell the potential of your business, the more likely you are to secure funding. 

On the podcast, Tracy York described what it felt like when pitching his business: “It’s very nervewracking to be in that first pitch meeting and trying to do what’s going to bring the company the funding to keep going, but you learn from those experiences… you’re not going to nail every pitch. It can take months, and rejections, and not getting meetings. But if the idea is there, you’re going to find the right market and understand what didn’t go right before, what may need to change, and what’s that right story to put out there.”

Find a mentor 

Launching a startup is a ton of work and completely new territory for most people. Finding a mentor who has done it before is a great way to get advice that can help you navigate these uncharted waters. You can get introduced to potential mentors by way of family and friends, or through your professional networks like AKPsi. You can also check out The SBA’s Office of Small Business Development Center in your state. They can help you get hooked up with potential mentors, other resources, and even help you apply for federal grants. 

 

*Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and not intended to provide specific financial advice or business strategy recommendations to any individual. It is only intended to provide education about general information and available resources. Any ideas or strategies discussed should not be undertaken by any individual without consultation with a qualified financial professional.

 

Taking Care of Business as a Freelancer

You’ve probably heard the term “gig work” or the phrase “gig economy” in the news quite a bit over the last few years. A lot of that conversation has focused on the new category of gig jobs created by app companies like Uber and Instacart. 

But for years — long before you could order up a ride to the airport or a tofu breakfast burrito from your phone — there’s been a workforce of independent contractors or “freelancers,” doing professional, often high-paying jobs for clients and businesses. And the prevalence of freelance work has only increased since the COVID-19 pandemic.

A study by Upwork found that 36% of American workers freelanced in 2020, and three in five say they’re making the same or more money freelancing than they would be working for a traditional employer. The study also found that as much as half of the total Gen Z workforce has freelanced at some point in the last year, and nine out of 10 plan to continue.

Freelancing has been a way for some people to get by after losing their job or needing to scale back during the pandemic. But for many, freelancing is a career choice. They enjoy the freedom that comes with working for themselves, choosing the projects they take on, and working remotely on their own time. Both small businesses and large corporations (and everything in between) hire freelancers to help with various projects, from copywriting to graphic design to data science.

There are plenty of benefits to freelance work that you might find enticing — setting your own hours, avoiding office politics, or even a “pants optional” dress code. But being a freelancer also means you are your own employer — there’s no sales or accounting team to take care of things for you. Finding clients and managing the business is up to you. There’s a lot to consider and plan for, especially when you’re just getting started. So let’s dig into some basics.

 

Establishing your business 

Obviously, the first step to becoming a wildly successful freelancer is to buy one of those placards for your desk that says “Every Day I’m Hustlin” or “Girl Boss.” But after that, it’s probably important to make sure your business is legally established.  

 

DBA vs. sole proprietorship

The most common ways freelancers set up shop is with a sole proprietorship (i.e., an unincorporated business under your name) or a DBA (“doing business as”) if you want to establish a business name other than your own. As a sole proprietor, you don’t have to register or file any paperwork with the government; however, there is a bit of risk. You’re personally liable if the business (you) gets sued or incurs any debts. For a DBA, you’ll have to file an application, and each state has different laws and requires different permits or business licenses. LegalZoom has some good resources to help you decide which route to take and how to get started.

 

Finding clients

As a freelancer, you are your own salesperson when it comes to securing clients. You can tap into your existing network, make new connections, market your services online, or ideally, all of the above. 

If you don’t already maintain a portfolio or personal website, that’s a great place to start. Having an online presence gives you a place to send potential clients who want to take a look at your work to see if your skills might be a good fit for their project. You don’t need anything fancy, and there are plenty of sites where you can build a basic website — like Squarespace and Wix — that require little to no coding or design abilities. There are also free portfolio sites where you can host your work, like Contently and Behance.

Networking online via LinkedIn and at in-person events (when it’s safe to do so) is a great way to put yourself out there, whether it’s to learn from others in your field or solely to drum up business. And reaching out to acquaintances and friends in your professional networks (like your Alpha Kappa Psi brothers!) is a great way to get referrals or intros to potential clients.

 

Contracts

No matter the size or scale of a project, it’s essential to have clear, detailed parameters in place with written agreements on both sides. Having formal documentation to sign shows your clients that you’re a professional and protects you legally should any problems arise with important things like, you know, getting paid for your work.

A “freelance contract” or “letter of agreement” is a document you should have in place with each client and project you take on that explains the terms you’ve agreed on — what work will be performed, at what rate, for what length of time, etc. It’s a legally binding document that sets expectations and ensures both parties are on the same page.

Sites like LegalTemplates and even Microsoft Office provide free, downloadable templates for freelance contracts as well as other documents you’ll need, such as invoices and statements of work.

 

Pricing

One of the most challenging things for many freelancers is deciding how to structure their fees. There’s no formula or algorithm that can tell you precisely what you should charge, as there are so many factors that come into play. The tricky thing is finding that sweet spot in which you’re not selling yourself short by charging too little (know your worth!) but not setting your fees way too high and pricing yourself out of the running with potential clients.

Hourly pricing is pretty typical for freelancers as it keeps things relatively simple. You set a fixed rate and bill by the hour. The only thing to be mindful of when charging by the hour is making sure expectations are clear, and the lines of communication are open between you and your client. For example, it can be helpful to estimate upfront how many hours you think a project will take and let your client know if you feel something may require more time.

With a project-based or “fixed” pricing model, you charge one fixed rate to complete a project. This is a good option if the project has clearly defined deliverables. But keep in mind, some projects tend to grow bigger than anticipated (creatives often call this “scope creep”), and the final deliverable can end up taking way more time than you bargained for — and you still only take home that same set amount of money. 

Doing a little research can help when setting your rates. Sites like Upwork and Glassdoor can give you an idea of average hourly rates for freelancers in different regions and industries. You can also ask around. Network with other freelancers (ideally, those you’re not competing with) and see what they charge and how it compares.

 

Financials & taxes

To keep your personal finances separate from your work finances, you might consider opening a business account to deposit your earnings and pay for any business expenses. Another important thing for someone self-employed is to have a safety net in savings, in case you were to lose a client. Intuit recommends having at least 4-6 months’ worth of earnings saved. 

Another consideration with freelancing is that you don’t get some of the same benefits you might have when working for a traditional employer, namely health insurance and retirement benefits. But there are options available for self-employed people; you just have to decide which ones are right for you. A qualified financial advisor can help you understand what your options are for retirement plans. As for health insurance, The Freelancers Union recommends researching your options and checking your eligibility for any free or subsidized plans. They also have an online tool for finding handpicked insurance plans for freelancers

 

Filing taxes

As if filing taxes every spring wasn’t painful enough, being a freelancer can make things a bit more complicated when settling up with Uncle Sam. As a freelancer, you’re considered self-employed by the IRS, meaning you have to file your taxes as a business owner. 

You’re probably familiar with working for a traditional employer and getting a W-2 that reports all the income you earned that year. As a freelancer, you’re responsible for gathering and reporting all your sources of income from all the projects you’ve done. (This is again why having written documentation with all your clients is important, as well as maintaining a separate business bank account.) You should also receive a 1099-NEC form from each of your clients if you did work for them exceeding $600.

When you’re self-employed, you also get stuck with the self-employment tax on top of your regular income tax (the current rate is 15.3%). This is in place of the Social Security and Medicare taxes deducted from your paycheck with a traditional employer.

It’s not all bad on the tax front, though; there are also some benefits. When you’re considered self-employed, the government allows you to take deductions for business-related expenses, like home office equipment, internet, business travel, etc. (Check out Investopedia’s list of 15 Tax Deductions and Benefits for the Self-Employed.)

If you’re considering a career (or even just a side hustle) as a freelancer, definitely talk to a qualified professional for advice on all the financial and tax-related implications. The Smartasset Advisor Match tool is an easy way to find financial advisors in your area.

 

*Disclaimer: This article is for general informational purposes only and not intended to provide specific advice or career recommendations. It is only intended to provide education about the financial considerations for freelance work. Any ideas or strategies discussed should not be undertaken by any individual without consultation with a qualified financial professional or career consultant.

Winning at the Side Hustle with Nick Loper

Exploring the option of a side hustle? We’re learning all about it this week with Nick Loper, the creator of sidehustlenation.com. Nick left behind a corporate job to explore a few side hustle ideas, and now Side Hustle Nation is enough to cover his living expenses and more. Tune in today to hear how he did it, and how you can, too!

Nick Loper helps people earn money outside of their day job. He’s an author, online entrepreneur, and host of the award-winning Side Hustle Show podcast, which features new part-time business ideas each week. As Chief Side Hustler at SideHustleNation.com, he loves deconstructing the tactics and strategies behind building extra income streams.


External Links:

Connect with Nick Loper

Side Hustle Nation website