Thanksgiving, and the Winter holiday chaos that ensues are just around the corner. Once they arrive, most non-retail businesses can expect things to go into a sort of “standby” mode until after the new year. the entertainment industry, in particular, goes pretty quiet at this time of the year.
A few to-dos
So, before the holidays really start getting in the way, here are a few to-do items you might consider to make sure your business hits the ground running in the New Year.
Protect your intellectual property
For many of us, especially those in Entertainment and Media, intellectual property like Copyrights and Trademarks are our primary, most valuable assets.
Yet many folks, individuals and businesses alike, neglect taking the important (and relatively simple) steps necessary to protect these assets against loss by infringement, dilution or downright theft.
Registering your copyrights is easy and relatively inexpensive. Most people can do this themselves online at Copyright.gov. the Web site isn't the most intuitive, but if you read carefully, you can manage.
If you prefer, having an attorney help with this is still pretty affordable.
Registering trademarks is a bit more complex, and I personally discourage the do-it-yourself approach. I've seen it too often. A Trademark gets rejected over a matter that could easily have been avoided by properly tailoring the application to the specifics of the owner's business and brand. these things CAN be fixed, but experience shows that it's more cost-effective to get this right at the
Register Internet domains
If you haven't registered domains for all of your brands, titles, etc., there's no time like the present. Be cautious about google-searching for your brands or ‘testing' possible domain names unless you're ready to purchase them if you find them available. Registrars sometimes grab up such domains, so they can resell them at a premium.
Check your contracts
If you're in business, you have contracts… deals… agreements. End-of-year is a great time to look at all of your pending deals and determine things like
due dates, expiration dates, option renewal periods, and the like. Do yourself a huge favor. Make a list of these dates, and put them in your calendar, with an alert or warning set to remind you 30 – 45 days in advance. Remember that doing necessary paperwork to renew, exercise an option, or whatever may require a lawyer's help… so you'll need a bit of extra time to make sure things get done.
Start an entity
If you've been considering forming loan-out, corporation, LLC or other business-entity, or just formalizing a partnership, the beginning of the new year is a perfect time to do it. This greatly simplifies your accounting and taxes. Your lawyer can help prepare the paperwork, and arrange for it to be filed on the first business day of the new year.
Dissolve old, disused entities
Do you have businesses that aren't operational any more? Are you paying taxes and annual filing fees to keep a corporation or LLC “open” unnecessarily?
Year-end is the time to address these things, so you don't incur another year's worth of these expenses. Consult your lawyer about this. there may be good reasons to keep a company “alive”, but in many cases, dissolving the entity makes sense. the good news is that it's a matter of relatively simple paperwork. Why not get started now?
Do you operate a Website? Who doesn't nowadays?
Have you taken a close look at your site's Terms of Service, Privacy Policies, User Generated Content Policy and the like? If your site is more than just an online business-card, you should probably have customized these documents specifically for your business needs.
Register your DMCA Agent
If you run a Web site that accepts comments or other content from users, you can take advantage OC the DMCA safe-harbor (immunity from lawsuits related to such content). But only if you register your site and designate an agent for service of notices.
Visit the copyright office website and download the form yourself, or have your lawyer do the filing for you. Designating your DMCA Agent is simple, and a wise investment of time, energy, and money.
Strategic Planning / Business Plan Update
Year end is a perfect time to schedule some time for a review and update of your Business Plan (you DO have a business plan, don't you?). It's also a great time to do some short- mid- and long-range strategic planning. As the saying goes: “Fail to plan; plan to fail.”
Many business lawyers (myself included) offer business plan consulting services in addition to their strictly legal service.
Assess your business' operational systems
Whether you're an individual or a company, you use systems to handle your business. You may not even realize that you have systems… but they're there. Now is a great time to take a step back and evaluate what systems you already have, and whether they're working?, and to add or fix things to streamline your operations. Here are some example systems to explore:
- Client/Customer acquisition
- Client/Customer Service
- Client/Customer Communication (marketing, sales, PR, etc)
- Billing and Collection
- Employee/Staff acquisition, retention and termination (Human Resources)
- Employee/Staff Training
Check your insurance coverage
Are you carrying enough insurance? Have your needs changed? Do you have more (or fewer) assets to protect? Do you have health, life, accident, professional liability, Errors & Omissions, home/renter, and business premises policies? Should you?Here again, a short conversation with your lawyer might help you assess your needs in these areas.
Get your Financial Records Organized
Take time now to get all of this years' records in one place, sort, etc., and get them ready to send to your accountant. Think how great it will feel to know that you'll be ready to file Before April 15th!
Fund your retirement accounts
Some kinds of contributions are tax deductible if made before year end. So, it makes sense to max these out now. Obviously, consult your tax and financial advisers about this kind of thing.
Succession and Estate Planning
Sad to say, a disproportionate percentage of people die during the holiday season. Have you figured out what will happen to your business, your family, and your property if something happens to you? It doesn't have to be complicated, but it does have to be done properly. Not having these things memorialized in a will, trust or succession plan leaves things open to interpretation, and disagreements. That leads to lengthy court-proceedings that can hamstring your business or your family's finances. Think about it now, so you can forget about it before Christmas.
The Holidays will be upon us before you know it. Now is the time to take a critical look at your business and get things in order, so you can enjoy the season, and get the next year off to a roaring start!