Welcome to Week 2 of the Audit Your Blog mini-series. This week I’ll be chatting about researching the legalese your blog needs. But before we get into that, as a reminder, last week we talked about the legal questions you need to be asking about your blog. If you haven’t read that post yet, go click on over there and check it out. That post was all about asking the right questions in order to make sure your blog is legally protected. So if you haven’t answered the questions yet, what are you waiting for? You obviously can’t move onto step two without finishing step one. I’ll wait here while you finish…
Ok, now that you’ve got your questions answered, let’s get to it! This week we are going to discuss doing the research to figure out the “legalese” your blog needs. That’s just a fancy way of saying the legal language and legal protections you need to make sure that your blog and business protected. So let’s dive on it.
First let’s talk about your content since content related questions were the first section of questions for you in week one. (Oh and as a reminder – I am a US based attorney, so this post is mainly geared towards US bloggers, but can apply to international bloggers as well. Additionally this post should not be seen as legal advice.)
1. Privacy Statement
First off if you collect any personal information on your blog (like credit card data, but also even if you get email addresses in order for someone to leave a comment), you need to have a privacy statement. Having a privacy statement is required by US law if you collect any personal information about your readers. In most cases you probably do collect info even if you don’t realize it, like email addresses that I mentioned earlier. Therefore, understand what info you collect and start researching how you’re going to convey that info in your privacy statement. Additionally if you have an email list, think of how you want to convey that you are protecting and aren’t sharing people’s email addresses.
2. Copyright Statement
Next, if you have original work on your blog (which is probably pretty likely), you should also include a copyright statement on your blog. This lets others know that it is your original work and you aren’t (or maybe you are) okay with others taking it. Using the simple copyright symbol ©, year of publication and your blog, business or personal name on your website is a good start. You can include this statement on every page of your blog. However, you should also have a more detailed copyright statement that lets others know: what work is your personal work and the permissions you give to others to use or republish your work, such as allowing them to reproduce for profit/nonprofit, allowing reproduction only with attribution, never allowing reproduction, etc. Start thinking what you’re comfortable with when it comes to others reusing or reposting your content.
3. Terms and Conditions
Overall think more about the rules of your blog and how you want to protect your readers and your own content as well. You can include copyright and privacy clauses as part of your terms and conditions. Overall, think of all the scenarios where you need to protect your content and check out the linked post above for more info.
If you use affiliate links (the links where you get a “commission” if someone buys after clicking on your link) or you do sponsored posts, you need to be sure that you are always disclosing this. The Federal Trade Commission regulates traditional advertising and sponsorships and they want to make sure that bloggers are doing it right too. Learn more about blog disclosures here and make sure that you are always, always, always being up front and not shady when it comes to disclosing your monetary relationships when working with brands.
You should disclose in individual posts or social media promotions, but you should also create a general disclosure statement for your blog. The statement doesn’t need to be really formal or technical, so start brainstorming how you can write disclosures to fit in with the personality of your blog.
Next let’s talk about money. If you want to run your blog as a busienss you should be keeping track of your money right now. Even if you’re not making a dime. This is important for several reasons. First, it’s because you can claim deductions for certain qualifying expenses for your business. Second, once you start making money you need to report it on your taxes and pay the taxes that you owe. That’s why it doesn’t hurt to start tracking today. Last week, I asked if you know how much you’re earning/spending and if you have a method for keeping track. If you aren’t keeping track – start right this second!
I have previously explained how your blog can actually save you money through qualifying deductions for your blog or business. The IRS understands that businesses can lose money for the first year or more due to start up costs and getting your business up and running. Makes sense – you are buying things and still working towards making a profit. If you in fact spend more in qualifying expenses than you earn, this can be a deduction against any other money you earn (such as if you have a day job).
As a blogger, there are several legitimate expenses related to running and managing your blog. Think of things that are pretty obvious such as the cost of your blog design, your web hosting fees, and the cost of monthly services. For example for me, I pay for Convertkit, Leadpages, Teachable for my courses and Board Booster for Pinterest. Since these are all related tot the business of my blog, they are some of my deductible expenses. So start thinking about the money that you spend on your blog, as well as the money coming in. Start researching different accounting software programs or even just start with a spreadsheet to get yourself organized.
6. Business Forms
Lastly, let’s talk about different types of business entities. If you’ve done absolutely nothing as far as formally incorporating your blog or business, then you are currently running as a sole proprietor. For most bloggers or online biz owners especially when you’re first starting out it is totally fine to stay this way.
However you should also do your research on one of the other most popular forms which is the LLC. This type of business form shields you from personal liability, but there are also requirements and fees for filing as an LLC. Since there are pros and cons to both being a sole proprietorship or an LLC, check out my recent post on this topic right here.
Ok so now you have lots of homework and lots to think about. This of course is not an exhaustive list of all the many legal considerations for your business, but it’s a good way to get started on thinking about and researching these very important issues. Last week you asked yourself the legal questions you need to be asking and this week you are starting to think about those questions and come up with more in depth answers.
Next week we’ll talk about how you can get your legal statements and protections in place, how to write what you need to write and/or where to go for help. So stay tuned for next week’s post! (If you want a reminder when next week’s post goes live, just click here to be added to the reminder list!)