Five essential steps to legally protecting your online business
Are you a start-up or just trying to get your existing business online? You just get started, you think it’s as easy as finding a website developer but he asks you a million questions you have not even thought of. Where to start?
There is a lot to think about and you need to consider all aspects. Here is a short checklist of what you need to start thinking about to protect yourself and your business:
1. Write a business plan
Just as with any business, you need to start with a plan. Write down your goals and business requirements, such as the website platform you want to use, website hosting, domain registrar, shopping cart facilities (if you are selling goods and services), merchant facilities, etc. This will help you explain to your website developer, what you want and need to achieve with your website.
Research the business structure you want to use and be aware of the risks involved with each type of entity (for example, being sole trader means more personal liability than an incorporated business).
2. Have a contract with your website developer
Get recommendations on reliable website developers or find a site that you like the look, feel and functionality of and see who designed and developed it. It may be two different people as the designers are not always the developer. See if you can speak to one of their clients to ensure they were happy with the results, timeframes were met, costs were managed, etc.
Ensure you have a website contract in place with agreed phases, timing and costs included. Most importantly: ensure you have clear, full ownership of the website and code at the end of the work. Most of the website developer’s own contracts do not provide this specifically, so provide your own (you can buy an online website developer contract) to ensure you have full ownership and a clear understanding of expectations. It helps avoid unforeseen costs and helps ensure you are both on the same page.
3. Know your legal website requirements
You need to protect yourself and your business with a good limitation of liability clause. Having clear terms on your site will protect both you and your customers.
If, for example, you have an e-commerce site where you sell goods or services, you need to comply with Australian Consumer Law as well Australian Privacy Law and have the required terms included on your site. So make sure you do not get fined for having incorrect or non-existent legal terms.
Know where your content (images, articles, wording) is coming from and copyright laws around this. If you are letting visitors and customers add anything to your site, monitor and ensure it meets legal guidelines (i.e. is not defamatory, does not breach copyright, etc).
If you permit advertising or others to sell goods and services on your site, make sure you are not responsible for any false, misleading or other issues customers may have.
Consider marketing through the various social media platforms, but ensure you don’t fall foul of the spam rules.
If you have a clear plan for your website business in advance, it helps you to manage each phase, the costs and ensure you protect yourself and your business. You don’t want to end up in a legal battle for costs with your developer after a contract misunderstanding for payment; or customers trying to sue you for your advertiser’s products; or get fined for a non-compliant website. Plan ahead and it will all be easier, quicker and you will find there are less problems down the road if you manage it well from the beginning.