Ideas for Businesses and Business Owners Unexpectedly Working From Home Part II

Working from home woman business owner typing and texting.

As we noted in Part I of this two-part post, here we are in Week 2 of social distancing for Iowa and Minnesota. This two-part post is meant to help you with ideas to help your business emerge from this crisis in fighting shape. Part I focused on ideas for businesses that have newly moved online and on general ideas for projects to work on while you have down-time. This post will focus on suggestions for businesses facing changes to their industry, for people contemplating starting a new business, and for helping you to help your business. We also recently posted a list of resources for small businesses, including links to a variety of governmental agencies which you may find helpful. We will be adding new links and those linked pages will all be updated regularly, so we encourage you to check back regularly. Please also feel free to reach out to us to suggest updates to that list.

For Businesses Facing Changes

We are, of course, all facing changes right now. It has been a very intense time for everyone. Here are some ideas to get you started on thinking about how your business should approach them.

  • Address the immediate changes. If you have had to move to having your employees work in shifts at the office, or if you have had to move to having your employees work from home, that may have affected how you perform some of your agreements with your customers. You may be able to address these changes simply and straightforwardly, or you may need to negotiate amendments to your customer agreements.
  • Spend some time on listening to others and to yourself. There is only one thing that is clear at the moment: no one really knows what our country or our economy will look like at the end of this strange moment in time. But within industries, there are clues available about what will be coming. Take some time away from the whirlwind of the moment to pay special attention to your customers’ pain points (aside from cash flow) right now. Then consider how you can be best positioned to address those pain points.
  • Give yourself some flexibility. While few businesses will be eager to go on a hiring spree in the near future, your business should be positioned to staff up quickly should the opportunity arise. Consider vendors who can provide outsourced work or engaging freelancers to support your business in the event you suddenly become busy. Get the agreements you’ll need for these possibilities lined up now so you’ll be best positioned to move forward quickly when you’re ready.
  • Prepare for next time. The federal government provides disaster preparedness information on its Ready.gov website. Now may not be the time to think about this, but keep it in your back pocket for a time when your business is back on its footing.

If you need assistance with contracts or legal planning matters, please feel free to contact us for a telephone or video chat appointment.

For People Contemplating A New Business

If you have identified a new opportunity that has cropped up because of the disruptions associated with social distancing and lockdowns (aside from price gouging, which is illegal), excellent! Strike while the iron is hot. Here are some things to keep in mind as you get your new business started:

  • Create an entity. Having a business entity such as a limited liability company or a corporation helps put a layer of protection between your business and personal assets if you properly maintain your business entity. This means that under most circumstances, someone who sues your business cannot reach your personal assets. It also helps with other activities such as getting financing from loans or investors.
  • Follow any applicable regulations. Make sure that you know whether the industry you plan to enter is regulated, and if so, by what federal, state, or local authorities. You don’t want your newly-formed business to be shut down before it really gets going.
  • Keep an eye on the law. Many things are in flux right now, and some authorities are delaying or setting aside enforcement for the moment. Don’t rely on the current state of things to last, though; make sure you’re prepared to follow those laws and regulations once things settle down again.
  • Get expert help. Keep in mind that there are many resources available to those starting new businesses, even in unsettled times like this. Minnesota’s and Iowa’s Small Business Administration branch offices are great places to start, as are the Minnesota Department of Economic and Employment Development and the Iowa Economic Development Authority.

Your Personal Life: Helping You Helps Your Business

I saved the most important for last: take care of yourself and your family. Crises have a way of showing you what is most important. Take advantage of this one as much as you can.

  • Maintain as normal a routine as you are able. Don’t throw yourself into your work 24/7, tempting as it might be as you’re home with your work materials all of the time and panicking over the health of your business. We’re right there with you worrying about things, but rest and recovery are important, too.
  • Get your personal planning documents in order. No one likes to think about their mortality, but now is the time to do it. Make sure that your will, power of attorney, health care power of attorney, and living will all reflect your wishes—or if you don’t have these documents, get them. Make sure your business succession planning is also in order.
  • Get exercise. Even in the places that have implemented lockdowns, you can go outside to exercise so long as you maintain a safe distance of 6 feet from others. If you have children at home with you, they need to get out, too; take a family walk or bike ride, play a game of kickball in the back yard, take a nature walk. There are also several companies offering their working routines online for free; take advantage.
  • Eat well. The grocery stores are pretty picked over for shelf-stable or easily freezable foods, but this is the perfect chance to learn how to prepare some new-to-you fresh fruits and vegetables. You can also use this opportunity to shop local: your local Asian and Latino grocers are probably not as hard hit.
  • Keep up with friends and family. It is not as simple as popping into your usual coffee shop and running into people now. Make sure to take the time for phone calls and video chats with your friends and family on a regular basis. There are a number of services making this easier than ever, from Skype to Google Hangouts to Zoom. Don’t let social distancing mean social isolation.

We are open and able to help with legal issues businesses are facing in the face of this public health crisis. We offer telephone and video chat consultations, including free initial 30-minute consultations. We are also able to work with businesses facing financial hardships at this time. Feel free to contact us to discuss your business’s options.

Ideas for Businesses and Business Owners Unexpectedly Working From Home Part I

Working from home woman business owner typing and texting.

Well, here we are, at the start of Week 2 of social distancing for Iowa and Minnesota. We are facing restrictions on travel, groups congregating, and operations of businesses. We are advised to stay at least 6 feet away from other people and (say it with me) wash our hands frequently for at least 20 seconds. We are at home with our families and our pets. We have a lot of downtime on our hands—as do our employees.

There is no sugar coating it: this is going to be a very tough time for small and mid-size businesses. Unemployment is up, and sales are down. We recently posted a list of resources for small businesses, including links to a variety of governmental agencies. We will be adding new links and those linked pages will all be updated regularly, so we encourage you to check back regularly. Please also feel free to reach out to us to suggest updates to that list. At the time of this writing, the new Families First Coronavirus Response Act, Public Law No. 116-127, is not yet in effect, and the Department of Labor has not yet provided the details about how it will address the exceptions for businesses with fewer than 50 employees. We will provide information as it becomes available.

While you and your employees are working remotely is a good time to work on some of those long-term projects you’ve been putting off—both personal and business. It may help your business emerge from this crisis in fighting shape. And if you, like so many business owners, have gone online unexpectedly, there are a number of things you may not have had to consider in a brick-and-mortar state that you should start thinking about now. We’ve put together some things to consider working on over the next weeks.

For Businesses Newly Online

If you have never run your business online before, it seems pretty straightforward: build an ecommerce website or move your yoga classes to a Zoom meeting and run with it. But there are a lot of other things to consider when you move online. Here are a few:

  • Sales taxes. If you had only one location and all of your customers came to you before, you needed to pay sales tax only for that location. The calculation changes when your customers are not coming to you. If your business is based in Iowa, look for more information from the Iowa Department of Revenue. If your business is based in Minnesota, look for more information from the Minnesota Department of Revenue. Both states may have special exceptions and updated information as the crisis unfolds, so check regularly for updates. Both states also participate in the Streamlined Sales and Use Tax Agreement, which aims to simplify the sales tax process for online retailers.
  • Website Privacy Policy, Terms of Use, and Terms of Sale. A website’s Privacy Policy explains how the website owner collects and uses data, including personal data, about people who use the website. A website’s Terms of Use are an agreement between the owner of the site and the site’s users. A website’s Terms of Sale are a contract between users who order from the site and the website owner. A Privacy Policy is required by the laws of some states, most notably California, if your website is accessible to users in those states. Terms of Use and Terms of Sale exist to protect the business owner and ensure that both parties know what happens under various circumstances—especially if an item doesn’t arrive, or needs to be returned, a prospect which you may not be relishing at the moment.
  • Liability Waivers. If you are suddenly giving fitness classes online, you have no way of knowing whether the spaces your customers are using are safe. To protect your business, you will want to ensure that your customers understand that they are responsible for ensuring they are using a safe space. If you already have a liability waiver, you may need to update it to reflect the new situation.

If you need assistance with these or any other concerns relating to your unexpected foray into e-commerce, please feel free to contact us.

For Businesses Looking for Things To Do

While it is not for the best of reasons, you and your employees may suddenly have a lot of down time from your regular business work. Especially if you are and/or you have employees scrounging for things to do in the midst of the disruption, this is the perfect time to pursue some of those long-term projects. If you don’t have your own list (or you’ve already worked through it), here are some ideas:

  • Adjust to the times. If your business’s organizing documents require any kind of in-person meeting without exceptions, it’s time to amend those. If you haven’t figured out what video chat software is most compatible with your business model (either free or paid), it’s time to find it. If you haven’t figured out how to work from home with the kids present, or if you have policies in place that make it unreasonably difficult for your employees to do so, it’s time to adjust those.
  • Get organized. Complete the filing. Make sure your electronic records are all in order. If you don’t have a system for managing customers, develop one or find a vendor who supplies one. If you’ve been thinking you’re outgrowing the capabilities of a software program or a vendor you rely on, take some time to do the research and determine what vendor offers the best solution for your business and implement it. If you aren’t there yet but might get there relatively soon, familiarize yourself with the marketplace so you’ll be ready for the transition later.
  • Get ahead. If you have a blog, create some evergreen content (content that will be timely no matter what is going on in the world). If you are a website designer, create some new templates to have ready to go for customers when they are ready to buy. Now is a good time to do any kind of preparatory work that you normally try to get ahead on in the slow times.
  • Take stock of your template agreements. I’ll soon write a post on the neglected Force Majeure clause that everyone is talking about now, but for the moment, this is a great time to evaluate the form contracts you have been using. How have they been working for your business? Do they cover everything that they should? Is there a situation that comes up frequently that isn’t included? Do they match the way your business actually operates? That last one can be a big problem if you just grabbed a form from the internet or if you simply haven’t updated your contracts in several years.
  • Work on legal compliance issues. Sometimes, compliance matters can fall by the wayside, or a new law with a lot of requirements can be too overwhelming to address before it goes into effect. Sometimes, smaller businesses rely on their small size to hope that no regulators will notice their non-compliance. Now is a good time to address the General Data Protection Regulation in the European Economic Area or the California Consumer Privacy Protection Act if you haven’t already.
  • Develop or revisit your trade secret protection regime. A trade secret is a type of intellectual property that creates value for its owner because it is secret. Trade secret protection is used to protect information and/or ideas that: 1) have actual or potential economic value if they are kept secret; 2) cannot be easily ascertained by others who are using proper means; 3) are minimally novel; and 4) are the subject of reasonable efforts to maintain them as secret. A trade secret must be protected in a way that is reasonable under the circumstances—it has to be secret enough to stay hidden, but revealed enough to be useful. Trade secrets should be protected with physical, procedural, and technological means. If you have never created a systematic method of protecting your trade secrets, or if you have but haven’t re-evaluated your method recently, now is a good time to do so.
  • Consider protecting other intellectual property. Registering copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office is not difficult, but is time-consuming. If you aren’t sure how to go about it, we offer copyright registration training remotely, and we’ll get you set up to register your own copyrights going forward. If you already know how to do it, and you suddenly have a lot of free time, now is a pretty good time to get things moving. Registering trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office generally takes a little more work and benefits from assistance from an attorney. You can learn more about the benefits of trademark registration from this blog post.

This post is plenty long, so we will stop here; Part II will include suggestions for businesses facing changes, for people contemplating starting a new business, and for helping you to help your business.

If you would like help with any of the legal issues we’ve mentioned above, or any other legal issues, remember, we’re open and able to help with legal issues businesses are facing in this public health crisis. We offer telephone and video chat consultations, including free initial 30-minute consultations. We are also able to work with businesses facing financial hardships at this time. Please feel free to contact us to discuss your business’s options.