The StartupNation Blog Trends, tips and real-life anecdotes from industry experts

Posts Tagged “small business advice”

Inspiration to StartUp: Should YOU Follow Your Passions?

This question has been in my heart and thoughts lately as my pet project, FitandFearLESS.tv, finally launches. As always, there are naysayers. Naysayers that question what a childrenswear designer could possibly know about the crazy world of online entertainment. As I take my first steps in this new venture, I’m often asked “I know this [...]

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Can a Consultant Save You Cash…and Heartache?

As a bootstrap entrepreneur, I’ve learned there are just some things you don’t cut corners on. My “golden rule” has always been to hire the best Lawyer, Accountant, and Business Consultant you can find, even if you can’t afford it. The truth is you simply can’t afford NOT to.  Running my small business over the [...]

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A North Face By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet….

I just came across a great blog post by a fellow attorney, J. Michael Hurst at Keating Muething & Klekamp PLLC. Apparently, 19-year old Jimmy Winkelmann created a company called The South Butt LLC, which was meant as a parody of The North Face.

Here are the two logos at issue:

 

Apparently, Jimmy has a great sense of humor and set up his company to sell some t-shirts and hopefully raise money to cover his college tuition (he did end up raising something like $100,000, according to Hurst). I love this disclaimer on his website:

We are not in any fashion related to nor do we want to be confused with The North Face Apparel Corp. or its products sold under “The North Face” brand. If you are unable to discern the difference between a face and a butt, we encourage you to buy North Face products.

(Sound of author trying to compose herself after period of robust laughter)

Anyhoo….long story short, management at The North Face failed to see the humor in this situation (or apparently the difference between a face and a…. bottom) and actually slapped Winkelmann with an expensive trademark infringement lawsuit.

Hurst’s post does a great job of analyzing what the North Face would have to establish to prevail on their claim (something Hurst doesn’t think they will succeed in doing – and I agree with him).

But this does bring up a couple of really important points for those of us launching and running businesses.

(1)  Don’t Use A Name That Is Already In Use!

When you are choosing a name and logo for your company, make sure to research whether that name is in use already (particularly in the industry that your company will be in) and make sure you do not create a logo that looks like one from another company (as best as you can determine). You need to search your state records for names (usually the Secretary of State’s office will have the ability to search LLCs and Corporations in your state;  also search any other state in which you plan to do business now or in the future).  Also search national records, such as the TESS at the US Patent and Trademark office. I also recommend doing a Google search for the name to see if the domain is taken (or any variation of it) and to see if anyone is already using that word or combination of words for their business already.

Right or wrong, big companies generally are not shy about enforcing their trademarks (as you can see in the North Face case) and you don’t want to end up getting a cease and desist letter from an in-house legal department just after you spent your last red-cent having your logo and branding designed.

If your name or logo could cause confusion between your company and one with an already established trademark, you could be found to be infringing on their trademark. If you are, you could be forced to change your name, logo, packaging and anything else that uses the infringing mark. If you have any market traction already, you would then have to rebuild your brand and lose the work already put into marketing the infringing name/brand/logo. Add to that potential money damages and attorneys fees, and not doing your homework about your trademarks becomes an expensive (and potentially fatal) detour for your business.

(2)  Protect Your Own Trademarks!!

Once you are sure you aren’t at risk of infringing on someone else’s trademarks, make sure that you have properly trademarked your own logo, tag lines and even product names and packaging so that you have the ability to protect your intellectual property and branding if someone does attempt to infringe on your trademark in the future.

Generally, “use” of the trademark itself does give you some protection (use the ™ symbol as soon as you start using anything you want trademarked). That means, always include the symbol on your website, on all of your advertising, correspondence/emails with customers, and written materials at a minimum.

But the best way to protect yourself if to file with the US Patent and Trademark Office in order to have a “registered” trademark (at which point you use the symbol ®).

Of course, I recommend hiring a good lawyer for this, as the paperwork can be tricky and you want to make sure it is done right. However, there are services out there that can help you file your own paperwork, such as Legal Zoom, so you have that less expensive option.

Just don’t decide to NOT trademark your branding. That could be an expensive mistake if someone else decides to use your name, logo or a variation of your logo (deliberately or without knowledge of yours). If you don’t have a registered trademark, you might not be able to stop them from using it, you will have less protection under the law to go after them, and might even lose your right to use your own name or logo in the future.

I’ve glossed over this because it is really fairly complicated subject, so make sure you find someone knowledgeable in trademarks to help you navigate this process.  (And now for the required disclaimer:  this post is NOT intended to give legal advice, so seek your own independent counsel for that!)

And if you have any experience with trademarks for your business (positive or negative), or questions, we want to hear from you so make sure to post a comment below!

You can read all of Hurst’s post at the link below.

http://intellectual-property.kmklaw.com/Trademark-Parody

 

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I just came across a great blog post by a fellow attorney, J. Michael Hurst at Keating Muething & Klekamp PLLC. Apparently, 19-year old Jimmy Winkelmann created a company called The South Butt LLC, which was meant as a parody of The North Face. Here are the two logos at issue:   Apparently, Jimmy has [...]

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Small Business Profile: Guideposts.com

To follow up on a previous post requesting feedback on topics and offering to highlight members of the community, I learned of Guideposts.com—a site devoted to helping people find and reach their potential. This site interested me not so much from an entrepreneurial standpoint, but because of its history. The nonprofit organization was founded in [...]

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Small Business Profile: Crossing Gaps

To follow up on a previous post requesting feedback on topics and offering to highlight members of the community, I learned of a company called Crossing Gaps — they help bring creative people (writers, artists, musicians, startups) online. Crossing Gaps helps them with everything from web design to marketing and monetization strategy so they can [...]

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How to Conquer Your Business Startup Fears with Mind Mapping

Let’s face it. The first step is always the hardest. Whether you’re trying to quit smoking, start graduate school, or learn how to play guitar. It’s that first step that leaves us feeling awkward, inadequate, and questioning our conviction. Taking that first step toward entrepreneurship is no different. We question our business skills, product performance, and financial competency. The dreaded, “what if I can’t do it?” question creeps into our daily thoughts. We start reasoning that it might be better to “just wait another year.”

These fears are extremely common and unfortunately well founded. Reports show that as much as 50% of all new start-ups fail within the first year. That is not exactly encouraging odds. However, we all have a choice when it comes to creating our destiny. We can use statistics like these to confirm our business’s certain death, or gain confidence from the fact that you could be part of the 50% that become a success. In the famous words of Zig Ziglar, you just have to eliminate your “Stinkin’ Thinkin’”.

One of the tools I use to overcome my fears is mind mapping. It’s a terrific tool that can help you isolate the source of your fears, bring much needed perspective, and help brainstorm solutions to your sticking points. There are several “mind mapping” tools out there and many are free to use. I prefer to use the tool by Wisemapping since it’s free, allows me to add notes and web links, and I can publish or share the completed map.

To demonstrate my fear mind mapping strategy, I’ve created an example below.

Startup Fear Mindmap

First, I outline my top fears associated with starting the business. I then brainstorm how I can overcome those fears. My final step will be answering those questions. My goal is to find a positive solution to each of the questions I’ve asked. For example, for the question, “Can I reduce my startup costs with outsourcing?” I would research potential manufacturing possibilities until I could answer the question with a “yes.” If I can’t find a way, I then brainstorm ways to overcome the obstacle. A “no” isn’t necessarily bad, it just means you need to tweak your business plan to compensate for this reality. Try to be as thorough and honest as possible with your mind map. The goal is to solve your sticking points on paper before you’ve invested your time and money. I use this tool regularly for many of my business decisions including product launches, partnership agreements, and even potential marketing opportunities.

It’s amazing what this simple exercise can do for your confidence level. You are no longer living in fear of the unknown. Instead, you are on a mission with a powerful road map to your business’s success.

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Let’s face it. The first step is always the hardest. Whether you’re trying to quit smoking, start graduate school, or learn how to play guitar. It’s that first step that leaves us feeling awkward, inadequate, and questioning our conviction. Taking that first step toward entrepreneurship is no different. We question our business skills, product performance, [...]

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Just to lighten things up a bit,

Reprinted from tensionbreaker.com: How the Recession Affects Sesame Street After its expenses come under increased government oversight, the number 4 pulls its sponsorship. Cookie Monster being replaced by his cousin, Ramen Noodle Monster. Elmo’s World downsized to Elmo’s Corner. Bob finally forced into retirement. Zoe replaced with an orange sock from the Dollar Store. Grover [...]

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How To Always Be On “GARD” For PR Success

If you are on a bootstrap marketing budget and looking for do-it-yourself publicity, you need to be on “GARD” for media opportunities that can catapult your brand to the next level. In this video, I explain the “do it yourself” system that has helped me garner media features from such outlets as USA Today, E! [...]

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Top 5 Reasons Why You Should Be On Twitter

Without a doubt, one of the hottest things in social media networking these days is Twitter.  The social media and micro-blogging platform was listed as the fastest growing social media application by Neilson’s Media Service in October 2008 as its popularity grew by 343% last year.  The site also received tremendous press last year with [...]

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Can Cutting Seconds Cut Costs?

As the old saying goes, “Time is Money.”  Big retailers such as Gap, Limited Brands, Office Depot, Toys R Us, and the Meijer grocery chain are all jumping on this bandwagon as they try to squeeze as much profit as possible out of the upcoming weak holiday shopping season. (Read more here from the WSJ, [...]

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When the Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Networking

This has become my new mantra and quite honestly, I wish I would have seen the light a little earlier.  However, as a small business owner swamped with trying to make sales, market the business, oversee the day-to-day operations, and oh yeah- create the product, I just never saw where “having lunch” had a worthy [...]

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Marketing to Moms – Key Statistics

The Marketing to Moms Coalition just released their Moms Annual Media Survey 2008.  The group surveyed 1,033 Moms all with children under 18 living at home via an online questionnaire.  Moms currently spend an estimated $2.1 trillion dollars in the U.S. marketplace.  Needless to say, knowing how to reach this key demographic can give your [...]

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Can Trendsetting = Cash in Today’s Marketplace?

Among the constant influx of bad news I came across an article from Forbes singing the praises of emerging designers.  While this article talks mainly about fashion designers, I believe it can translate to other industries as well.  The bottom line is that retailers are looking for new ideas to excite and motivate their customers [...]

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Cool, No-Cost Offers for Small Business Owners

I’ve been receiving several exclusive offers specifically to help small business owners. And since the economy is tough right now, I thought I’d share these free offers with you, my fellow StartupNation entrepreneurs: – Got an innovative, recession-busting marketing strategy that is helping your small business boost sales? If so, you may want to enter [...]

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Economy Got You Down? 9 Things to Do NOW

With the non-stop news reports of Wallstreet’s record losses, the rising unemployment rate, and the dismal forecasts for holiday spending, it’s easy to become paralyzed with fear of the unknown.  While there may be several factors effecting the economy and markets today that are out of our control, there are plenty of things that we [...]

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Working with the Big Boys

Landing a large account can be an exhilarating experience for a young company and you can’t help but daydream about the possibility of “overnight success”.  Just around the corner… redemption for all those long hours spent fine-tuning your product, reciting your elevator pitch in the mirror, and packing orders until 2am.  While getting an initial [...]

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