Protect your business assets — know the rules

Today’s litigious and highly complex business arena often requires more specialization than most small businesses are able to provide on their own. For example, employing part-time talent or subcontract workers on a project basis to leverage your own time and skills may be useful options, yet both require a sufficient understanding of human resource and labor laws. Given these realistic and not-so-uncommon situations, how does a self-employed, SOHO (small office, home office) or small-business owner cover his or her assets without having to potentially hire expensive legal counsel?In a recent Wall Street Journal article titled, “How to Avoid Employee Lawsuits,” Colleen Debaise writes, “Small business owners might be surprised to learn that they are vulnerable to the same worker complaints that plague corporate America. In particular, more employees are suing companies for violating wage-and-hour rules, typically claiming they weren’t paid overtime.”In a recent blog posting by Apple Tree Business Services, Steve Feinberg reported that both the IRS and the state labor departments have made recent changes to the criteria used to distinguish independent contractors from employees. The objective is to crack down on many employers who are choosing to avoid the financial obligations and liability associated with having an employee versus a subcontractor worker. These are only two examples of many other situations where, as an entrepreneur of any type and size of business, you must know the rules, practices and legal guidelines in order to protect yourself, your assets and your business. One way to go about cost-effectively addressing this issue is to access what the experts have already made available to you in the form of legal document templates. Thanks to the Internet, database technology and savvy entrepreneurial strategies that productively address relevant needs like these, there are multiple companies online that offer access to thousands of commonly used legal document, contract and business form templates. For example, companies like offer over 1,500 document templates that address myriad business issues including human resources, sales, finance, real estate, contract negotiations and intellectual property.There are other companies that also offer Internet access to valuable document templates. Some of them allow you to purchase one document or contract template as you need it, and others provide you with a complete package of hundreds of forms to download all at once. While there are pros and cons to each approach, having access to a complete library on your own server allows you to not only use what you need when you need it, but to also educate yourself about documents that you might not have known existed and that offer certain advantages. This includes marketing plan templates, independent contractor agreements and sales proposals, to name a few.Additional advantages to such convenient online services include access to document templates in multiple languages. Many entrepreneurs today are doing business internationally on a regular basis. Being able to access and effectively utilize a business agreement template in multiple languages such as English, Spanish, French and Chinese, may provide the extra advantage or legal protection to negotiate and close a sale, as well as provide the peace of mind in knowing that the deal is legally compliant.In summary, today’s business environment is litigious and highly complex. However, you don’t have be victimized by it or pay an arm and a leg to protect yourself. With a service like, you can focus on what you do best and save time and money by taking advantage of what expert lawyers, consultants and specialized professionals have created and made available to you online for convenient download.Deborah Osgood is co-founder and chief executive of the Knowledge Institute in Exeter, an academic institution and think tank specializing in providing research, education, publishing and consulting services in support of small-business development. She can be reached at or 603-658-0340.