Essentials, Elements, and Errors in Contract Law

Essentials, Elements, and Errors in Contract Law

As a small business owner, you are constantly faced with contracts. A contract is an agreement between two or more parties in which there is a promise to do something in return for a valuable benefit. You may have contracts with customers, vendors, employees, contractors, and other individuals or businesses. Oral agreements are sometimes used, but formal written contracts provide legal documentation. Contracts are legally enforceable and should be used to safeguard your resources. Small or new businesses may be more susceptible to mistakes when it comes to the numerous types and complex legal terms of contracts. The Law Office of EC Lewis PC can help create contracts, clarify existing or new contracts and agreements, and provide protection before or after you enter into any binding contract, making sure you understand the essentials, elements, and common errors in contract law. This post will cover contracts that are essential to the success of your small business, the elements of a solid contract, and the most common errors made in business contracts.

1. Essential Contracts

Contracts help to build relationships and protect your business. With the right legal documents, you will protect your property (intellectual and actual), avoid contract disputes, and limit your liability. Here are some contracts that are essential to your small business.

Service Contract – outlines exactly what you will provide or be provided by another company
Employment Agreement/Employment Offer Letter – specifies the rights and obligations of every full time or salaried employee; an employment offer letter should include all of the components of the employment agreement
Independent Contractor Agreement – signed agreements should be in place for every consultant or short-term employee
Equipment Lease – use this contract to lease equipment or lease out your own equipment
Business Lease – the lease for your office or retail space should fit your needs, have a sufficient lease term, clearly spell out the landlord’s obligations, and limit the amount of rent/tax increases allowable
Confidentiality or Non-Disclosure Agreement – potential employees should sign this before interviews, so your proprietary information does not leave the building
Non-Compete Agreement – prevent a former employee or business partner from competing against you while they are employed and for a specified period of time after leaving your company
Software or Website Terms of Use Agreement – understand and comply with the terms of software licensing and website use agreements to avoid violations and potential fines or litigation

All of these contracts need to be carefully thought out, crafted, and reviewed. A small business attorney will help you through this process and represent you in the event of a dispute or litigation.

2. Elements of a Solid Contract

Entering into contracts with customers or clients for the sale of your products or services is an integral part of your small business. There are key elements every contract should contain. Without them, your contracts may be invalid.

Offer – an offer is an invitation or putting the word out that you are accepting contracts, like an advertisement in a store window
Acceptance – the customer accepts by taking you up on your offer; details of offer and acceptance will vary
Capacity – those who enter into contracts must be of mental, physical, and legal capacity to do so
Undue Influence – negative influence or coercion to enter into the contract is not permitted
Intention – both parties must intend for the contract to have legal consequences
Legality – certain formalities must be followed to make a contract legal; the purpose of the agreement must not be illegal

When key elements are omitted or one party does not comply with the terms, a contract has been breached. Whether you are allegedly at fault or the one who has been offended, a small business attorney will help you through your contract issue(s).

3. Errors Most Often Made in Contracts

Negotiating contracts is daunting, but it means you are in business. It also means you have to make decisions that have real legal implications. One poorly drafted or neglected contract can have devastating results for your business. You can avoid some of the most common mistakes before it is too late.

Not Having a Contract – do not allow the small or intimate nature of your business to leave you unprotected; contracts are necessary regardless of your business structure or employee relationships
Not Recognizing a Breach – have a clear process in place for dealing with a failure to pay, a product not delivered as expected, poor quality, or bad behavior
Not Providing an Opportunity for Termination – think beyond the breach; every business contract should have a way for both parties to exit the contract
Not Thinking About Dispute Resolution – consider mediation or arbitration before litigation; these are far less costly options
Not Specifying That a Contract Can be Assigned – make sure every contract can be assigned in the event of a merger, sale, or purchase of the company if an acquisition is the goal
Not Considering Intellectual Property – from day one, have everyone in the company sign a contract that assigns the intellectual property to the company

Before you commit any of these errors, a small business attorney can create, review, or revise your business contracts from startup contracts to ongoing contracts and specialty agreements.

If you need help with essentials, elements, and errors in contract law, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

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Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
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3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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10 Ways to De-Stress Your Business Tax Time

10 Ways to De-Stress Your Business Tax Time

As a small business owner, tax time can be very stressful, especially if you wait until the last minute to try to organize a year’s worth of paperwork. In order to ease the stress and avoid potential trouble with the Colorado Department of Revenue or Internal Revenue Service (IRS), start thinking about tax time as all year round. There are steps you can take throughout the year to make a big difference in your total income and tax liability when it comes time to file. A small business attorney can give you tax advice on the right business structure and paying the right taxes on time as well as provide representation in the event of an audit or penalty. This post will cover 10 keys to getting organized and keeping accurate records to eliminate the anxiety of tax season.

Getting Your Taxes Organized

  1. Appoint time each month to reconcile your receipts, bank slips, statements, invoices, etc. By dedicating just a couple of hours every month to basic bookkeeping, you will avoid dealing with 12 months’ worth of accumulation all at once. You can make a list of steps to be prepared and add important deadlines, dates, and digital reminders to your calendar.
  2. Create a simple filing system for your paperwork. Keep everything in one place, and clearly label or name your folders. Both paper and electronic bookkeeping can be organized by month and type of record.
  3. Separate business and personal finances. Not only will separate bank and credit card accounts for your business make it easier to manage your books, it will enable you to produce legitimate business documents in the event of an audit.
  4. Review your business reports and records even if you have a bookkeeper or an accountant. It is your business and liability on the line, so it is vital to know what is going on. If you are looking to hire someone to do your taxes, the IRS suggests a list of questions to ask the prospective tax preparer.
  5. Prepare for next year as soon as you have filed for the current year. Make a list of steps and possible improvements for the following tax season while the success and/or struggle of the current one is still fresh on your mind.
  6. Keeping Accurate Tax Records

  7. Understand your business structure and how it impacts your taxes. As your business grows and changes, it is important to reevaluate whether your current structure still works for you.
  8. Know how to claim your home office on your taxes. Whether you rent or own, you can claim a space that is designated for your business. It can be a partial space, rather than the whole room, and it must not be used for any other purpose. Once you have measured the space, you may be able to deduct a portion of expenses, like your mortgage interest, insurance, and utilities. The IRS has a home office deduction page with instructions.
  9. Record your mileage and car expenses if you use your car for business. There are two methods for calculating this deduction – one is based on your standard mileage rate, and the other is based on actual car expenses, like gas, repairs, and insurance. Whichever formula you choose, you will need documentation, including dates, mileage, tolls, parking fees, and the reason for your trip.
  10. Remember to save receipts from meals, travel, entertainment, and gifts. While you can deduct 50% of business-related meals, the cost of travel is 100% deductible. Most client entertainment expenses fall under the 50% deduction limit, while a direct gift to a client or employee is 100% deductible (up to $25 per person per year).
  11. Deduct office supplies even if you do not take the home office deduction. Furniture and other equipment, software/subscriptions, and telephone charges are also tax-deductible.

There are endless tips on how to streamline your business tax process as well as how to avoid a business tax audit. From starting a retirement plan, donating, and deferring income to not hiring too many independent contractors and limiting your business loss claims, the possibilities are seemingly endless. A small business attorney will help you sift through the checklists and keep prepared for each new tax season.

If you need help with your business taxes, or just need to find ways to de-stress business tax time tasks for your small business, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Lawyer. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
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3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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How to Startup, Popup, and Get a Leg Up in Retail

How to Startup, Popup, and Get a Leg Up in Retail

Despite the closings and bankruptcies of long-established stores and corporations over the past few years, Denver continues to attract national and international retailers. Big names like IKEA, Uniqlo, H&M, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Alamo Drafthouse Cinema have moved in, creating an even tighter real estate market for new or expanding businesses hoping to enter the city’s thriving retail market.

While you may not be looking for a huge warehouse to set up your small retail store, you would certainly benefit from being a part of the larger scene. If you are not already an established brand, then a startup business may be a great option for you. If you want to expand, then a popup shop may be a great alternative to a traditional storefront. Just as online consumerism has changed the landscape of commerce, startups and popups are transforming traditional retail.

Small Business Attorney E.C. Lewis, P.C. can help with every aspect of starting or expanding your retail store, from contract review and creation to daily business operations. This post will explore these types of stores and what they can do for your retail store.

What Constitutes a Startup?

One definition of a startup company is a fast-growing small business that aims to meet a marketplace need by developing a viable business model around an innovative product, service, process, or platform. Startups typically enter the market quickly by finding new or less costly ways of operating, e.g. food trucks, booth rentals, and popup shops. This model creates experiences that draw customers to a social scene, which is very appealing to Denver’s growing millennial population.

While e-commerce continues to push retail to evolve, there is a trend in today’s retail concept, going from online only to actual establishments. This movement from click to brick can be seen with Fabletics, Omaha Steaks, and Amazon whose newest offering is grocery delivery. With an increasingly innovative retail atmosphere, Denver’s hottest districts – Larimer Square, Union Station, Dairy Block, Denver Central Market, and more – are responding with more unique and versatile spaces.

No longer exclusively associated with techie communal space working, tennis table playing employees, startup businesses have many determinants. Years in business, annual revenue, and number of employees are just some of the ways people measure whether a small business is a startup or not. So, what if you have successfully started a startup and want to expand? A Forbes article points out that the key attribute of a startup is its ability to grow and scale very quickly. And, one way to do this is by opening a popup location.

What are the Benefits of a Popup Shop?

Popup shops are a great way for a fledgling or expanding business to enter the market. These types of stores require less capital investment to introduce or test a new product or service, and they provide instant customer feedback. A Shopify article describes a popup shop as a short-term retail event that creates a frenzy with its “get it before it’s gone” message. The temporary nature of this type of store enables you to plan around an occasion or a holiday that may suit what you are selling perfectly. You can also go to your customers by choosing the district, kiosk, or gallery space where your product or service matches the personality of the neighborhood.

After you have vacated the popup location, the idea is that customers will remember your product or service and follow you. This is a fantastic segue to having an omnichannel presence – you entice your prospective customers with an in-store experience, then lead them to your other location(s), website, and social media accounts where they can find you and become loyal customers.

Like setting up an actual, more permanent retail store, you must consider many factors when planning for your popup location. Rent, utilities, insurance, Internet, point of sale (POS), furniture, repairs, inventory, displays, marketing, duration are some of these considerations. A small business attorney can help you with choosing the right location and entity, reviewing and drafting contracts, keeping compliant with taxes and licensing, and expanding your retail store.

If you need help with your retail store, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

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Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
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3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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Protect Your Business’s IP With Software Licenses

Protect Your Business’s IP With Software Licenses

Your intellectual property (IP) can be protected by copyrights, trademarks, patents, and licenses.
You may have a product or service that calls for more than one of these IP rights. A software license is a legal instrument that governs the use or redistribution of software. These contracts transfer IP rights from the owner (licensor) to another party who wants to use them (licensee). They can be exclusive – allowing only one licensee – or nonexclusive – granting rights to multiple users. Besides protecting your business’s assets, licenses can generate significant revenue. If you have a product, website, application, or idea that needs to be licensed, Denver Small Business Attorney E.C. Lewis, P.C. will work with you to protect your intellectual property. This post will cover some basics of software licensing.

  1. Before Choosing Your Software License
  2. Ways to License Your Software
  3. Generating Revenue with a Software License

1. Before Choosing Your Software License

If you make your own software program or application, you likely want as many people to use it as possible – legally, that is. But, how do you decipher the billions of pages of information and laws about software copyrights, end-user license agreements (EULAs), other types of licenses, and so on? How do you know for sure what happens and how protected you are once your product is released? These are among the many major considerations, such as who holds the rights to your work, who gets to use it, how much access do they have to your design/code, and what type of license is best for your product. The last thing you want is to set yourself up for trouble. Simple protective measures regarding copyrights and licensing will go a long way, like going more restrictive than liberal in your terms from the start. As a developer, you may have some notion of how you would like the launch of your program or application to play out. The advice of a small business attorney with extensive experience in the information technology sector will help secure your IP and potential profits.

2. Ways to License Your Software

EULAs bind the end-user (licensee) with a valid contract and grant rights to use the software with terms and conditions. Some of these include limitation of liability of the licensor, disclaimer of warranties, choice of applicable law to the contractual relationship, venue for possible disputes, etc. Open-source licenses, like Apache 2.0, GPL, and LGPL, can be viewed as ready-made universal EULA formats. The open-source community is growing with more developers publishing their code online. Here are a few types of licenses.

  • MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) License is an open-source license that allows the user to do as they wish with the software/code as long as they give you proper credit or attribution. You are not held liable if issues arise from the software.
  • Apache License 2.0 is similar to the MIT License, but the end-user cannot use any of the work under your trademark. This gives you patent protection.
  • GPL (General Public License), known as a viral license, is widely used. With this license, anyone can use, distribute, and modify the software. The Lesser GPL (LGPL) is a less viral type, permitting the use of a library in proprietary programs and protecting your code under similar rules to GPL. It does not force any code outside of your own to be released under the same license.
  • Artistic License 2.0 enables users to copy and distribute copies of the software, but changes are not allowed.
  • EPL (Eclipse Public License) allows people to use, modify, copy, and distribute the code and modified versions for free. With an EPL license, anyone distributing the work must grant every recipient a license to any patents that cover the modifications they have made.
  • BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) Licenses are a series of licenses which have varying clauses. The Simplified BSD license and the New BSD license are two GPL compliant licenses. These licenses impose the minimal restrictions on the redistribution of covered software.

These are only a few of the major software licenses out there. Your small business attorney can go over all of the different levels of complexity, restrictions, and benefits among them to determine what is right for you.

3. Generating Revenue with a Software License

When it comes to protecting your IP, software is one of the most licensable. The key to the successfully commercializing your software is to choose the right license in order to generate revenue without giving up rights. Partnering licensing is a way to gain additional support, recognition, or marketing channels. A co-brand license can lend credibility and quickly raise awareness, leading to broader sales. Another partnering strategy is to license out rights to market and distribute your product. This could enable you to enter into global markets you would otherwise not reach. A third example is non-competing field, which is a good alternative if you do not intend to enter certain markets. In this case, you could partner with a larger, established software developer of another product and bundle yours with it. Whichever way you decide to go, it is essential to register with the U.S. Copyright Office. This reinforces your rights, especially if you find yourself in litigation. A small business attorney will be there with you if you ever have to take someone to court.

If you need help with software licensing, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Business Attorney. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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How to Navigate Denver’s Commercial Real Estate Market

How to Navigate Denver’s Commercial Real Estate Market

There may come a time when your small business has outgrown its retail or home office space. This is great news as it means you are ready to expand. It also means you are about to jump into the competitive pool of Denver’s rapidly changing commercial real estate market. With developers scrambling to keep up with demand, every size and type of real estate – from historic manors and Beaux-Arts buildings to factories and warehouses – is being repurposed for trendy niche retailers and giant corporations alike. The average asking lease price for warehouse space in some neighborhoods jumped by more than 50 percent from 2010 to 2015. By the end of 2016, retail development hit its highest levels since 2010 with nearly 1 million square feet under construction according to the CBRE. Without a team of professionals on hand, like larger organizations have, a small business attorney can help you make decisions about location, leasing or buying, tax deductions and compliance, and protecting your assets. Whatever type of retail space, office, or other commercial property you may need for your flourishing business, consider these five helpful tips before you commit to a contract.

  1. Make a New Plan
  2. Choose the Right Location
  3. Decide Whether to Lease or Buy
  4. Have Exit and Dispute Strategies
  5. Know What You are Signing

1. Make a New Plan

Even if you have been in business for years, you need a revised plan for your expansion. Consider your needs versus your budget. Do you have the resources to close on a property or repay a loan? A solid business plan is an important factor for lenders who are considering your loan application. Within your business plan, lenders are looking to see whether you have a marketing strategy – have you considered your competitors? The habits of your targeted customers and neighborhood? A back-up plan to deal with the pitfalls? A small business attorney will help ensure your plans and real estate choices are realistic and the best for your business.

2. Choose the Right Location

When selecting the area or neighborhood for your business, there are many factors to consider. Demographics, surroundings, centrality, visibility, and compatibility with your desired image are a few of the areas you should research before choosing your location. You would also benefit by researching forecasts and trends for the district (e.g. new projects, funding, crime rates, and other public records that may affect your business). It is essential to be aware of the current and potential value of the properties you look at, especially if you are going to buy rather than lease.

3. Decide Whether to Lease or Buy

A storefront or office space can boost your business’s image. Commercial real estate not only provides a dedicated space outside of your home, but it can help with marketing. As with most real estate, buying commercial real estate is more expensive in the short term than leasing, but less expensive over the long term if you intend to stay in the location. While buying gives you more flexibility and an asset to use when financing other parts of your business, it also means you are responsible for all aspects of your property, including maintenance and additional liability. An attorney will help you decide whether leasing or buying is right for your business.

4. Have Exit and Dispute Strategies

It is important to have an exit strategy if your business does not perform as well as anticipated or your plans have simply changed. What if you can no longer afford the property? What if unexpected factors in the area are negatively impacting your business? What if you decide to sell the business? You should be prepared for these types of scenarios as well as any arising disputes. Tenants of commercial property have fewer consumer protections, and leases are binding contracts. To avoid conflict or severe penalties, be sure to have your small business attorney review any lease or purchase contracts before you sign.

5. Know What You are Signing

By this point in the process, you may be fairly familiar with the world of commercial real estate and its accompanying laws: landlord/tenant laws, disclosure laws, zoning laws, contract laws, insurance laws, etc. Leasing or purchasing agreements fall under contract law and can be very confusing. Your attorney will go over these contracts with you line by line until you fully understand what you are signing in order to prevent any surprises or compliance issues in the future.

If you need help with leasing or buying commercial real estate, contact me, Elizabeth Lewis, at the Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C., home of your Denver Small Business Lawyer. Phone: 720-258-6647. Email: elizabeth.lewis@eclewis.com

Contact Us Today

Law Office of E.C. Lewis, P.C.
Your Denver Business Attorney
3773 Cherry Creek North Drive, Suite 575
Denver, CO 80209
720-258-6647
Elizabeth.Lewis@eclewis.com

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