As a digital marketer, you work primarily in an online world. You may collaborate with coworkers and clients remotely, send your invoices digitally, and manage all the essential functions of your business without so much as a single scrap of paper to clutter your desk. You can easily build an entire company around a skeleton staff or become a marketing brand all on your own. While this gives you immense power over the direction of your business, it can leave you feeling a bit overwhelmed if something goes wrong.
Understanding civil law as it applies to digital marketing and small businesses will give you an edge in sticky situations. Know your obligations and your rights, so you can navigate troubling times and resolve any potential legal issues confidently.
Making Cost Estimates Clear
If you have a client who doesn't want to pay, one of the first arguments you'll hear is that your invoice is off. Protect yourself by making sure your client understands all applicable charges and fees long before you begin the work. Don't settle for a vague overview of possible costs. This gives your client the opportunity to argue that he didn't know what he was being charged for.
Create a detailed cost estimate for each individual client. Make sure this document is tailored to their particular project. If things change along the way, have your client sign off on these upgrades or added charges, so there are never any surprises at the end.
Maintaining a Solid Client Contract
Image via Flickr by Gunnar Wrobel
One of the most frightening issues a freelancer or small business owner can face is the threat of nonpayment. You put a lot of time and effort into completing the marketing campaign, but there's no guarantee that your client will pay up easily and on time. There are, however, some steps that you can take to increase the chances of reliable payment.
Create a detailed proposal and solid contract for your clients. Provide your client with monthly updates on the progress of your marketing projects, so there's no confusion about the timeline. In your contract, you should specify when payment is due, what your late fees are, and the legal ramifications for nonpayment. It's fairly standard for a digital marketing company to request at least 50 percent of the final fee upfront. This will protect you from a total loss.
If your client fails to pay, don't hesitate to get a lawyer involved. Ideally, you'll have someone on retainer for just this task. Maintain copies of all your interactions with the client for legal purposes.
Keeping Your Website in Compliance
Newsletters should include a data protection statement and an unsubscribe option. If you're sending personal emails to individual clients, make sure that each communication features a disclaimer. The disclaimer should state that any information and attachments are confidential and intended for the sole use of the client.
If you're hiring freelancers or independent contractors to help with your business's digital marketing projects, you need a clear contract for these professionals. Though you're not on the receiving end of payments here, you're still awaiting an important receivable. Make sure all freelance professionals sign a contract and non-disclosure agreement before you share any proprietary information with them.
Don't rely on a boilerplate document here. Have your lawyer look through your freelancer contracts carefully to make sure you're completely covered. The contract should state how and when you'll pay your independent contractors and stipulate exactly what they have to provide you to receive payment.
Failure to produce clear documents here could put you on the opposite end of a legal battle, where you're the party who's accused of nonpayment, even if you feel that the freelancer didn't deliver as he or she was supposed to.
Watch Your Marketing Laws
Digital marketing is a field that's fraught with potential legal ramifications. As a marketing professional, it's crucial that you stay on top of all the latest laws in the field of marketing. Watch out for copyright laws as they pertain to any image or multimedia that you use for a campaign. As often as possible, craft these pieces yourself so you don't have to worry about finding pieces that are soundly under the Fair Use section of the Copyright Act.
Be mindful of the sourcing for any data that you use. Data companies that analyze and sell social media data are often classified as credit reporting agencies and must comply with a number of privacy and protection laws that they typically ignore. Don't get mixed up with unscrupulous data, no matter how compelling the information. Build your marketing around information from reliable, professional, and legal sources.
Protecting Your Rights
Take all the necessary steps to stay on the right side of the law, and you'll have little to fear even if things go awry. When you have all the necessary documentation for your clients and contractors, you can fight for your rights if you're not receiving what was agreed upon. While no marketer wants to waste time mucked up in legalities, it's important to collect and maintain the necessary documents to build a strong case should something go wrong.
Keep a good lawyer on hand and you'll never have to hesitate or wonder where to turn when problems arise. Remember that no business is without its snags. Staying educated and prepared is the key to success.
Whether you're just entering the world of digital marketing or you're giving your policies an overhaul to offer added protection, you should always consider how civil law applies to your company and business activities. The legal arena is always changing, so you can't rely on older policies to protect you today. Consult with an experienced lawyer to make sure you're abreast of all the ways civil law can impact your business.