Starting a new business and providing a new service or product or simply a new outlet where customers can obtain items they need is very exciting. Letting customers know about your new business and the services and products you offer can be tricky.
Email newsletters, advertising and online blogs are great ways to share information about your business with your potential customer base. However, there are some things every business owner needs to be aware of to insure that they don’t end up losing their new business before it gets off the ground due to legal issues.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) states that in 2012 small business blogs increased by 20%. Blogs are a great, fun, informal way to connect with customers, build business relationships and increase search engine rankings. Business owners can let customers in on specials, new items offered and just little tidbits about how the business is doing. It is a great way to promote your business and let customers know why they should do business with you rather than with competitors. However, business owners must be very careful to remain within the law when referring to other businesses in blog entries.
The best tip to remember when blogging is that the purpose is to build a sense of community and trust with your potential customers, not to bash your competitors. A good principal to remember is the Golden Rule: Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You! No business owner would want a competitor to speak negatively about their business or take credit on the competitor’s blog or webpage for work that you had done. Therefore, turnabout is fair play. Don’t bash a competitor or their product in an attempt to increase your customer base. Not only can doing so do more damage than good for your business growth but it can also result in legal problems.
The SBA sets out guidelines and terms for how to use competitor’s names and other identifying information without ending up involved in costly legal battles.
One of the most important things to respect are copyrights. About.com explains that copyrighting original works, written text, images, video and audio clips prevents others from using them without permission of the copyright owner. Everyone knows what the copyright symbol looks like (©). If you are referring to a company or product name that is copyrighted, do so only with permission.
Another means of protecting original work is through trademarking a company names, logos or products. Trademarks are considered tools of commerce and do not require documenting that the name is trademarked as long as you are only referring to it in order to support your personal opinion. However, any time another business or product name is used it is a good policy to let the reader know that it is trademarked as a matter of business courtesy and to avoid any legal risks. Also, when referring to another company or product, the blogger must be sure that they are not misleading customers to believe they or their business have any direction connection or affiliation with the trademarked name or product.
Again, the purpose of blogging is to build a customer base, increase sales and develop a positive image for your business. It is not a tool to bash your competition by writing negative or damaging information about them. Doing so is the definition of the legal term “Libel” and can result in lawsuits if the other business wishes to pursue the matter. Rather than writing negatives about your competitors, use the blog as a means to let potential customers know how your business, service and products are different from that of others in your area.
Another key thing to remember when promoting your business is to keep your claims truthful. Don’t promise goods or services that you can’t honestly provide. The Federal Trade Commission protects consumers against being victimized by businesses who can’t provide services they advertise by setting specific guidelines dealing with truth in advertising.
On its website the Federal Trade Commission specifically states that all advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive, that advertisers must be able to back up claims made in their advertisements and that advertisements cannot be unfair. If an ad “is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances and the ad is important to a consumer’s decision to buy or use a particular product or shop at a particular business” it is considered to be deceptive and violates the law. Advertisements will be considered unfair if they are likely to cause substantial injury to a consumer or if the harm that could result from the ad outweighs any benefits from it. While there is nothing that makes a business owner feel better about what they are doing than to receive positive feedback from customers and sharing that feedback with other existing and potential customers can go a long way in increasing business, there is no better way to lose customers than by violating their privacy or misusing personal information they may provide.
If a business chooses to collect information such as home addresses or email addresses as a means of staying in contact with customers or to include customers in the business blog that information cannot be shared with others without the express permission of the provider. Businesses also may not name a customer in their ads or on blogs without permission and without giving credit to the person who made the statement. It also can be considered a violation of privacy to send out bulk emails to customers even, if that customer provided their email address, unless the business has notified the customer that it will be sending out emails and has given them the option to “opt-out” of receiving them. It is also a good practice to include the “opt-out” option in every email sent out just in case a customer changes their mind and no longer wishes to receive them.
The above information covers only the common basics of business advertising. On the FTC website there are 25 pages of guidelines that govern the use of advertising and it would be beneficial to any business owner to be familiar with those guidelines. Knowing and following the guidelines and laws governing business advertising is an essential element of daily business operation.
Once again, the best thing to keep in mind when using a blog to build your business is to be honest and considerate of others in your business advertising. .