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North America today is a highly regulated, lawsuit-crazy world, it's not enough to simply use Common Sense. So here are 4 legal tips designed to help you plan and avoid legal nightmares
1. In lawsuit-happy America, anyone can sue you at any time and for any reason. And even if you win, the suit may cost you tens of thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of dollars.
Here are just a couple ridiculous legal examples
January 2000: Austin, Texas: Kathleen Robertson was awarded $780,000 after she tripped over a toddler who was running wild inside a furniture store.
The kid who was running amok was Ms. Robertson's own son!
October 1998: Bristol,Pennsylvania: Terrence Dickson was awarded more than $500,000 when a faulty door opener trapped him inside a garage and forced him to survive on diet soda and dog food for 8 days.
Mr. Dickson had been robbing the house before he got trapped in the garage!
Are you kidding me???
2. Carefully study the regulations governed by the regulatory agency that has jurisdiction over your clients or products.
While the FTC watches marketers in nearly every industry, some types of small work from home businesses are also controlled by their own sets of guidelines.
If, for example, you (or your client) are selling stocks, mutual funds, and other kinds of securities investments, you'll need to understand the regulations set by the Securities & Exchange Commission as well as the National Association of Securities Dealers.
If you participate in the selling of commodity futures or futures options, you need to study the Commodity Futures Trading Commission site.
And if you sell neutreseutical products, you should study FDA.gov regulations for guidance in planning your advertising and marketing materials.
3. Memorize everything you see on the U.S. Federal Trade Commission website at http://www.ftc.gov/.
The FTC is the arm of the government that sets policy for all advertising, marketing, and sales conducted in America. The Commission's primary purpose is to protect consumers from scammers and scoundrels.
For the most part, the FTC wants to ensure you follow the Golden Rule. If you do, you'll be significantly ahead of the game – but NOT entirely home free. There are other little curves you need to be aware of … like the "reasonable person" rule.
In a nutshell, it goes like this: As a small home based business owner, marketing exec, or copywriter, you are not only required to tell the objective truth. You must also avoid giving your prospect a false impression about your product by omitting or failing to mention a key fact about it.
To learn more, I strongly recommend you spend a few hours at: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/guides/guides.htm That's where the FTC keeps its "Plain English" guides for advertisers and marketers. To avoid potential legal hot water, I suggest you visit them often.
4. Keep your legal antennae tuned.
Unfortunately, the America(n)laws and regulations governing the advertising and marketing of products and services are not carved in stone. So, to keep on top of shifts in the legal landscape, it's absolutely necessary to have an attorney review your sales copy before you plan to mail it.
Many years ago, for example, the SEC hauled in a guy named Chris Lowe. He wasn't selling regulated securities – just publishing a monthly investment advisory newsletter offering his opinions and recommendations.
The way Chris saw it, sharing his opinions and recommendations was free speech – protected under the First Amendment. And so he ignored the SEC's sanctions against using testimonials, his track record, and other credibility devices when promoting his newsletter.
The SEC did not take kindly to being ignored. They shut down his operation and seized his bank account.
Chris fought back all the way to the America(n)Supreme Court, where they determined that he was indeed operating under his First Amendment rights. A major victory was won for financial publishers!
Ever since the famous "Lowe Decision," marketers of investment and financial information products have been free to operate under the entirely more liberal FTC guidelines. Nevertheless, the SEC or CFTC still takes a run at a financial publisher every few years. (And something similar happened with the FDA not too long ago.)
So always keep your ear to the ground. The rules for marketing regulated products are constantly changing – and when they do, you do NOT want to be the last one to know.
Small work from home business owners should buy an insurance plan to protect themselves against this kind of legal nonsense and if you're a copywriter or a marketing consultant, you might want to consider adding the following to your contracts:
A. A clause that says your client takes full responsibility for determining the accuracy, legality, and regulatory compliance of all statements in the copy before it is used.
B. A "Hold Harmless" clause that says if your client is sued for any reason, he can't turn around and sue YOU.
C. An "Indemnification" clause that says if YOU are named as a party in any regulatory or legal action against your client, he will reimburse you for any legal fees or awards assessed against you.
Pretty scary stuff … but absolutely CRUCIAL to your success.
As you can see, it's one thing to make big money as a business owner or copywriter or marketer. HOLDING ON to the money you make is another matter entirely.
So follow the Golden Rule … follow your industry's regulatory guidelines … get a lawyer's help when appropriate … CYA with contract provisions that protect you when the worst happens … and you have a good shot at both getting rich and staying that way.
Legal Disclaimer: I felt it was important to tell you that I am NOT an attorney. My advice: Disregard anything in the above article that smacks of legal advice – except, of course, that you should hire a lawyer.
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