Entrepreneurs and Business Owners
Guide to the Law for Business Owners and Entrepreneurs in the United States
There are many laws and regulations for businesses in the U.S., so this is just a starting point. Here are the basics, which generally apply throughout the country, but states also have additional specific laws (Check out our guide for California businesses). Also, certain industries have additional regulations to follow. So, as usual, it’s best to speak with a lawyer to discuss your particular business issues.
1. Small business and startups vs big business
When is a business a small business or startup, and does it matter?
2. Choosing a business structure
What is a business structure?
A business can operate in many forms, including a sole proprietorship, general partnership, corporation (S corporation and C corporation), limited liability company (LLC), or other types.
For more information, see our Guide to Business Structures.
What is a social enterprise?
A social enterprise is a type of business that operates based on both “doing good” as well as making a profit. See our Guide to Social Enterprise for more.
How much does it cost to form a business structure?
Most lawyers would charge between $500 – $2500+. Rocket Lawyer usually charges around $100 (+ state filing fees).
3. Hiring for your business
Should I hire employees or independent contractors (freelancers)?
Determining whether to hire an independent contractor (aka freelancer) vs an employee can be quite tricky. While using independent contractors will usually help you save on taxes, benefits, and administrative costs, many employers misclassify (whether intentionally or not) employees as independent contractors, which can have serious consequences.
See our guide to Freelancers vs. Employees.
What are the general employment laws I should know?
See our Employee rights page.
What intellectual property rights should I be aware of when hiring?
If you are hiring a freelancer to create any intellectual property (writing, art, design, etc.) for you, the freelancer actually owns that intellectual property unless you have a signed contract stating that you will own it (work for hire or assignment agreement). If not, you would simply have a license to use the work. See Copyright for more details.
If you are hiring an employee to create intellectual property, you generally will own the work as long as it is clear that they were hired specifically to do that work.
How do taxes work for a small business?
As a small business, you actually must pay taxes 4-5 times per year, not just once! See more at our Guide to Business Taxes.
5. Business Name & Product Name
Can I protect my business name and prevent others from using it?
Maybe. If no other ongoing business used the name before you did, in the same industry as you, you may have rights to your business name. This is called trademark rights. See our Guide to Trademark Law for more.
How do I protect my product name?
If no other business is using a similar name for a similar product, you may be able to get a trademark for it.
Can I name my product after a celebrity?
Generally, not without the celebrity’s permission. For example, without getting proper authorization, you can’t call a new dress the “Marilyn Monroe dress.” This is based on the right of publicity. See more at our Guide to Marketing and Merchandising.
6. Business Ideas and Materials
How can I protect my business ideas?
Business related ideas may be protected through a combination of patent, trade secret and/or copyright. These are all different forms of intellectual property. See our Guide to Intellectual Property for more.
7. Retail and E-Commerce
8. Business Contracts
All businesses need to have a basic understanding of how contracts work. See our Guide to Contracts for more.
9. Business Banking
Does my business need its own bank account?
It’s always a good idea to separate personal from business expenses. If an LLC or corporation, the business must have a separate bank account, otherwise you risk losing your limited liability.
See more at our Legal Guide to Business Banking.
10. General business law
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