What To Consider When Creating A Terms Of Use Policy

You know what is the most important thing about launching a business? It’s not sales. It’s not marketing. It’s not how well you know your industry and how good you were at doing it over at someone else’s company. Your resume doesn’t matter. Your cover letter doesn’t matter. Your grades in college don’t even matter. In fact, those last three things are the farthest from making any such dent in determining your success or failure.

The single most important aspect of starting a business can be summed up in just one word: clarity. Everything seems clear. You know what you want, where to go, how to get there — and better yet, you know how to explain it clearly to the person sitting next to you!

When you can do that, you’ve got the means for a great terms of use policy, and understand this isn’t a measly essay paper in high school. This is, in fact, a college thesis X 10 with a little Stephen Hawking sprinkled in for good measure!

In Other Words, Creating Those Terms of Use Policies Can Be a Pain — Unless You Know What to Look For in a Good Document

That’s where the clarity comes in. Legally and practically, if you’re not clear about what you’re asking in your terms of use policy document, you’ve got troubles. One would think that this would be easy. Be simple, right? Don’t embellish and try to write plainly. It’s a lot harder than it looks.

The fact is only you know what you want. Communicating that to the customer, client or even employee is the hard part. Thankfully, we can help you with that, following this checklist, starting with….

The Conditions of Your Sale

It’s not enough to simply say, “here’s the price and the product.” One would think that’s all a customer cares about. What about “types of payment” or “shipping terms”? Maybe a customer would like to exchange or return a purchase? Do you have terms for that? Consider possible warranties for your product, too.

The point of having the conditions written down is to not only successfully communicate those facts to a customer or client, but to also protect yourself from the prospect of having an unhappy buyer on your hands. No one likes complaints. Avoid them.

What’s Yours Is Yours, and What’s Everyone Else’s Is Everyone Else’s

It’s about intellectual property, people. One would think that thievery only exists with banks, rich homes and Nottingham, thanks to Robin Hood. That’s not so. People steal ideas all the time. Sometimes people do it without knowing it, maybe even you.

You can avoid that by constantly keeping it in mind that you don’t use anyone’s ideas for any reason, even if somewhere in your head you know it doesn’t break any laws. It quite frankly doesn’t matter if it’s perfectly and legally safe. Don’t do it. You don’t want to give anyone a reason to file an infringement claim on you. Even though you know you’d be in the right, that’s a terrible time and financial hassle on your plate that you don’t want to deal with.

The same goes for your copyrights and trademarks. Complete due diligence and file with the USPTO immediately, even before you actually launch your business, let alone a terms of use policy. Do the research, too, to make sure you’re not infringing on someone else’s ideas.

What To Consider When Creating A Terms Of Use Policy

Speaking of Ideas….

Aside from phrases, names, designs and other type of logos associated with intellectual property, understand that your secrets of the trade are definitely off limits! Be careful what you disclose to every customer. You’re not required, actually, to disclose anything of that nature.

Typically, they’re called “privacy policies” where you declare what your company will use, distribute and even sell in relation to the customer and your product. This also protects the client, obviously, as you have to respect the customer’s information, whatever they may give you — everything from credit card numbers to the name of their pets at home — by not speaking of it anywhere in or outside your company.

It’s more of a moral policy, really — but just as important. Don’t forget to add that one in there.

Dealing With Social Media, Access and Accounts

So what happens when employees leave, get terminated or even die? What happens to their accounts? Their files? Their belongings? Detail that in your terms of use policy, of course. It all has to be legal.

While that employee was working with you, certain things in the workstation might’ve been your property, but you have to be clear, almost ridiculously clear, on what stays, what goes and what can simply remain “untouched.”

Consider Facebook and their ‘memorialization’ policy. Legally, relatives of a deceased user may not even use the person’s account; however, relatives may be allowed to “lock up the account” as a “memorial.” It’s considered fair, safe and equitable. It’s issues like that where you want to protect what’s yours and protect what was your employee’s(s’).

Be Honest About Business Partnerships, Affiliations, Etc. Etc.

It might seem like it doesn’t matter — chances are it might if someone ends up wondering where their money, their time, their services went when they did business with you.

You have to, by law, disclose all partnerships, business affiliations and even parent companies. All individuals, customers, clients and employees need to know that. Definitely have a consultation with your skilled business lawyer about the issues there to get it all straight.

Lastly, You Do Have the Right to Terminate Any Accounts

Just be sure you state that in the terms of use policy. This applies to terminations as well, but you need to be very specific about the reasons. They need to relate to your expectations, other policies and the law as a whole.

This summarizes the entire space of a terms of use policy. From start to finish. The finish, obviously, is the eventual termination of an account or two, but that’s the cycle of life as it stands in corporate America.

Just prepare yourself ahead of time before you get to the middle of the cycle. It’s really high up there, and if you don’t have all your ducks in a row, you’ll go a long way down without a parachute.

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Matt Faustman is the CEO at UpCounsel. You can follow his business insights on Twitter at @upcounsel.

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