You are listening to The Life Coach Business Podcast with Amanda Karlstad episode number 213.
Welcome to The Life Coach Business Podcast, a show for coaches who are ready to up-level their business and take their impact, leadership, and results to a whole new level. If you’re ready to start taking powerful action and become the leader your business needs in order to grow and thrive, this show is for you. I’m your host, Amanda Karlstad, certified life and business coach, and entrepreneurial leadership expert. Now, let’s get down to business.
Amanda: All right, everybody. I have a really special guest today that I’m so excited to bring to you and to have this conversation. I have on the show today Autumn Witt Boyd who is an experienced and relatable lawyer who helps million dollar coaches and online educators reach their big goals. Together with her team at the AWB firm, Autumn guides online businesses as they grow.
She has special expertise in copyright and trademark issues. Her firm offers full service legal support. I will say I have been working with Autumn and her team over the course of the last few years, and they are such a wonderful team, have been such a great resource for me. I’ve referred so many clients to the AWB firm, and I highly recommend Autumn and her team’s work. So with that, welcome to the show Autumn.
Autumn: Thank you, Amanda. That was such a delightful intro. Full disclaimer, you’re not an affiliate or anything. There’s no compensation being traded.
Amanda: No, but I do want to let everyone know.
Autumn: I really appreciate your feedback.
Amanda: No, you’re so welcome. One of the things that I want to also say to you Autumn is that what I appreciate so much about you and your team is that you do understand the online coaching industry specifically. I think there’s a lot of, of course, attorneys out there. There’s a lot of resources that we have the option to use. What I really appreciate so much about your team is that you’re so knowledgeable about the online coaching industry specifically, and you have so much experience working in that field. So thank you so much for taking the time today. I’m super excited to have this conversation.
Autumn: Yeah, same here.
Amanda: All right. Okay. Well, let’s just dive in. I think a really good starting point for us Autumn is let’s just talk a little bit about the different stages of business. From your vantage point specifically, the legal considerations that coaches really need to be thinking about in those different phases.
Before we hit record, you and I were talking a little bit about the listeners here. Being that we have listeners that are earlier stage in their business, we have listeners all the way in the seven plus figures that are listening to this show. So I think there’s different considerations at different levels in the business. So I’d love to just kind of pass that over to you and talk a little bit about what you think are some of those most important things for coaches to be thinking about in those different stages?
Autumn: Absolutely. So I will plug a resource. I’m going to do kind of a high level discussion with you, Amanda. But if anyone identifies a phase that you want to know more of, if you’re like oh, I’m in this phase. I’d like to get more specifics. I did a whole series on my podcast, Legal Roadmap Podcast. So if you want to go search that up in any podcast player, you can look for the episodes. It was 120 through 125, but the numbers don’t show up. So it’s like Launch Phase, Solopreneur Phase. Just look for those titles, and you’ll find those episodes.
Autumn: Yeah. So I will just give my standard disclaimer, which is this is not legal advice. Amanda is a client but no one else listening is likely.
Autumn: So I’m a lawyer. I’m licensed in Tennessee. Our firm practices primarily in the United States. So everything I’m going to be talking about is based on US law. I will just kind of share my philosophy and our firm’s philosophy when it comes to what legal protections you need at different times. Because every lawyer may have a different take on this. But this is how we approach it and especially with online businesses.
We look at what are the risks, so kind of what could go wrong. Then we try and put legal protections in proportion to those risks. So the good news is when you are just starting, when you’re launching, when you’re in those early phases, when you’re trying to figure out what you want to do, who you want to work with, you’re probably throwing a lot of spaghetti at the wall, which is exactly what you should be doing. You’re testing and changing a lot.
The good news is most of those newer businesses, it’s very low risk because we don’t have a lot of capital invested in a coaching business. Usually maybe you’ve done some training, but that’s kind of your own education. It’s not like you bought a building and have it full of restaurant equipment or something. It’s a pretty low investment typically upfront.
The things that can go wrong are usually just maybe you have an unhappy client. Like there just aren’t that many. Someone’s not going to fall and break their leg coming to your office. You’re not going to light a building on fire. That’s great news for coaches who are listening. I know there can be a lot of fear. That’s totally normal. You just worry about the things that you don’t know that could possibly go wrong.
But I will tell you, from our experience, we’ve worked with hundreds of coaches, course creators, and other online businesses is that those early phases are low risk. So that’s a great time for you to experiment. I would just give everyone permission to kind of take a deep breath and not worry so much about getting all the legal stuff wrong in those first days because we get a lot of inquiries with just fear and worry and concerns. So I just don’t want that to stop people from getting started and starting to make some money and help some people, which is what coaching is all about.
Amanda: Absolutely. I love that advice because I agree. I think there is so much, there’s so many decisions that you have to make, especially as you’re starting out and as you continue to grow in scale. I do think one of those considerations I see a lot with my clients who are in the earlier stages is what do I even need? Where do I even start with this? So, again, considering this is not legal advice, but what are some of those must haves do you think at that time?
Autumn: Yeah. So the couple things I would recommend is think about your personal risks. So let’s say maybe you are a licensed professional. We work with a lot of doctors and nurses turned coaches. So that may raise your risk a little bit, especially if you’re wanting to do kind of a hybrid where you help people, maybe you’re prescribing a weight loss drug, and you’re helping with weight loss coaching. That is just a little bit of a different evaluation.
So if you do have a little bit of a higher risk profile, you may want to look at going ahead and setting up a legal entity, either an LLC or corporation, sooner rather than later. The other consideration there is if you have significant personal assets.
So let’s say maybe you were a high earner in your previous job, or you have family wealth or your partner does. Again, that’s a different risk profile. We want to make sure we protect that. When you form an LLC or corporation, you’re kind of putting a fence around your personal assets so that if something goes wrong in the business, they can’t come at your personal, your personal money, your personal belongings.
So think about that. That may be a yes or no. I do find a lot of folks want to do this right away, set up an LLC or corporation. There is a cost involved, and there’s a cost every single year. You’ll have to start paying some taxes and things. So I would say if your risk is low, I wouldn’t worry about it right away. That may be after your start, after you’ve kind of proof of concept. After you’ve had a few clients, things are working, you’re sure that you’re going to keep doing it, then I might think about that. Yeah.
Autumn: It will have things like I’m sure we’ll talk about more, a refund policy, how you can terminate the relationship if you need to, just kind of all that good stuff. That is where we see the most problems come up in the early phases is with your clients or customers. If you don’t have an agreement, it’s really tricky to navigate that.
Amanda: Yeah, no, that’s wonderful. Thanks for sharing that. Okay, let’s go into intellectual property. So that was a conversation that you and I briefly had. We were at an event about a month ago, and we’re having a conversation around this. I want to dive in because partly selfishly, but also because I think this is a really important conversation.
I really value your perspective. I think your perspective is actually very different I think for the majority of coaches. So that is around intellectual property, and people essentially, or clients essentially, coming in and taking your intellectual property or repurposing that or copying it, essentially. So let’s talk about that.
Autumn: Okay. Yeah, I do have kind of an unpopular opinion in this space. So I get on my soapbox a little bit. The thing that no one wants to hear but that I say often is that if you’re doing something awesome, if you’re doing good work, if your clients are getting results, you will be copied. Just go ahead and know that that is part of business. It still sucks. Like it’s not fun. I have been copied. Nobody likes it.
Amanda: I have too.
Autumn: Yeah, but it is just kind of the name of the game. Especially with coaching, we do put out so much content. A lot of us do content marketing. We’re on social media. We’re doing blogs and emails. We’re putting a lot out that is not behind a paywall. That’s still your intellectual property. But because it is so public, it makes it really easy for copycats to take it. So I don’t know that that will give anyone any comfort.
But that kind of leads into the next thing that I want to say, which is I always want folks to protect their intellectual property. But what I find is copycats rarely are actually affecting your business. They’re not usually, now sometimes this is different, and we might take a different approach. But let’s say you have a program name that you think is really catchy, and someone starts a program with a similar name. I don’t find that people are losing clients because of that. It feels bad. It feels terrible.
But people are often, especially as you’re building your brand, folks are often hiring a coach because they know, like, and trust the coach. They’ve either had some interaction with them. They’ve seen them on social media. They watch their videos. They listened to their podcast. It’s very personal. So while trademarks are important, and they become more important, the more you scale, they are not that important for a while.
So there’s some kind of basic protections we can do. But I find this rush to like rush out and register the trademarks to everything you can imagine in your business is sometimes just kind of a waste of time and energy and money.
Amanda: Yeah, and I appreciate that. I appreciate that distinction, Autumn, because this is something that I think is different. When I look at the clients that I work with, again, that are maybe in the earlier stages of business versus the clients that I’m working with where we’re scaling. We’re at that seven plus figure mark, or we’re scaling to that seven figures. As I shared with you before we started hitting record, I actually advised a couple of clients just last week to go out and trademark essentially their names, which is their program names because they’re so good.
As we are now stepping into this scale phase, which we already are seeing a lot of traction. I know just from experience, and I’ve advised other clients that are further along in the journey, I do think that it does become important, especially if it’s a very niche topic. I have found with several of my clients who are very specific in their niche, that is something very new, it’s something very unique. It’s a different take on their work and on the problem that they’re solving.
Once that starts to catch, once especially we start layering on like paid advertising, and we really start to build a lot of volume. What I tend to see is that those things do get picked up by others in the industry. We have had a couple of instances where it was good that they had gone out, and they had taken the advice and actually trademarked their intellectual property because we did run into that. So I do think, I really appreciate that distinction. I would agree with that.
I do think early on, I don’t think it’s as important. I would agree. I don’t think that it’s even a conversation about we’re losing business. But where I do see it come into play is when you’re starting to get or you’re at kind of that million dollar mark and beyond where you just have much more visibility. You have much more volume in terms of eyeballs essentially on your brand that I do think that that’s an important move. So I actually agree with you. I think that that’s a really important distinction.
Autumn: Well, I’ll share one reason why we take this approach at our firm is trademark law is really meant to protect consumers and to help them find the thing they’re looking for. So think about if you’re in Walmart, and you’re trying to find a Coke, how do you know you’re getting Coke and not Pepsi? It’s the label. It’s the logo. It’s the shape of the bottle. It’s all those things.
So what registering your trademark does, going through that whole process, paying all the money with the USPTO, is it gives you the ability to protect your rights more easily. So if you see someone with the same program, you can send a letter not only to them, cease and desist, but if their course is on Kajabi, you can send it to Kajabi and say hey, you’ve got infringing content on your platform.
Autumn: If you’ve got a registration, that process is a lot easier. It will show the other person hey, they’ve put their money where their mouth is. They are taking their brand seriously. It might make the other person kind of more willing to play ball. So, like you said, that does become more important as your business grows. But it’s kind of the first piece of a strategy that requires more time, more energy, more legal fees. So you need to be in a place in your business where that makes sense unfortunately.
Amanda: Absolutely. I agree. Great. What about one of the things that as we were sharing that popped into my mind was, and we haven’t talked about this, but the conversation around AI.
Autumn: I made a face. It’s a big one.
Amanda: I feel like it, yeah. I don’t even know, quite honestly, like from a legal standpoint, where do you start? Or what are the considerations? I would love your perspective on that.
Autumn: Yeah, it is the Wild, Wild West. It is still, and I’m going to mention we’re recording this November 1, 2023 because things are changing very rapidly. So I have like my copyright lawyer nerd hat that I can get on, but I don’t think that’s super helpful to your audience. What I will say is it is a tool. It is not directly copying anybody else’s stuff. So I think there’s a lot of worry about plagiarism, which there should be. You should not be copying other people’s stuff.
But the way that these ChatGPT and these engines work is they’re kind of amalgamating millions and millions of pieces of content and kind of using this algorithm to spit out something new. So we use it at our firm. I find it incredibly valuable for kind of getting past that crappy first draft. Nobody likes the blank page. We’ve been using it to repurpose content. So I like to give it some options.
I think Corinne Crabtree, who’s a friend and client, she’s always joking like ChatGPT never has a bad day. It always has a good attitude. Like, you can ask it for 30 headlines, and it will spit out 30 headlines. So I think it’s great to iterate on things, to come up with ideas. I don’t see a lot of intellectual property concerns, at least right now because of the way it works. This may change.
The people whose work was fed into it to create this algorithm are not happy, but that’s kind of a separate issue. But I would say take what comes out. I mean if you’re posting or sharing that first draft that it comes out with, it’s usually not great. So it typically needs some tweaks. But I have found it really helpful. So I’m a fan. Yeah. I know other people have kind of ethical issues, or just don’t feel like it’s, feel like it may put writers out of work. There’s lots of side roads we could go down. But.
Amanda: There are. I mean, there’s so many different ways. I know from my vantage point, I have considered, not that I’m living in fear around it, but you touched on it. One of the things that I have thought about as a content creator, as a podcaster, as all the work that I do is the, I guess the risk, of that being used and repurposed again. Like, just available for anybody to kind of take and use.
I think what you said is it’s an amalgamation. We’re still kind of early on. It could change, but that thought has crossed my mind, if I’m being honest. Just as what do we do with that, right? As my own intellectual property, as I sit down and record these podcasts every week and create the content that I create, that is a bit of a concern that I do have moving forward?
Autumn: Well, the thing that just kind of creeps me out, honestly, is that it is so good. That I can put in, we work with Amy Porterfield, and her voice is not exactly our voice, but it’s not that different. You can put in write an email in the voice of Amy Porterfield, and you can give it some bullet points. Man, if you didn’t know better, you would think that that was Amy Porterfield talking. So I worry a little bit about the kind of deceptive potential use impersonation, basically. But we’re going to be seeing a lot of changes on this. Stay tuned on this topic.
Amanda: I’m sure you’re going to be busy. You’ll be very busy.
Autumn: We’ll see. We’ll see.
Amanda: Okay. All right. So one of the things that I think comes up a for coaches specifically, that I want to talk through, that I think is a valuable conversation is the conversation around guarantees. I think, as you know, books like $100 Million Offers was released, I think it was maybe a year, year and a half ago, Alex Hormozi’s book.
As different teachings have kind of come into this industry, I think we’re seeing more and more, especially from advertisers that talk about the importance of giving guarantees and that sort of thing. So, again, this is a big conversation, but I think, and I have my own viewpoints on this which I’m happy to share. But I would love for us to dive into the conversation around offering guarantees for clients.
I do realize this isn’t relevant for every niche. It’s not relevant, I don’t think it makes sense for every audience. But I do have clients. A lot of coaches I think do fall into a category where and maybe thinking right now listening to this, what do I do? Do I offer a guarantee? Do I not? What do I do? What are the legal considerations that I need to have here?
Autumn: Yeah, absolutely. When I think of guarantees, I think of them as a sales tool. I think people don’t talk about that enough. But you are lowering the risk for your customer. You are telling them buy this thing. It’s not very risky because if you don’t get the results, or if you don’t get whatever I’m guaranteeing, I’ll give you your money back or you can whatever the and/or part of the guarantee is. So when you look at it that way, not everyone needs to offer a guarantee because some people have really proven results and a great reputation and people are happy to buy from them. So that’s just something to think about.
Because if you are offering a guarantee legally, that does open the door to new rules and regulations. This is another area I think not enough people are talking about, but there are actually Federal Trade Commission rules. If you use the word guarantee, especially money back guarantee, in your advertising, there are rules that you are supposed to be complying with. This varies a little bit depending on exactly the language you’re using. So I can’t give a black and white rule.
But it’s basically if you are guaranteeing something, you have to put your money where your mouth is. Like if you are going to have 12 conditions around a money back guarantee, like you only get your money back if you do this, this, this, this then that should be on your sales page. Like you can’t just say money back guarantee and then it’s kind of hidden in the fine print. Like if you are offering a guarantee, you need to be pretty upfront. Federal Trade Commission’s job is to protect consumers and truth in advertising is their big thing. So they don’t like things to be hidden.
Amanda: Got it.
Autumn: So just be aware, if you are offering any kind of guarantee or warranty, in the coaching space, we’re not really using warranties. That’s more with products, but you are going to have more compliance. You should probably either be doing some research on your own, or if your company is at a place where it makes sense, certainly at seven figures or beyond, you should be consulting with legal counsel to make sure that you’re not opening yourself up to problems there.
Amanda: Yeah, that’s great. So what are, do you think, some of those big issues that businesses at that seven figure level or are on their way, are kind of nearing that that million dollar mark, what are those big considerations for those businesses?
Autumn: Yeah, we talked about before we hit record a little bit what I’m seeing with our larger clients is a lot of refund requests. I don’t know if it’s the economy. I don’t know if it’s just like we’re past 2020 and people are kind of wisening up. So if they feel like they’re not getting their money’s worth, they are not hesitant to ask for a refund.
So when I see that that is like an end problem, and I like to back up and say like okay, what are the things we could have done to prevent that? So I will share a couple of those, what we like to do proactively. Some of this is just business advice. It’s not really legal, but make sure your sales page and your emails, your webinar really matches what you’re delivering.
The biggest problems that I see is either circumstances changed, and you couldn’t fulfill a requirement. Or maybe you forgot that you promised something. These programs sometimes can be six months or a year. So just making sure you’re really delivering on your promises is kind of number one.
Number two, making sure that your contract is really solid around refunds. We always ask new clients what is your refund policy? Often people say well oh, I don’t have a policy. I don’t give refunds. That is a policy. So you need to be stating that in a really clear way all throughout your sales process. Especially in the contract. That should not be a surprise to someone if they are unhappy with your program. Then they’re like oh, no refunds. I had no idea. Then it really becomes a customer service issue at that point.
I think the other lesson we’ve learned that just as a lawyer, I think like almost everything is negotiable, but I know normal people don’t necessarily think that way. Often, when someone is unhappy, they’re usually unhappy with like one little part of a program or one little thing that didn’t get delivered or didn’t go as they expected. If they want a full refund, almost always, this is what we see. Like I paid you $20,000, you didn’t give me this one thing. I want all my money back.
What we have found is you can negotiate that. You can say I understand you weren’t happy with X, Y, Z, like we will give you a partial refund, or we will extend the, we’ll give you some extra coaching. There may be other ways that you can resolve that conflict other than just a full refund.
Amanda: Right. Yeah, no, that’s wonderful advice. I do think what you said about making sure that that’s very clear in the contracts, I think, is a great no matter where you’re at, what stage you’re at I think is a great thing to look out for anybody that’s listening what that looks like right now in your business. If it’s non-existent, I mean, that’s definitely something I would also recommend to look at right away.
I appreciate your vantage point on that because I agree. I think a lot of times as a coach we want the best. We pour ourselves into our work. Inevitably, there may be somebody that comes through the program that isn’t happy. I agree with what you said. A lot of times, it could be just maybe that one simple thing. Yet, they’re requesting an entire refund.
So I think just being open to having conversations, obviously seeking legal counsel if needed and not taking things so personally. That’s one of the things that I see a lot.
Autumn: So hard,
Amanda: I’ve experienced this too, right? You pour a lot into your work, into your content, into your clients. When that happens, or if that happens, it can be kind of unsettling. So I just think it’s good to prepare ahead of time and kind of one of the themes here in this conversation is just kind of expect all of it, honestly. Expect that all of these things that we’re talking about is going to be a part of it. It’s part of business. It’s part of scaling a business. Honestly having these problems are normal when business is growing.
Autumn: Yes, yes.
Amanda: So I just think that that’s wonderful advice no matter what stage somebody is at right now.
Autumn: I love what you said you think maybe you have 1% unhappy customers or half a percent, which is tiny. But after you have 100 customers or 200 customers like there are going to be one or two here or there. So it really is not an if. It’s a when. Like you said, it’s very easy to take it very personally because it is your work, and it can feel like a judgment on yourself. So that is where your great work with thought work and trying to get some distance from the drama can be really helpful.
Amanda: Yeah, and I also think that that’s where your side of it too right? Like having those legal things in place and being very clear about that is, it also helps you eliminate so much of that in the process of if or when that comes up. So that’s great. Good.
Okay, so we’ve talked about a lot here. What other things do you think are important for coaches to consider as the industry, obviously, the industry, in general, has grown exponentially in the past few years. I don’t know the what the latest numbers are, but obviously, we’re going to continue to grow and expand. What do you think are some of the most important things that any coach should really be thinking about right now?
Autumn: Yeah, so we talked about trademarks a little bit. We talked about registering them, protecting them. What we didn’t talk about is, and this is, like you said, for any coach. If you are thinking of a new brand, a new program name, a new tagline is making sure that someone else is not already using it. So this is a way to avoid problems down the road is to just run a quick, you can do this yourself, you don’t. We do this for our clients, but you don’t have to have a lawyer to do just a, what I call like a quick and dirty trademark search.
So do a Google. Go on podcast platforms, any social media platforms that you use, and just search it up, as my kids would say. See what pops up. If you find that a lot of other people are using either that same thing or something really similar, it doesn’t mean you can’t use it but it probably means it’s a crowded field. So that is going to be hard to protect. So as you’re thinking like you might want to grow that brand or use that more widely, it’s going to be a weak trademark. It’s going to be harder to protect later.
Amanda: That’s good.
Autumn: So it’s kind of the more creative you can be, the more you can avoid stepping on other people’s toes. That is going to set you up for success down the road so that when you are at that point where it makes sense to register it, you’re in good shape to do so. You always want to be the first to use anything in your business. Yeah.
Amanda: Yeah, absolutely. I definitely think there are certain segments, certain audiences, certain niches that are, like you said, just more crowded and a little bit more I don’t like to use the word really saturated because I don’t believe that, but they are more crowded. I have seen examples of that where very common words even are somebody may have trademarked that or have some protections, legal protections around that.
I have seen in scenarios, I haven’t personally experienced that, but I’ve seen scenarios where that has come up. That can be a challenge. So I think that that’s really good to think about it. How can I be unique? To do these searches, but also really as I’m building my brand, think about how can I really position myself in the most unique way that I can, I think is good.
Autumn: If you’re using generic words or descriptive words, you’re just going to run into other people using similar words because it’s kind of obvious. So.
Amanda: Yeah, that’s so good. Well, wonderful. Well, Autumn, thank you so much for today’s conversation. This was so valuable and so much great wisdom here. Is there anything else that you’d like to share before we sign off? I definitely want to let everybody know where they can find you, where they can reach out and get some more support if needed. But is there anything else that you’d like to share?
Autumn: Yeah, the last thing I mentioned, we talked about contracts a little bit. In addition to working one on one with clients, like we do with your company Amanda, we do sell contract templates, which are a great, affordable kind of entry level way to start getting some legal protections around your business without spending thousands of dollars.
So I am a huge fan of templates. I think they are useful no matter where you are. We have some seven figure clients who still will grab a template if they just need something quick. That is an incredible resource that I want to make sure your audience is aware of.
Amanda: Thank you for bringing that up. I wanted to mention that. I highly recommend if you don’t have contracts especially or if you are in need of them or need to refresh and want to take a look at that, I highly recommend yes, Autumn and her team and the contracts that they have. I think they’re well experienced in this online coaching business industry, which I value so much. So I would highly recommend. Where can people find you? So if they want to find those contracts, if they want to get more resources from you and your team, where can they find you?
Autumn: Yeah. So our website is just my initials, awbfirm.com. Then we’re AWB Firm on all of the platforms. We tend to be most active on Instagram and Facebook, but we’d love to interact with anybody. I love to be in the DMs answering questions and chatting. So feel free to reach out either of those places.
Amanda: So good. Thank you so much Autumn for your time today.
Autumn: So thanks for having me. You’re welcome.
Hey if you’re ready for a real breakthrough in your business and want to grow and scale your business to at least six figures or more in annual revenue, I invite you to apply for my exclusive program The Mastermind at amandakarlstadcoaching.com/the-mastermind. I look forward to seeing you there.
Thank you for listening to this episode of The Life Coach Business Podcast. If you want to learn more about how to build, grow, and scale your business and accelerate your results visit amandakarlstadcoaching.com.