Everything to know about Protecting Your Membership Site
With online businesses growing left and right these days, there is no doubt you have seen membership sites popping up - and with good reason!
It’s a great way to serve your ideal clients, create evergreen content and have a more predictable stream of income with monthly recurring revenue (MRR) - and THAT can be a game changer when the world gets unpredictable!
But something to keep in mind is that membership sites are different from 1:1 services or group programs/courses and therefore need their own contract.
Your Terms and Conditions (or Terms of Purchase) for your website or other group programs won’t necessarily translate to your membership site, but you absolutely 100% need to have them!
Because of how membership sites function there are additional issues to consider: like how renewals and refunds work, permissible use of the site and protection of your intellectual property. Having an in-person meetup for your members? That opens a whole different can of worms and needs to be taken into account.
Here’s what you need to think about for your Membership Site Terms of Purchase...
✔️ Payment terms - having monthly charges, automatic renewals and payments made at different times requires some special language. Make sure your Terms spell out how (and when) everything is charged
✔️ Refund policy - when can members cancel? What type of refund policy do you have? Do they have to join for a certain amount of time before they can cancel?
✔️ What’s included - from A to Z you want to spell out the benefits. You, of course have the flexibility to revise this as you wish, but it’s good practice to have the minimum (eg, access to weekly modules, monthly phone call, etc.) included in your terms.
✔️Protection of your content - important! No doubt you are creating some solid videos, PDFs, tools and resources - you need to make sure you have the right language to protect your IP.
Note: if you are a web designer or doing branding, etc. - some of what you create may require you issuing a limited license to your members
✔️Disclaimers - the *oh so important* piece of any legal agreement - this protects you, your income and your biz.
✔️Dispute resolution - what happens if a member gets pissed and wants to bring a legal action against you?
Your membership site can be the cornerstone of an awesome business so make sure you have the right structures, including a proper contract, from the beginning, grab yours HERE!
Finally, here are a few tips to keep in mind when picking your name to make sure you don’t run into trademark issues with your membership site name:
1. Google It. IMMEDIATELY. And don’t just check page 1 - go up to page 10-15 and see if anyone in your industry is using it. This is the quickest way to weed out direct competitors that may have trademark rights.
Wait, what are trademark rights? Meaning someone else already has a claim to that name. If they are in a similar industry and also doing a similar service (online course, membership site, coaching, etc.) they likely already have a legal right to it.
2. Do a trademark search - anyone can go to www.uspto.gov and do a basic trademark search. What you are looking for is whether there are LIVE marks that use your name for a similar service.
3. The question of trademarking now, later or ever - Registering a trademark is a process and can take 6 months - 2 years to be complete, and of course to save both time and money you will want to hire a lawyer which is an investment (usually $1-3K).
The later argument - so early on in my business I would not have suggested pursuing a trademark registration unless you absolutely knew and were 110% sure that the business name, program or offering was going to stick around.
However in the last few years, and probably because more and more businesses are succeeding with all the coaching and education that is currently available, I have had a lot of business owners come to me too late in the game after investing 10’s of thousands of dollars to over $100K along with years building a brand. They want to #protecttheirpassion only to find out that someone has registered their intended trademark out from under them forcing a massive and extremely costly rebrand or legal battle. So in cases where a significant investment is going to be put into a business name, program or offering a strong case can be made for trademarking early and proactively. In fact the USPTO has a special category for business owners who have not yet used their mark in commerce, but have a good faith intention to do so in the future which is called an intent-to-use (ITU) filing.
And finally, some things just may not be worth trademarking which is the “ever” argument, specifically if you were forced to immediately shut down your business name, program or offering and start over - if that wouldn’t be a big deal then definitely don’t invest in a trademark, it would be a waste of time and money.
In any case, once you decide on a name that you may want to trademark in the future, you can use the ™ next to it, and then consider registration a bit down the line (at which point you will get to use the ®). But beware, that little ™ doesn’t have any legal significance, it’s still a race to the trademark office.
4. Be careful with teaching about other businesses. If you are running a membership site on “How to use Facebook Ads” “Build a WordPress site like a boss” “Dominate on Twitter” you need to be careful as you very well may not be (and are likely not) permitted to use their name in your name/branding. ALWAYS check their Terms of Service when thinking about utilizing names in your marketing.
Are you thinking it could be time to own your brand, Destination Legal offers a done-for-you “Make Your Mark™” package that makes it easy to #protectyourpassion® and if you have questions, contact us, we're happy to help.
Sarah Kornblet Waldbuesser, Esq.
Attorney for Coaches & Online Business Owners
After several years at a law firm and a few career jumps, she ended up falling in love with online business and loves helping entrepreneurs achieve their dreams in a smart and protected way. She is also an adventurer, traveler, and food and wine lover. When not at her computer, she loves hanging with her family, having wine with friends, flying around the globe and connecting with other online business owners.
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