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Looking for a Business Coach? You Might Want a Lawyer Instead

By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

Coaches aren't just for athletes anymore. Many of us are turning to non-professional mentors or "life coaches" for help in finding direction, organization, and drive, and entrepreneurs and small business owners are no different.

Enter the online business coach. While it might seem like your small business could use the same sort of perspective and guidance as you do, there are some risks associated with business coaches, especially online.

It's My IP

The biggest consideration with online coaching services is one that entrepreneurs are already worried about -- someone stealing their idea. As Entrepreneur magazine points out, "popular online group coaching programs ... can be filled with intellectual property, marketing and financial perils that could lead a business to fail -- sometimes before it even starts."

If you're sharing concerns about your business online, chances are you're sharing details about what makes your business unique. And you could be running the risk that someone -- whether a coach or other mentee in the program -- publishes your material or idea first, scooping your copyrights out from under you. So before you enter into any coaching relationship, you'll want to have a secure non-disclosure or non-compete agreement in place beforehand.

And you'll want to make sure there is no language considering your contributions or content as "works for hire." As attorney Kimberly Bell told Entrepreneur, "By agreeing to those terms, you're actually agreeing to give away your content or contributions to the coach. You will not own it anymore, and if you use it again, including in your own business, you will effectively be stealing from your coach and could be sued."

It's Their Terms of Service

I know you're used to just clicking "Agree" every time you're presented with some website, vendor, or software's terms of service. But if you're signing up for an online business coach, you'd better read these carefully. Often they can include language that:

  • Bans participants from saying anything negative about the course publically;
  • Requires participants to consent to unlimited use of the participant's name, voice, and image in the coach's future marketing materials; and
  • Permits the coach to use the participant's postings, ideas, and materials, all without compensation.

While not all online business coaches are unscrupulous and some can be indispensable to pushing your small business forward, you'll want to be careful about entering any coaching relationship. Before you do, it might help to talk to an experienced commercial or intellectual property attorney to make sure you and your business are properly protected.

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