Keeping Your Business on the Right Side of the Law
By Rieva Lesonsky
Do your online homework: The Small Business Administration has 21 free online business guides organized by industry. You’ll find plenty of information and current updates in each guide. If you sell beverages, for example, click on the “Food and Beverage” link and you’ll find safety regulations, labeling requirements, and more. Once you’ve formed your business and filled out the countless forms, permits, business licenses and filing of required official documents, the paperwork deluge is not over. Depending on where you live, and the industry you’re in, there could be a flood of new paperwork to fill out to make sure you stay in compliance with government and industry rules and regulations. For many business owners, there are a ton of industry-specific rules to be followed—and government agencies to make sure you follow them. The federal government has many regulatory agencies, such as the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency. Each agency has its own set of rules, ranging from what you can manufacture, to how you conduct your business and even how you can advertise your product or service. Compliance is a serious issue. We’ve all seen the bad press companies get (damaging their brand) when they aren’t in compliance with agency rules. Consumer advocacy groups often make an example of violators (businesses that claim to sell organic products, but don’t comply with organic standards for instance). So how do you avoid running afoul of regulations?
- Make sure you check to see if your state (or even local municipality) imposes its own set of rules. Some industries (food for example) are heavily regulated on every government level, including your local zoning commission.
- Make an appointment with a representative of your industry association. If you industry is heavily regulated, it’s a good idea to join the major trade association affiliated with what you do. Your trade association not only should be up-to-date on the latest regulations, but likely have regular newsletters and meetings keeping you apprised. Some associations operate at the federal level, others at a state level.
- Join an industry networking group. Many are affiliated with the trade association so you can connect with other business owners, tap into their experiences and get advice. The counselors at your local SCORE and Small Business Development Offices can help, too. Most of the time, you can meet with an expert or entrepreneur familiar with your industry who can walk you through the numerous regulations that will keep you on the right side of the law.
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