Advice for HR Pros Starting a Consulting Business


Make sure you protect your intellectual property with copyrights.
Make sure you protect your intellectual property with copyrights.

There is actually a ton of advice I could offer HR people who think they can go and start a consulting business. First, if the word “sales” is anathema to you then stay where you are or find another job. Initially, even when you start off with a readymade assignment, you will be doing sales. But my purpose here is not to discourage you. (In reality I do want to make sure you think very long and hard about doing it, but that is beside the point.) What I want to address is something of which those of you that have made that decision should really be aware.
Most everyone is aware of copyrights. Not everyone abides by the laws governing them. Sometimes we knowingly and unknowingly violate them, such as publishing Dilbert cartoons in a newsletter or using a photo without permission because it is “harmless use.” Unfortunately that does not make it right. I talked about the rules in this post Steal This Picture, I dare you. This however is not the advice I am I am giving here. I want to make sure you are protecting your copyrights.
Most of us know that if you write something or create something you own the copyright to it. You don’t even need to register that copyright. According to the United States Copyright Office “Copyright protection subsists from the time the work is created in fixed form. The copyright in the work of authorship immediately becomes the property of the author who created the work. Only the author or those deriving their rights through the author can rightfully claim copyright.”
That works well if you are the author. But what if you are not? Did you create your own website? Did you design your own logo? Do you write your own content? If you did not then your ownership of the copyright could be in danger unless you have taken steps to safeguard that ownership. Under copyright law there is a concept called “work-for-hire” that can help you. Generally this concept means that an employee who writes, draws, photographs, or creates at all does not own the copyright to that work. It was done while they were being paid by their employer and thus the copyright is owned by the employer.
It is unlikely though, if you are just starting up, that you have employees who are doing this creation. It is more likely that you are using an outside provider, often an independent person like yourself. If they are your creators they are in fact the owners of the copyright unless you have a specific agreement in place that they are doing the work-for-hire and that you own the copyright. A handshake and a “gentlemen’s” agreement may feel good and honest but in reality it does not protect you, at least not to the extent an actual agreement will. Here is a sample of what one might look like.
If you opt to tread down the murky path of consulting make sure you are protecting your intellectual capital. After all that is really all you have.

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