This article is a guest post by Melanie Deardorff
Helping wellness professionals do the right thing online
I first heard of Lisa Fraley, an attorney-turned-health coach-turned-Legal Coach®, being interviewed on The Wellpreneur Podcast (check out Lisa’s new episode for Wellpreneur, from 2016). Not only was I intrigued by the hybrid job description, I was interested to know Lisa was a fellow grad from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition’s holistic health coaching program.
Lisa’s great advice that day and strong desire to help wellness professionals stuck with me after the show ended. Soon, I began subscribing to her blog and recently I contacted Lisa for her advice on how to make smart decisions (i.e., stay out of legal trouble) when it comes to our blog and social media activity. She was happy to help … and here’s our chat.
Lisa Fraley’s passion for health coaches and holistic entrepreneurs
Melanie: For a health coach, personal trainer or other wellness pro building a digital presence online, what are the 2-3 most important things they should do from a legal standpoint?
Lisa: So glad you asked this question because it is important for coaches and entrepreneurs to protect their creative property and limit liability. The main purpose of legal protection is so people don’t get confused about you, your services, advice or opinions and then sue you. Each step that you take to communicate clearly with your audience protects you. I recommend having a:
- Disclaimer – so people are clear about who you are and the services you provide
- Website Terms & Conditions – to protect your website content like your blog posts, sales pages and articles
- Trademarks – to legally “claim” your signature tagline, business name, program name and more
You’re saying if we have a blog name or tagline and believe we’re the only one using it, we still need to do something to protect it?
Yes! Trademarks are key to protecting your unique blog name or tagline. When a trademark is granted, you receive the full legal rights to use the name for 10 years, and more importantly, you are then legally entitled to block others from using it.
If you have a unique name and you would be heartbroken if someone else started using it, I highly recommend trademarking as soon as possible. Trademarking can be a long process – up to a year or even 18 months from the date of filing, so do it now.
Is it OK to take a generic disclosure that we find online and use it on our blog? Or are there any sites you’d recommend that could provide this info?
Having a Disclaimer on your website or blog is an important first step to lay your legal foundation. I get asked a lot whether copying and pasting a disclaimer that you found online will protect you, and the answer is “partially.”
Nothing will fully protect you unless it is personalized for you and your business, because just as humans are different due to “bioindividuality,” so are our businesses. No two businesses are exactly alike. If you are a health coach, your programs, services, e-book, blog, opt-in gift and target market are different from any other health coach’s, so you can’t just use their Disclaimer (that would be considered stealing anyway). Your disclaimer needs to be different and created just for you.
In the two Facebook groups I follow, Social Media for Health Coaches and Health and Wellness Bloggers, questions come up all the time about the best places to get free, public-domain photos. Any advice on what to look out for when we download photos that appear to be free to use? I’ve heard of bloggers receiving threatening emails demanding photos be removed from their websites or even getting sued – and that’s scary!
You do want to be careful about using photos from the internet that appear to be free. I had a client who received a nasty letter and demanded that she take down photos on her website because they weren’t her property (and they were right).
If you are looking for great pre-written articles (with legal, royalty-free photos!) for health coaches, check out my friend Wendy Simard’s SproutedContent.com, which has tons of resources. You can also check out flickr.com/creativecommons to find some royalty-free images that are safe to use.
Another question I get a lot, Lisa, are about recipes that wellness pros want to modify or run on their blogs. They want to know how to source these, whether they need the recipe owners’ permission and whether changing an ingredient or two or the name of the recipe protects them from any copyright infringement. Any guidelines for us on this topic?
I had a client who was a health coach who posted a recipe by a famous chef on her website, and she was sent a “cease and desist” letter to take it down immediately – which scared the pants off of her. If you use someone else’s recipe, you ALWAYS want to fully credit the author and use a live link to the source of the recipe, no matter what. But, know that it still might not be enough.
Even though you give full credit, some authors may not want you to use their recipes commercially in any way that makes you money, so you need to be careful. If you are using it in a recipe e-book that you are selling on your website or as a part of a paid program, that likely would be considered “commercial” use. If you are using it in a blog post and your post is monetized in any way (with advertisements, for example) it MAY be considered “commercial,” as well.
If you are just posting the recipe in a free blog post for the public, it is more likely to be for “personal” use and less likely to be “commercial.” But the safest and most legal route is to get permission from the recipe owner to post the recipe on your blog, because some authors don’t want anyone using their photos for ANY reason without their permission. You can go to the author’s website and e-mail them or use their contact form to ask for permission. Many will let you do so – and you will sleep better at night knowing that you have received permission.
The rule of thumb about recipes and changing ingredients to make it original is that you need to change at least three ingredients. But if you have a short recipe with just five ingredients, changing just one might be significant enough for it to be considered an “original” recipe. As with most things legally related, it just depends on the recipe.
Lisa, more and more wellness pros are using Pinterest and Instagram to build their online brands – using both original and repinned and “regrammed” photos. Do we need to “worry” about all the photo-sharing we do?
This is a tricky area because most users of Pinterest and Instagram specifically use these sites for idea-sharing and to repost and share others’ fabulous photos and images. The line is blurry because of the nature of these sites, but the same rules technically do apply regarding seeking permission to use others’ photos.
Practically speaking, while Pinterest and Instagram can be used as marketing tools to promote your business, if you don’t actually use their sites “commercially” or sell anything from their sites, there is more leeway given here, but you always want to credit the photographer by name.
What about the original photos that we share on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest – should we be adding copyright text or watermarking the photos in some way?
If you are concerned about someone using your original photo, you may want to add text with your copyright and name to the photo image before you share it. It does make it easier to prove that the photo was your original image if needed.
If a health coach wanted to make his or her first investment in legal advice/help that provides protection online, what do you consider a top priority?
For most health coaches or wellness professionals, your first step is to put a Disclaimer on your website for the reasons I shared earlier.
If you work in-person with one-on-one clients, you will also want to have a Client Agreement to protect your income and to make it clear how you handle missed calls, late payments, refund policies and more.
If you primarily offer online programs or services, you will want to have Program Terms & Conditions where people “check the box” before they make a purchase so that they know the “rules of the game” before committing.
This has been great. Any other advice that you want to share before we close?
It is wise to take legal steps to protect your business. Not only do people take you more seriously when you have them in place, but you can relax and feel safe knowing that you have put the right protections in place for your business at the right time. When you feel safe, secure, confident and empowered, you are in the right frame of mind to attract your ideal clients, make money and grow your business.
Steps to legal protection for health coaches and wellness pros
When I was in IIN, all of my health coach friends knew I was a lawyer and kept asking me what they needed to do to protect their businesses. So I created a 7-step Legal Protection Toolkit™ at LisaFraley.com with the most-common legal protections that most entrepreneurs need – and how to put them in place one step at a time. Trust me – you don’t need everything at once, but you probably need at least a few steps. What you need specifically depends on YOUR unique business. If you want help figuring out what is best for you, feel free to schedule a FREE 20-minute Legal Chat with me and I can help you get clear.
Melanie Deardorff is a veteran marketer whose focus has been digital and social media marketing since 2009. Based in the U.S. Midwest but transitioning to more of a digital nomad (work from wherever) lifestyle, Melanie partners with companies of all sizes and industries, including nonprofits. A special passion of hers is helping small companies, including health and wellness-focused businesses, stand out and be authentic online.