Recap of #Blissdom Session: Blogger’s Guide to Legal, Accounting & FTC Guidelines

by Melanie Edwards on February 8, 2010 · 14 comments

in Blogging

Disclosure: My trip to Blissdom was provided courtesy of Fleishman-Hillard and the U.S. Potato Board as part of participating in the TasteMaker Challenge.

This past weekend I attended the Blissdom 2010 conference and was able to get together with many other women to learn about various blogging topics, network, and have fun. There were many great points during the conference, like the live Potato #Tastemaker Challenge, a very fun dinner out with Carrie, Jennifer, Yolanda, Stacey, and Lizzie, and of course, the motivational opening keynote by Kevin Caroll (@kckatalyst). But, one session in particular, was very useful and provided some practical tips for bloggers. I took some notes and decided to share since they’re important points we should keep in mind.

Note: Keep in mind that these are my notes from listening to the panel and is not my personal knowledge. I still have to research this information more in-depth, and suggest you do the same. Of course, it’s always a good idea to consult a lawyer, accountant, or adviser if you have specific questions.

You Should Know Better: A Blogger’s Guide to Legal, Accounting and FTC Guidelines

Speakers: Susan Getgood (Marketing Roadmaps), Liza Barry-Kessler (Privacy Counsel LLC), Kristen Berman (Intuit)

  • If you make any money from your blog, then you’re a small business. Consider your blog a small business.
  • You can’t wait until you’re rolling in the money to start tracking it.
    • The government doesn’t like it.
    • Knowing what you make is the 1st step towards increasing it.
  • Think about the last 5 expenses you had for your business. What were they?
  • Use a balance sheet! Remember the formula: Assets = Liabilities + Equity
  • Do you need a business banking account if you only make a little money?
    • It depends – How serious are you about your business? It’s important to separate business money from personal.
    • The speaker suggests that you do open a business banking account.
  • How do you pay yourself?
    • Give yourself an actual salary or wage.
  • Do you need an accountant? Do you need an accountant to use accounting software?
    • Again, it depends. How comfortable are you at keeping your own records/books?
    • You don’t need an accountant to use software.
  • At what point do you have to start reporting blogging income to the government?
    • The government likes it if you report any income made – even if just $1.
    • Definitely after $600 as an independent contractor, it has to be reported.
    • For self employment taxes (social security, etc.), after $400.
  • What do you need a tax ID number for?
    • If your business is serious, then yes, you should have a tax ID number.
    • Can apply for one online very easily.
  • Sales tax
    • Some states collect sales tax on consulting services.
    • Need to collect on sales of goods.
  • 1099 Form
    • If you made more than $600, you have to file one as an independent contractor.
  • Schedule C
    • Use schedule C-EZ if expenses are less than $5,000.
    • It was suggested that we look up the details of this and acquaint ourselves with it.
  • Business Write-offs – You can write off:
    • dinners for business meetings
    • business gifts up to $25
    • gas expenses if going to/from a business event
    • travel expenses
  • Ask yourself: Is this expense both ordinary & necessary to the business?
  • Is your blog a hobby or a business?
    • It’s a business if there’s a reasonable expectation of earning a profit.
    • The IRS considers it a business if an activity is carried on for profit and makes profit during at least 3 of the last 5 tax years, including the current year.
  • If someone takes your work, fight it – if you don’t, you could lose your copyright.
  • Registering your blog as a business:
    • Incorporation
      • Can be DIY
      • Secretary of State websites are a great resource
      • Cost varies
    • Blogging Alone: Sole Propietorship
      • If something goes wrong, you’re personally liable.
      • You may want to consult an accountant to make sure you understand business expenses.
    • Partnerships: LLP
      • Good for small groups.
      • If something goes wrong, the entity is liable, not the individual partners.
      • Have operating agreement
        • A written understanding of who owns how much/what, who invests how much/what, plans for business development, what happens if someone wants out.
        • Hire a lawyer to review the agreement, but can write up on your own to begin with.
    • Traditional companies: LLC
      • Have operating agreement
      • If something goes wrong, the entity is liable, not the owners.
      • Highly flexible way of controlling money
      • Profits “pass through” to owners’ individual tax returns
  • Hiring People, even volunteers
    • Additional bloggers/writers need writer’s agreements.
      • Who owns the written material?
      • What happens if the site shuts down?
    • For other services (web design, accountant, etc.), need written contracts/proposals.
  • Employees
    • If you make money on your blog, you’re engaged in “interstate commerce” – minimum wage laws apply to you, even if you’re a small business.
    • Overtime laws apply also, unless the person is salaried & is a business manager.
    • Unless you reach 15 employees, federal employment discrimination laws do not apply; your state may have different rules, though.
  • Blog policies
    • It’s best practice to have blog policies so that your readers & potential advertisers know how you do business.
    • It’s not required legally, but if you do write policies and don’t follow them, you could be liable to the fair-trade agreement.
    • FTC considers it “deceptive trade practice” if you don’t follow policies you’ve established.
    • Types of blog policies: privacy, disclosure, advertising, comment deletion, point of view
      • First 3 highly recommended, others as they fit your blog.
    • Can change policies at any time; try to inform readers of change.
  • Privacy policy
    • What information do you collect from your readers?
    • What do you do with it?
  • Disclosure policy
    • How can readers know if a link to a product is part of an affiliate marketing program?
    • How can readers tell if a post is your opinion, compensated, came from donated product/service, etc?
    • Do you have current or former relationships that might influence your opinions?
  • Ethical best practice (disclosure)
    • You don’t need disclosure if you bought the product yourself.
  • Ways to disclose:
    • Blanket site policy
    • Statement within post
    • Statement before post
      • Not at end of post
    • Category or tag for post (ie, sponsored)
    • Easily identifiable hashtag for tweets (ie, #spon)
  • For swag bags given to many people, then you don’t have to disclose. If product/goods are given to you personally, and you write about it, then you have to disclose.
  • You should ask a company for value statement when sent on a trip or given lots of products. We need to know monetary value.
  • Prizes won or products received that are high in value are considered income that you have to report. (If over $600.)

I hope that in sharing my notes, you find this information useful. I know that I learned a lot from this session and still have some follow-up research to do on a few of the tips provided to learn more. If you were at Blissdom and attended this session, feel free to add your notes or link to your recap post.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy February 8, 2010 at 11:06 am

Thank you so much for sharing your notes, amazing detail!!

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Kristina Brooke February 8, 2010 at 11:19 am

Thanks for the info. I know I definitely needed this.

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Alicialm February 8, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Thanks for this summary Melanie.

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kelly@Tabitha's Team February 9, 2010 at 9:10 am

Thanks for taking the time to share with us what you learned.

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Jai February 9, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Great info! Thanks for sharing. I'm still struggling with blog vs business issue.

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Tyler February 17, 2010 at 1:12 pm

A lot has changed over the last year or so and all of this adds an additional layer of complexity to blogging. These are great notes – thank you

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Silvia February 17, 2010 at 2:47 pm

Awesome Melanie, thanks for sharing!

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Funkidivagirl February 18, 2010 at 6:59 pm

Yes, this was very informative; thank you!

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modernmami March 3, 2010 at 6:49 am

So glad everyone has found these notes useful. You're very welcome! ;)

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