In Pittsburgh, visiting the holiday markets across the city is one of the best ways to grab a little holiday magic, all while finding something hand-made, personal, and unique for loved ones.
Nothing captures the holiday spirit quite like a local holiday market. A big lit tree. Carolers. Costumes. Live music. Hot chocolate. Roasted chestnuts. And vendors who are legally protected from liability! Okay, maybe it’s not in your favorite carol (you haven’t heard the 12 Days of Entity Formation?), but whether you’re selling food items or jewelry, pottery or plants, there are so many things to consider to better ensure your business is protected and all of your swans are a’swimming.
Below are just a few questions to ask yourself before setting up your booth (and they’re applicable to markets year-round too!):
Have you created an entity?
While you might be the sole creator and curator of your special product, it can be helpful to create a legal entity that officially separates you (or a group of owners) from your business. Having an entity like an LLC, corporation, cooperative, or other structure provides legal protection for your personal assets, aka “limited liability.” This means only the business assets are at risk in a lawsuit or financial claim, not your personal assets. (Check out our blogs about entity formation and What is an LLC?, or the Trellis Template Library™ with LLC Operating Agreements for sale once you get yours filed with the state.)
Do you have all of the required permits and licenses?
Many markets require vendors to be established business entities before they even consider a vendor’s application, but they (and the locality where your market is) may also require other licenses and registrations, permits, sales tax registrations, and more. Check each individual market’s requirements, as well as other specific vendor rules, such as requiring proof of business insurance or the clear and set pricing of your products.
If you’re selling food items, you need to make sure you’re in compliance with all food laws surrounding the production and sale of food items. Cities, counties, and states all handle food permitting differently, and they all interact differently depending on the state and local municipality, especially in Pennsylvania, so it’s very important to talk to someone who is well-informed on the permit requirements of your specific location.
Are you hiring some extra hands to help with the holiday hustle?
Selling your items at a market is time intensive. You might consider hiring a few elves to work the cash registers or help you set up and tear down. Elves, too, have employment protections.
Having someone work for you means you need to consider several issues, including how they will be paid, how they will take time off, or breaks during a long day at your booth. Consider whether you’ll take these helpers on as independent contractors or employees (Learn the difference here). You will need to follow the appropriate and applicable employment and tax laws, pay them appropriately depending on what kind of worker they are, and figure out how their time working will come to an end, possibly at the end of the holiday season. In our blog post, 5 Essential Employee Policies for Small Businesses, we cover policy decisions that might help with these questions.
Have you protected your intellectual property?
You worked hard to create unique items for others – the product labels, names, uses, and how they look. Making sure those products and all of their components are protected is crucial. If you have a logo, product, or brand identity that you want to protect, trademarking these names and logos could ensure no one else can use it for their own products. Additionally, if you contract with vendors, artists, or others, it is important to have contract terms that make it clear these ideas belong to you alone.
There are so many other considerations in intellectual property. If your business is in need of some basic language around intellectual property and suggestions for how to protect your content, the Trellis Template Library™ has some basic language options to protect intellectual property for sale. Check it out along with our other templates!
Are you going to be doing any special market promotions?
It might make sense to run a holiday market special to promote your booth through social media, coupons, or other marketing tools. It’s important to keep these promotions organized and clear so you can honor them and can avoid violating any false advertising laws.
One example of deceptive advertising might be advertising your products at a discounted price, but never having sold it at the higher rate. Another is if you do an Instagram giveaway or promotion you have to follow specific giveaway rules including federal rules along with Instagram’s terms and specific language. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides useful FAQ Guides for Small Businesses that can help you ensure your advertising is fair and truthful.
Whether you are an established holiday market staple looking for someone to help you get your business more legit with an LLC, proper contracts, and intellectual property considerations, or you’re jingling into your very first season after years of friends telling you to start selling your art, Trellis may be able to help you get your holiday booth in solid legal shape.
DISCLAIMER: This blog post is meant for informational purposes only and does not constitute specific legal advice or create an attorney-client relationship. Readers should discuss their specific situation with an attorney.