#033 – How Hiring a Lawyer Expanded My Business with Shay Lawson

In episode 033, I talk with MY Intellectual Property Lawyer, Shay Lawson. Shay works between Atlanta and New York and she’s not just any lawyer. She GETS creatives + online entrepreneurship – we are her dream clients.

She works with a several Singer Songwriters in the music industry too, which I think is really cool! Shay also provides Diversity + Inclusion Consulting for businesses and has given a TedX talk on Inclusion + Innovation.

I always want these episodes to be highly valuable for you, so I didn’t want this to be an episode that’s like, “YOU MUST HAVE A CONTRACT OR YOUR BUSINESS WILL BUST,” fear-mongering type of content.

But I’ll be honest, we didn’t have a major topic to cover here. I’ve gotta say, every time I reach out to our community – that’s you – and ask, “what would you want to know from a lawyer?” I get nothin’ – except for “what do I put in my contract?” or “how do I word this?” which we’ve covered in our Contract Template for Documentary Family Photographers at fearlessandframed.com/contract.

Mostly, today, I want to introduce you to Shay, because I trust her – she’s MY lawyer after all, not just some guest speaker here – so that you have a legal referral in your back pocket that works with people like us.

Before meeting Shay, I had worked with a lawyer who I felt didn’t get my business after I had spent a couple thousand dollars and I’ve also went the cheap-legal template way, which never felt quite “right.”

So, since the legal Q’s from our community have been radio silence, we’ve got a mixtape of topics for you:

  • What is an Intellectual Property Lawyer?
  • How I’ve worked with Shay – the various legal documents I’ve had created – and why
  • My legal experiences: working with a trademark lawyer + buying that cheap template (for weddings)
  • The #1 thing photographers reach out to Shay about
  • When to file for a U.S. Copyright and what that means vs. a Trademark
  • Protecting the magic of your program or course
  • Collaboration protection

My apologies in advance, we had some sound issues near the end that last about 2 minutes, then it goes back.

Lastly, I’ll come back afterwards with a few pieces of wisdom on things I’ve observed + experienced as an educator. It’s a bit of a big, soapbox message you cannot miss if you’re thinking of teaching + selling something. Please for the love, listen to that bit.

Enjoy the story.

Welcome back.

So, do you have a Contract or Services agreement? If not, Shay and I co-created one for Documentary Family Photographers: ff.com/contract

Over several months, I picked the brains of our community about fears + things they want your contract SPECIFIC to situations documentary family photographers can come across that aren’t going to be in a typical Portrait Contract – from topics of dealing with pets, children left unattended, nudity, and many more.

I took all of this information + details on how I was running my business (like she was saying, the stuff about the deposits, what happens if clients are late, model release details, etc.) and handed it over to Shay to turn into an easy-to-understand legal contract that protects both us, as photographers, and our clients.

Remember, your contract should protect both parties signing.

I had it reviewed by photographers I trust, because I’m not perfect, and it was created with love for you.

Again, visit ff.com/contract to get it.

Here’s my soapbox message of the day – a legal observation I’ve noticed:

If you create a class / ebook / etc., you should NOT give away exclusive rights to any vendor who will sell it on your behalf.

Ok, maybe if it’s CreativeLive or someone millions-of-fans major, then I’d consider it. But, even then, whatever content I gave them would designed as a stepping stone to working with me further. It would be created with my heart and soul, high value, surely, but it wouldn’t be EVERYTHING.

Kirsten Lewis is a great example – she poured her heart and soul into her 3 part classes for CL, but she has her Year-Long + other mentoring programs people can move into and get both more of her and 1:1 time with her.

See how that works?

It CRUSHES me to see people create a great, small product and then give it away for far less profit – and I don’t just mean monetary – than you can make on your own. If you’re eye-ing a small business and they make their money based on selling other people’s content, you can be MUCH MORE profitable selling it on your own than giving it away.

Let me explain.

Let’s acknowledge the benefits in giving your product to a company – they give you access to their audience and do the marketing + selling for you. That’s nice. It saves you time and likely you’ll bring in a big chunk of money up front.

But, omgosh there’s so much.

First, let’s talk about how this strategy devalues education – often this is pooling several products together and selling them way under value. I’m not even going to go there.

Back to you, you’re likely giving away ½ of your profits – often 25 – 50% – AND you’re not gaining leads that YOU own.

By leads, I generally mean growing your list – which gives you leverage to continue connecting + even inviting these purchasers to work with you again or to give you direct feedback, so you can make your product better, etc.

To make matters worse, if you give another company exclusive rights to your product, eventually that product is likely to burn out and you’re capped at how much you can make, because it’s no longer yours. Eventually, that company will have new products or more popular products that get front of line when it comes to marketing + selling.

My friend, for the LOVE, hear this: you’re more than capable of selling this thing on your own.

I can’t even fathom how much money I would’ve given away if I had Mastery Moment-Seekers or Profitable Photography Workshops hosted by someone else who had exclusive rights sell them.

I don’t like boasting about money, this is not that. I’ve made multiple six-figures with Fearless and Framed products. Could you imagine giving ½ of that money away and coming out the other side with maybe some social media followers, but no real, tangible leads that you could reach out to personally?

And then, having those honestly, HELPFUL, impactful products eventually burn out, because the vendor isn’t selling or promoting them any longer?

Now, I believe there are a couple of exceptions here, which I’ll get to in a sec.

Hear this: If you’ve created something from your heart or as a tried + true, beneficial system that will solve a problem for someone else, then you have a voice already. Something sparked you to create it, believing it benefits others.

All you really have to do is set it up for selling and have a selling system built around that. I know, that’s easier said than done, and at the beginning, it might feel easier + more fun to just give it away to someone with a bigger audience, but I’m here to tell you: YOU CAN DO THIS.

If your product gets results, you can turn it into a well-oiled selling machine. If you don’t know, help is abundant in that area!

As you build it, remember, if you listened to episode 032, you can, should, and will have iterations of both your product AND the way you market + sell it. I’m going into launching The Preservation Project for the 4th time after major iterations with my sales emails + sales page. It’s a worth-it work in progress.

And guess what? I own all of it, including the leads who come through on this launch that don’t buy.

And more food for thought:

A well-oiled selling machine is MUCH more valuable to a buyer once it’s running.

(in case you still want to sell it off at some point)

Meaning, you can sell it for more later.

Whew, I get passionate about this topic.

Here’s the exceptions:

First, I’ve been talking about EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS here. Meaning, the company you allow sell your product owns your product. I believe it IS ok for you to allow a company to sell your product when you both agree that YOU still own the product.

For example, we’ve sold products others created in Fearless and Framed. We have an agreement where we get a % of the profits, but THE PRODUCT CREATOR OWNS the product. He or she has the right to:

  • Take their product out of my shop
  • Allow OTHER vendors to sell the product
  • Sell it themselves

This is much like a book in a book store! It’s not just in Barnes & Noble, it’s also on Amazon, and the author likely has a link to buy direct on their own site.

If you’re wondering why I’d allow this, as F&F, it’s because I don’t rely on other people’s content for revenue. It’s a bonus, much like affiliate income. It also works for me, because it’s a low-commitment in how I spend my marketing time and the product creator continuously sends new traffic to my site when he / she promotes their product (if it’s not set up elsewhere).

The second exception is when you truly, deep in your core, want to create this piece of education as a one-time thing. You have zero ambitions beyond this – the door is completely closed to pursue anything further. If that’s the case, then yeah, let someone else have + sell it while you reap in a royalty.

I hope all of this makes sense and remember, it’s not gospel, just my POV.

DM me if you wanna talk about this @fearlessandframed

Remember, too, Shay & I will do an IG LIVE soon.

Send us your legal questions – excluding “what do I put in my contract / how do I word this?” go to ff.com/contract for that.

More goodness:

My Subtle Ask:


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Documentary Family Photography and Contracts

Author: MarieMasse
I help client documentary photographers fine-tune their workflow + marketing game, so their work is filled with sessions that represent their voice + client values while earning a living. I shoot undirected, off-beat stories that aren’t preserved often enough (like the story of couples before starting a fam or becoming empty-nesters – a dream project of mine), so my clients’ old box of photos is a meaningful, visual diary of their life + legacy to leave behind.

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