Legally Protecting your online business with Sam Vanderwielen
Look I’ll cut to the quick: YES. As a creator, you still need a lawyer. Actually, the rise of the creator economy reminds me a lot of the rise of online freelancers. The internet has made making money so easy, most people don’t do their due diligence. That’s why I called my friend Sam. See, she became a young, successful lawyer, before throwing it all away to start…a food blog. That flopped.
But she learned from that experience. And today, she helps online educators, coaches, and creators through her legal knowledge and experience. And in today’s episode, we’re putting that to the test.
- In starting her legal business, Sam did 3 important things: talk to her customers, write 10 hyper-SEO’d blog posts, and got people on her mailing list (where she always has soft promos)
- When it comes to digital products, you still need a contract in the form of Terms and Conditions. Make sure you have the user opt-in at checkout before they make the purchase!
- Submit your big important content to the US Copyright Office. It’s easier than you think and provides you extra legal protection in the case of piracy.
- Sam Vanderwielen
- Sam on Facebook
- Sam on Instagram
- Sam on YouTube
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Look, I’ll cut to the quick. Yes, as a creator, you still need a lawyer. Actually, the rise of the Creator economy reminds me a lot of the rise of the online Freelancer from the early 2000s. The internet has made making money so easy, most people don’t do their due diligence into making sure they’re setting up an actual business and not just having a bunch of money go tax-free to their personal checking account.
That’s why I called my friend Sam. See, she became a young successful lawyer before throwing it all away to start a food blog… that flopped. But she learned from that experience. And today she helps online educators, coaches, and creators through her legal knowledge and experience.
In today’s episode, we’re putting that knowledge to the test. This was an absolutely great conversation from her backstory to how she started her legal business. And then we do eventually get to the questions I want to ask her.
The one I really want you to look for is about the difference between sponsorship and work for hire. That was a contract negotiation I was going through at the time. But the other top takeaways are the three important things that she did when starting her legal business, what you need to do contractually when you sell digital products, and why you should submit at least your big important content to the US Copyright Office.
You can find links to everything that we talked about over at howibuilt.it/307 or in your podcast player. Thanks to this week’s sponsors, the Solo CEO, Groundhog, and LearnDash. You’ll hear about them later on. But for now, let’s get to the intro and then the interview.
Intro: Hey everybody, and welcome to How I Built It, the podcast where you get free coaching calls from successful creators. Each week you get actionable advice on how you can build a better content business to increase revenue and establish yourself as an authority. I’m your host Joe Casabona. Now let’s get to it.
Joe Casabona: All right, I am here with Sam Vander Wielen, CEO and founder of Sam Vander Wielen LLC. We’re gonna learn why it’s called that later. Of course, my main company is called Good House Media, which is just my name translated from Italian to English. But I’m really excited about that.
We just had a great pre-show. So if you want to hear that and this episode ad-free, head over to howibuilt.it/pro, five bucks a month, 50 bucks a year. It’s less than one coffee per month.
Sam Vander Wielen: Good deal.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, right? So let’s bring in Sam. I’ve talked too much. Sam, how are you?
Sam Vander Wielen: I’m good. How are you, Joe?
Joe Casabona: I’m doing great. Thanks so much for coming on the show. This season is filled with people from Craft & Commerce and then Jay Clouse’s Creator Science Lab. Such a rich community of creators I’ve been introduced to you in the last year or so, which is really exciting.
Sam Vander Wielen: That’s so cool. We met such a cool group of people at Craft & Commerce.
Joe Casabona: We really did. I’m so excited to go again. When this episode comes out, I think we’re a couple of months from that. I’m also going to CEX. Are you gonna CEX?
Sam Vander Wielen: No. But you have to tell me about it so I’d like to go.
Joe Casabona: I think it’s called the Creator Economy Expo or something like that. It’s in Cleveland, Ohio. I’m like in a frustrating distance where-
Sam Vander Wielen: You can’t drive.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, am I gonna drive or fly? It’s probably going to be six and one half a dozen than the others. I guess it’ll depend on gas prices.
Sam Vander Wielen: That’s true. That could be expensive.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. I’m really excited to that like one, two punch of CEX and a month later, Craft & Commerce.
Sam Vander Wielen: That’s cool.
Joe Casabona: And they’re doing a new venue, I think, this year, right?
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah, Craft & Commerce. That’s what I heard.
Joe Casabona: Nathan was, not to name-drop Nathan Berry, but he was telling me about that at some point last year because I guess JUMP decided that they want to do only nonprofit stuff now.
Sam Vander Wielen: Okay.
Joe Casabona: I’m like a little bit bummed because the Airbnb I was at was this like tiny house walking distance to the venue.
Sam Vander Wielen: Oh, wow.
Joe Casabona: And it was like $400 total. And I was like, “Do you know what you have here?” And I tried to book it again but it wasn’t available for booking, I’m like, “Oh my gosh, she figured out what she has here.”
Sam Vander Wielen: Yes, yes. That sucks. Well, either way, it’ll be fun.
Joe Casabona: I’m really psyched. I did the bring-a-friend ticket. So if my friend Brian’s gonna come with me, we’re going to split or whatever situation that we decide to do.
Sam Vander Wielen: That’s awesome. I’m looking forward to seeing you there.
Joe Casabona: Likewise, likewise. Awesome. So let’s get into this. First of all, in the pre-show you mentioned that you’re from Philly, living in New York on Long Island now. I am from New York an hour north of the city, which is not upstate, listeners, and I’m living just outside Philly now. So I think it’s funny we like switched places.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah. How’s it going for you out there outside Philly?
Joe Casabona: You know, it’s okay. As we record this, it is the Thursday before the Super Bowl and I’m a Giants fan.
Sam Vander Wielen: I know. It’s gonna be crazy.
Joe Casabona: My daughter goes to Catholic school, but they can dress down for the Super Bowl if they wear Eagles gear. And she’s in kindergarten. But I’m like, Is she gonna get in trouble if I send her with a Giants gear or whatever?
Sam Vander Wielen: She might get beaten up, Joe.
Joe Casabona: I know, right? I know, right? Seriously. And my wife’s like, “Just let her wear the Eagles shirt that we’re borrowing from my cousin or whatever.” I’m like, “Yeah, fine.” I was like, “But if you say Go Birds! that is as bad as a curse word in this house.”
Sam Vander Wielen: I heard on the Philly news yesterday that people going to jury duty instead of saying “present” when they get called on are saying, “Go Birds!”
Joe Casabona: I saw the same thing. I think I saw it on Mike Pacchione’s Instagram.
Sam Vander Wielen: Mike Pacchione’s. Oh, man.
Joe Casabona: Oh, man.
Sam Vander Wielen: So Philly.
Joe Casabona: It’s very Philly. I know. I mean, I appreciate their-
Sam Vander Wielen: Vigor
Joe Casabona: …passion and vigor. Like in New York, we’re very maudlin about like… We’re very passionate but if our teams sucks we’re like, “Whatever. They sucked. They’ll never be good again.” Right? Whereas in Philly it’s almost an undeserved level of confidence. Not this year obviously The Eagles were amazing but-
Sam Vander Wielen: It’s a once in a lifetime. They let those two things converge, the confidence converge with the actual talent.
Joe Casabona: So awesome. Well, this has been sports corner on How I Built it.
Sam Vander Wielen: I know, right?
Joe Casabona: First of all, I have a strong interest in just law stuff in general. I was talking about this on the pre-show. I have probably like… what’s the word I’m looking for? Not unearned but irrational fear of getting sued. So I consume a lot of legal stuff. So I love your podcasts. It’s short and very helpful.
So first I want to talk about, you know, I think the traditional path for most lawyers is go to law school, take the bar exam, get a job at a law firm, become an associate, become a partner. Is that accurate?
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah, that’s accurate.
Joe Casabona: So when did you realize you wanted to diverge from that path?
Sam Vander Wielen: So I raced through high school, college, straight to law school. I was 23 when I became a lawyer. I was very young.
Joe Casabona: Wow.
Sam Vander Wielen: So I went straight to a really big firm in Philly, actually. Like thousands of lawyers at this place. And pretty much the day that I walked in, I sat in this office in this giant skyscraper on the 70th floor in Philly. I was like, “What the heck did I do? How did I get here?”
And it was just one of those things where it’s like you race through something so much with this goal in mind, but you never really stopped to think, “Do I actually want to do that?” It wasn’t until I got there that I was like, “Oh, shoot, this is not what I want to do.”
And over the years, I was doing a lot of business law, and one of the things I always noticed was that I was really interested in helping our clients from the business perspective. And I was bringing in a lot of business for a very, very young associate.
Joe Casabona: Wow.
Sam Vander Wielen: I was going out and starting to generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for the firm already and nobody even remotely close to my age was doing anything like that. So I very quickly became very interested in that part. And that’s what made me be like, Mm, I feel like more of a businesswoman than… I don’t want to do all this attorney stuff.” I was a litigator. So I was in court a lot. I was arguing and was writing a lot.
Joe Casabona: Oh, wow.
Sam Vander Wielen: It’s a lot of good skills to have, but I really just enjoyed the business side. I actually had a really scary, plain incident flying home from Amsterdam back to Philly where the plane dropped really badly and rolled to the left. And besides all the tears and the crying, I had this really intense moment of clarity where I realized that I had been acting like this life had been put on me and that there was nothing I could do about it.
So I decided… like literally within three days, I bought a domain, I registered a business, I did all the things, but actually not for this business. I wanted to go do something different. I needed to get away from the law. And I went and started a health coaching business. Actually, I wanted to teach people how to cook. That’s what I love to do. I just love to cook.
So it was like that. I feel like everyone in the online space has had this foray into one of their hobbies… like turning a hobby into a business. And that was my first thing. So that’s kind of how it all happened in 2016.
Joe Casabona: Wow, that’s wild. When I was a student freelancer, my first… because I started in high school with web design, the thing I would tell my friends… They’d be like, “Joe, how do you always have money?” And I’m like, “Because I have clients? I don’t just do the work study job.”
So I would say like, “Just take something you like to do and charge people for it.” And they’re like, “Nobody will pay for what I want.” And I’m like, “But they will. I make scrapbooks. You can make money doing that. I can’t make a scrapbook.” But anyway. That’s really interesting.
Since then, as an adult with a business and children and other things, I’m very diligent about keeping my hobbies as hobbies.
Sam Vander Wielen: I’ve learned that. I learned that lesson. That’s kind of why my first business was a flop in that sense because I… I mean, I needed it and I needed to have the experience. It was super helpful to start a business, also enter into this creator space that I was like, “What is this place? What’s going on here? People are selling stuff and like just selling their expertise. What is a mastermind? What’s a landing page? What’s an email list?” You know, this whole thing was new to me.
So I got to learn the language. I, thank goodness, got to make all my mistakes on that business and also learn that hard hobby lesson of like, Yeah, I love to cook and that’s why I don’t feel like documenting all of it, talking about it all the time, writing about it all the time. I just want to just go and cook like after I worked not for my work.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. I started a podcast called Late to the Party. It was like a West Wing… It wasn’t re-watch. It was watching it for the first time in 2017. So I was like 10 years late to this party. And I was like, “Oh, this is such a fun concept.” And it was like doing pretty well. And then have you seen West Wing?
Sam Vander Wielen: I have not.
Joe Casabona: Okay, it’s a great show and I won’t spoil this. But there’s one episode, where I just forgot to take notes, and then I was like, “I should really be enjoying this show.” It had turned into a job for me now. So Late to the Party was a very… that pod faded into oblivion.
Sam Vander Wielen: That’s really good idea, though. But yes, you’re right. I mean, as multi-passionate entrepreneurs, I think it can be a dangerous proposition that you start… You can be multi-passionate by a lot of different things, but they don’t have to be your business.
Joe Casabona: I play the drum but I’m never gonna-
Sam Vander Wielen: I think it makes you interesting but just don’t think that I need to now monetize every single thing.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s exactly right. So you started a cooking coaching business that didn’t go so well.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: I feel like a lot of people would get discouraged at that point, and be like, Oh, well, maybe I’m not cut out for entrepreneurship.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah. I think that we’re getting exposed to this whole world, like that part really lit me up where I was, like, Oh, I really liked this. I love creating content. I love engaging with customers. I love the marketing side. I still do. All of that kind of stuff’s really lit me up and interested me. I just didn’t love the topic that I was talking about.
And at the same time, I could not stop the flow of people contacting me to be like, “So, I’m going to start a business. I see you used to be a lawyer, can you tell me what’s an LLC? What kind of contract do I need?” And at first, I would be like, “No, no, no, this isn’t what I do.” I really didn’t want to be even associated with it. I was like, “Stop thinking of me. That’s what I used to do, not anymore.”
And then the more people who contacted me, I was like, You know, maybe I should just start to listen and pay attention. And like, why are you coming to me? Because I would poke around and be like, There’s some other people doing this. But at that time, way fewer than now. And I was like, Why are you contacting me about it?
And then I started getting feedback about something they didn’t like about somebody who was doing it or something that they couldn’t find that didn’t exist yet or something that didn’t speak to them. And I started noticing patterns in all these people who were asking me this. And I was like, I think I might try to give this a go and start a legal business.
Joe Casabona: Nice. That’s awesome. And it makes sense, right? Again, recovering WordPress developer. When people ask WordPress questions online, I try not to answer them. But in this creative community, they’re like, Is there anybody who knows this? And I’m like, you know, handling high-level redirects or whatever, and I’m like, “I mean, I have this skill, I might as well.”
So, you know, I won’t make the websites anymore, except for me obviously, but if someone wants to pay for an hour of my time to pick my brain about it, I am open to that.
Sam Vander Wielen: Right. You get to choose that as what as opposed to [inaudible 00:15:39]. So it’s cool.
Joe Casabona: Exactly. So I actually have one more question going back to your cooking coaching business because now you are leaving a big law firm in Philly where you’re doing well to start a cooking business. Assuming you still talk to your family, what did your family say about that?
Sam Vander Wielen: You know, my family didn’t think… I think they thought it was like such a hustler that they were like, that makes sense. Because I just feel like I’ve always been this person who landed on my feet and I made everything work for me.
I didn’t feel as much judgment from them about transitioning from lawyer to this as I did from some friends and then definitely colleagues. And a lot of my friends were kind of in the lawyer space or were people from law school and stuff like that. And I got this very like, “You’re doing what? You’re leaving what to do what?” That was really tough.
I talked about this actually a lot on my podcast about how that was really tough because in those beginning days you don’t really have very much confidence. And then for other people to start doubting you, you’re like, “Are they right? Is this is gonna be a total idiot decision?” That was really tough in the beginning.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. It’s funny because about a year ago… I don’t know if you follow David Sparks, MacSparky online.
Sam Vander Wielen: No, mm-mm.
Joe Casabona: He’s an interesting guy. He runs the Automators Podcast. He’s like a giant Mac nerd. He’s kind of an apple stand, and that bothers me a little bit, but so am I, so it’s fine. But he was a lawyer. I think he’s in his late 50s, early 60s now.
So for a long time, he was doing his lawyer work and also running Mac Sparky and he decided last year, he was just going to stop doing the lawyer work. And he said, The worst reactions he got were from his clients who were like, “You’re gonna what? You’re gonna leave this well-paying thing to make podcasts, like make content?” And I’m like, that’s so wild.
My dad’s a boomer. So when I told him I was gonna leave my business to start my own business with a three-month-old, he was supportive, but hesitant because that’s not what he did. That’s not what you do. He did give me a small investment, which was a nice gesture.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah, that’s helpful.
Joe Casabona: It was very like “I’ll trust you but just be mindful of what you’re doing”.
Sam Vander Wielen: It’s funny you say that because I’m actually working on… I want to write a book, and so I’m finishing up my book proposal right now. And I’m right at the finish line. I hope by the time this airs it will be done and out into the world and hopefully, I will have a book agent. So, everybody, cross your fingers.
Joe Casabona: Good luck.
Sam Vander Wielen: I wrote this intro about the briefcase culture, as I call it, and how we’re like leaving the briefcase culture behind because there was a little nod to my dad who thought that nobody was legitimate as a business person unless they carried a briefcase. And I was like, Dad, we don’t need briefcases anymore. We don’t go anywhere. There’s nothing to do.
Joe Casabona: That’s so funny.
Sam Vander Wielen: It was so funny but also it would always show me… My dad rose up in the 70s, 80s of the business world. It was a totally different world than it is today. So I think that’s so interesting. And when I left the law, I was like, “Okay, if I could just make, I don’t know, $70,000, $80,000, that would be incredible. That’s all I need. I don’t need to make like what a lawyer does. That’s fine. I’ll be totally fine.”
And the fact that now I have a business that makes more in a week or two than I did in a year as a lawyer is just bananas to me. And that was not my goal, which goes back to why my business name is what it’s named. But that was not my goal or my plan. I’m very in kind of still in awe and pretty amazed that this is where we are.
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Joe Casabona: So let’s get into starting your legal business. You were getting a lot of questions in your legal background. And dear listeners, I promise we will get to some… all least burning legal questions I have that you probably… I’ll probably put chapter markers in here. Like the founder story and then the questions. But why is your business named after you?
Sam Vander Wielen: When I started that fledging cooking business, it was called Hygge Wellness because I at the time was really into the Danish concept of being Hygge and cozy and slowing down, I mean, because I really wanted to be very anti-lawyer. I wanted to chill out and slow down and pay attention to what was important.
And everybody would be like, “What’s it called? How do you spell it? Well, I can’t find your website. And I’d be like, “It’s Hyggewellness.com. It’s not that hard.”
So I had such a hard time with it, and I was always like arguing with everybody about how to pronounce and how to spell it that I was like… And then that business failed, that I was like, “If I’m starting this business, I don’t even know if it’s gonna work out. It probably won’t work out. So I’m not even wasting the time with coming up with something creative and having to have a cool name. I’m like Sam Vander Wielen LLC. That’s what we’re calling it. It probably won’t work out anyway. So then that way it’ll be super easy just to like wind it up or I can start some other kind of business.”
And I always joke with everyone that I’m like the poster child for self-belief because I didn’t think that this is where I would be. I wish I would have heard somebody say that because I feel like I always saw these other people who were just like… they never had any doubt in themselves, and I couldn’t really relate to that. But I was like, Well, I did. I had a ton.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, constantly. Yeah, right.
Sam Vander Wielen: I still do. That’s why. So I thought it’d be easier to undo when I fail.
Joe Casabona: That’s so funny. I feel like my first go is never a good name. You know, my first business was called JLC Web Design, Joseph Lewis Casabona. And then I renamed it to Manifest Development, which was pretty good.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah, it’s good.
Joe Casabona: Then my online courses are called WP in one Month for WordPress in one month except it wasn’t just WordPress and it wasn’t just in one month. And then like Creator Courses, and then I thought of like Podcasts Liftoff. And I’m like, “Ah, I gotta just pick something more… I don’t know. Podcasts Liftoff, great brand, right?
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: But then it also has The Profitable Podcaster newsletter, which is a good name. And I just registered like thepodcastautomater.com because that’s what I want to be. That’s I think the niche of my niche.
Sam Vander Wielen: That’s cool.
Joe Casabona: I think it’s a good place.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: But yeah, I don’t know, doubt… Every time the stakes change for me I have doubt. In high school, it was like, I just hope I do a good job. And like college, it was like, Oh, yeah. So maybe I hope I do good enough to not need a job after college. And after college it was like, good enough to support myself.
And then I did get a real job, quote-unquote. And then, and now it’s like, good enough to support my family, good enough to support my family and a house, good enough to support my three children now, the number of my children tripled during a pandemic.
Sam Vander Wielen: It’s a lot. I know. It’s a lot. The little carrot keeps going forward, for sure.
Joe Casabona: So yeah. I mean, self-doubt, I think it’s healthy, right?
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: It’s like a balance between doubt and hubris that you want to find.
Sam Vander Wielen: I don’t want to be a narcissist.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, exactly. One of my biggest fears is having so much hubris that I refuse to learn new stuff. Like, “Oh, I already know everything.” That was high school me. I just thought I knew everything already.
Sam Vander Wielen: That’s my favorite word is “curiosity’. I really try to think of it many times throughout the day to be like, I just want to remain curious to this experience, to this conversation, to that idea that you just shared. I just I’m like, That’s interesting, and I want to think about it. I just tried to remain open. I think it’s been really helpful as a business owner.
Joe Casabona: Oh, that’s awesome. That’s something I’m trying not to destroy in my children. Because, you know, they’re very inquisitive. My daughter especially, like if I say a word she doesn’t know the meaning of, she always asks me what it means.
Sam Vander Wielen: That’s awesome. She’s curious.
Joe Casabona: It’s great. She’s what I wish I was like as a kid. But as a parent, I’m just like, Just please just do what I ask you.
Sam Vander Wielen: You’re like, “It’s fine. We don’t need all the definitions.”
Joe Casabona: I’m like, I gotta find that right balance not crush that. Or like the questioning everything. I want her to question authority, I questioned authority, but I don’t want her to question my authority. It’s a very hard balance.
Sam Vander Wielen: I don’t blame you.
Joe Casabona: So when did you decide to wind down the whatever? Hoogo?
Sam Vander Wielen: Hygge. See, this was the problem. It was in 2016. It barely lasted about a year and then I started up Sam Vander Wielen LLC right away, started selling legal templates. And as a fellow WordPress guy, you’ll be very happy to hear that within like three hours of making my website live, I had a sale through WooCommerce.
Joe Casabona: Nice.
Sam Vander Wielen: Then I was like, a human being but a legal template. I could not believe it. I called everyone I knew. And then next thing I knew those sales just started coming consistently. Like daily at first, then multiple times a day, and it really took off actually pretty quickly.
Joe Casabona: That’s amazing. And that’s the best feeling, isn’t it? I remember the first course I sold on my own, I was like, at a bar, and I got a little notification and I was like, “Oh my God. This is the dream. I am doing something else and I just made money.”
Sam Vander Wielen: It’s really awesome. In the beginning, when people would purchase, I would send them a handwritten note because they would have to put their address in WooCommerce. I would send them a thank you note. And then a few months and I guess I was like backed up like 50 thank you notes. And that’s when I knew I was like, “Oh, I think this has become like a thing and I can’t write thank you notes anymore. My hand hurts.”
Joe Casabona: That’s so funny. That’s good advice that harkens back to Drew Dillon who runs Burb. Are you familiar with Burb at all?
Sam Vander Wielen: No, mm-mm.
Joe Casabona: Burb is a… Well, it was because in between the interview I just did and this one I got an email that Burb is shutting down.
Sam Vander Wielen: Oh no.
Joe Casabona: But they added a bunch of community-based automations on top of Circle.
Sam Vander Wielen: That was cool.
Joe Casabona: So I want to dig into that and maybe reach out to him. But he offered great advice on Episode 299. Like, do things that don’t scale at first. And that’s a perfect example, right? Because those first few several sales, you’re surprising and delighting them by like writing them a handwritten note. And just at some point, it’s just not feasible to do that anymore.
Sam Vander Wielen: I needed reps. I needed a lot of exposure. And that’s also then I would talk to them to be like, Why do you need this contract? What kind of business do you have? How are you using it? Do you have any questions about it?
And then I would use all that feedback to make the product better and better and better. And I kept adding to the product, changing the copy on the sales pages. It was like a little machine every single day I was doing.
Joe Casabona: That’s awesome. So let me ask you, within three hours of setting up your site, you had a sale. How did you find… If this is like Joe Casabona therapy hour, this is the thing I’m struggling with right now. Because again, I moved from WordPress developer to podcast coach and consultant. And basically, when we met at Craft & Commerce, I was less than a month into being all in on the podcast consulting stuff.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah, I remember.
Joe Casabona: How did you find people? Or how did people find you, I guess?
Sam Vander Wielen: I became really into SEO. I think especially for what I do, people are going to be searching for like… they’re going to be Googling like coaching contract template, or blogger template, you know, whatever. So I started just poking around.
I mean, I was probably doing a terrible job at that time but I was trying and looking at doing keyword research and all this stuff. And my little plan was that I would write 10 blog posts that were hyper SEO optimized. And they were all cornerstone foundational blog posts that also then pointed back to the products that were on my site.
Like I had a blog post of like, what is in a good coaching contract? Or do coaches need contracts? Something like this, that I saw that people were googling, and like 10 steps to start an online business legally, stuff like this. And then that’s what drove all my initial traffic. Actually, those original tents still drive a ton of traffic. And I am still greatly, greatly benefiting from Google traffic. I get a ton of Google traffic.
Joe Casabona: Interesting. That is definitely something I should leverage but don’t. As we speak, I’m reading… not at the exact moment we’re speaking obviously, because I’m speaking.
Sam Vander Wielen: That would be real talent
Joe Casabona: I know, right? I’m reading $100M Offers by Alex Harmozi. And if nothing else, his exercise for figuring out what people want and then all the problems they think of has given me an idea for like 25 new pieces of content.
Sam Vander Wielen: Oh, I bet.
Joe Casabona: And so I feel like even if I don’t have my grand slam offer at the end of this book, I will have a bunch of contents that are definitely questions that get asked regularly.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah, yeah, for sure. I think that’s really smart. I think SEO is often overlooked because, you know, socials easy to get sucked into and all that kind of stuff. But I always tell my customers that to me is like the equivalent of walking into a very crowded warehouse where everybody else is already on a megaphone, and you have a megaphone to, and you’re trying to just like, yell louder on the megaphone than they’re all on their megaphone. That’s kind of how it feels, to me.
Instead of walking into a room full of people who like showed up to a talk you’re gonna give like, because they wanted to be there, that’s how Google feels to me.
And I think also, you can carry those principles over to other things you do in your business. Even when I create content for social media, I’m still doing it from a search-worthy perspective and I’m doing it from an evergreen perspective. So every single piece of content that I create has a place that leads someone to in my business that then leads to a funnel of some sort that brings them down a very methodical path. So I’m very, very intentional about everything that I do.
Joe Casabona: Oh, that’s great. I love that. I like the warehouse analogy too. It’s also like you’re in the warehouse and now they’re not letting you leave, right?
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: That’s like the biggest… You know, I don’t want to be the podcaster who says this on every episode for like a whole season, but I left Twitter. It’s nothing against Elon, even though I don’t like Elon. It was not because of him. Well, it’s not because of him as a person.
Sam Vander Wielen: It just seems like it turned into a toxic place, right?
Joe Casabona: Yeah. Yeah. And they killed third-party apps. I spent a lot I’d have time curating a Twitter experience that didn’t aggravate me. And then basically overnight that was gone. And I’m like, why am I gonna say someplace that aggravates me?
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah, yeah, that’s annoying.
Joe Casabona: So that’s also why I’m not on Mastodon because people are the problem, not the platform. And if everybody’s leaving Twitter to go to Mastodon, it’s just gonna be people aggravating me there and I also have to curate that experience
Sam Vander Wielen: Sounds about right to me.
Joe Casabona: LinkedIn has been great for me, I think.
Sam Vander Wielen: That’s what people say.
Joe Casabona: What’s your social media platform of choice?
Sam Vander Wielen: Usually Instagram probably because I’m visual. I’m very visual. I remember I was attracted to Instagram when I first started to be like, I’d rather see pictures and video and all that. So I enjoy that. And then doing little short-form content there is helpful. Like taking snippets of the podcast and more infographic-type stuff. I think for what I do, that’s super helpful.
And then my email list is a huge dry nose on social, but that is a huge driver for me and something I focused on a lot over the years.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s great. So this is another strategy I’m really interested in. After the strategy, we’ll get to some of your area of expertise legal-wise. But you mentioned that your cornerstone content points directly to products, right?
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: Perhaps a strategy that’s not working super well for me is my… I put out a lot of content. So I think part of my problem is quantity over quality. And then I have opt-ins kind of based on category in WordPress. But they all point back to my mailing list.
So how are you building your mailing list versus sending people directly to products? Is there a rubric that you use for that? Or is it like gut feeling? Or is there some other strategy?
Sam Vander Wielen: For the most part, my goal is to get anybody on the email list. So I’m looking for one of the top of funnel entry points. So I have a free legal workshop called 5 Steps To Legally Protect Your Online Business that over 50,000 people have signed up for it.
Joe Casabona: Wow.
Sam Vander Wielen: I think it’s now if not more than that. So I have that. And then I have handled like checklists and guides and stuff like that. So wherever it’s relevant, I kind of point to one of those.
So my main goal is always getting people to sign up for that. This year actually, thanks to Craft & Commerce, after Craft & Commerce, I had this idea that I wanted to create what I’m calling an Easy Email List Sign up. So because people really like my emails, fortunately, and there’s a high engagement and people always say that they really get a lot out of them. So I wanted to make it really easy for people to sign up for my emails and just get the emails themselves because the emails are super valuable. And I always have soft promos in my emails at the bottom.
So I created forms where they can sign up for these and get my twice-weekly emails without going through any sort of marketing sequence. And we’re still seeing really good conversion rates even from that.
Joe Casabona: Interesting.
Sam Vander Wielen: That’s been super interesting. And the thing that I’ve been encouraging people to do and talking a lot about is that you have to have an email that has value in and of itself. So I have a weekly Q&A series email, where every single Thursday I answer a legal question that somebody has submitted, and everybody gets to read the answer. So there’s a benefit to signing up. It’s not just like hearing about something that I’m doing or whatever.
Joe Casabona: That’s super interesting. I feel like I just did the opposite, right? I’ve been consuming a lot of like Robin Kennedy or whatever and like my friend Jason Resnick, and how like basically the first thing everybody who gets on your list should see is a welcome sequence.
Sam Vander Wielen: Right. That’s what we do for everything else but not for this. They get one email that’s just like, “Thanks for joining Easy Email List Sign up. I’m Sam. This is what I do. This is what you can expect around here. Otherwise, you’re just going to hear from me now every single Monday and Thursday.”
Joe Casabona: Okay. I like that. I might experiment.
Sam Vander Wielen: I made it super simple. We’re just testing it out. We’ve had thousands of people sign up for it. So it was like, This is worth the shot.
Joe Casabona: That’s amazing. Do you do paid ads or anything like that?
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah, I do Facebook ads.
Joe Casabona: Okay. And they work for you?
Sam Vander Wielen: Tons.
Joe Casabona: Wow. That’s awesome. Now, I’ll put the quick caveat here. You probably know how much a single subscriber is worth to you.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah. Yeah.
Joe Casabona: If you don’t know, then you shouldn’t do paid ads.
Sam Vander Wielen: No, no. Paid ads was something I waited years and years and years to do ads. I think nowadays, too, ads are more expensive so you have to have… I mean, people will tell you like, Oh, if you can have an ad spend of like $1,000 or $2,000, it’s great.
I didn’t really start seeing results until was like $10,000, $20,000, $30,000, $40 $50,000 a month. So it’s like, you know, you really start seeing massive returns. But sometimes the returns are like 2.3, you know, return on adspend. Other times, like this past week, for a promo that we did, we got like nine point something return on adspend for a promo.
Joe Casabona: Wow.
Sam Vander Wielen: It’s like sometimes you get big, but that’s also dependent on how much you’re spending. So when you hear people like me talk about that, just remember that that’s taking like $40,000 in a week to spend on ads. That’s a lot of money.
And definitely please don’t ever do it if it’s going to like… I could do that and lose it all and the business wouldn’t see a blip. That was also what I waited for was like that was not going to be a problem if that happened. Often I see people go into Facebook ads more out of desperation and thinking like, Oh, if I invest my last $10,000, then I’ll make $20,000. But that’s not it. And so we need to give ourselves cushion.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. That’s like trying to get the mortgage back on on your house by going to the casino.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah, exactly. That’s how it feels. Because it takes a lot of time, a lot of experimentation. We were even experimenting with audiences this week. I just pitched a whole new bunch of new audiences to the Facebook ads team on Tuesday. It’s a constant moving experiment. I lose a lot of money on it and then we make a lot when we get it right. So it always is profitable in the end, but you have to have that cash flow to be flexible with it.
Joe Casabona: Right. You need the appropriate budget.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yes.
Joe Casabona: And I think that’s super interesting and important to think about, right? Because we’re like, “You got to spend money to make money.” And I’m like, but you gotta have money to spend money.
Sam Vander Wielen: You also have to make… oh, yeah, have money to eat and pay people and stay afloat. You should never be dipping into. I have a friend who spent her last 20 grand in the business on ads and they went really badly. She got really bad strategy advice, which was to send people straight to a product instead of any sort of like warm-up or any freebie. And it went terribly. She lost all of it. So it’s not safe to do that.
And I don’t say that to scare anyone off Facebook ads. They can be done really well, too. But I’m glad personally, looking back, that I really took my time with it and I waited till the business was a bit bigger.
Joe Casabona: It takes that, right? The important thing is that when you started out, you had these organic ways to build your business. So like today, you’re right, maybe the organic thing to do is post and engage on LinkedIn and get people onto your mailing list. Write those blog posts, repurpose those blog posts into a YouTube video, or whatever. There are definitely organic strategies to build that cushion. And it probably takes a little bit longer. I mean, it definitely takes a little bit longer, but-
Sam Vander Wielen: People don’t realize that that’s what’s going to actually make your ad successful, because you’re going to make the most off your warm audience. And if you have no warm audience to sell to, then it’s going to be a real long and real expensive process.
Like I already had thousands of people on my email list. I already had tens of thousands of people visiting my website every month. So all that traffic was getting captured by Facebook, and then we were serving ads to those people who are already familiar and already coming anyway and like all your followers on Instagram or wherever else. So that warm audience is gonna be your initial boost.
And then from there, then we started advertising to cold traffic because you can just use look-alike audiences on Facebook and you replicate and you start advertising to people who look like your current audience or purchasers.
Joe Casabona: Either way you need to know your audience.
Sam Vander Wielen: You need to build it up.
Joe Casabona: You need people who trust you. I met somebody at a conference and then they reached out after the conference and wanted to connect. And they tried to sell me on like a $10,000 coaching program and I was like, “Oh, I’m not interested in this.” He tried a couple more times and he’s like, “How come you’re not interested?” I’m like, “Because I just met you.” You know, in my mind, you haven’t done anything to make me think that my $10,000 investment will net me more than $10,000.
Sam Vander Wielen: Right.
Joe Casabona: So you gotta work on the trust factor.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yes, definitely.
Joe Casabona: Like name-dropping at one famous person is not enough.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: But anyway. Okay, this was such a fun conversation so far. We’ve been talking for a long time. Maybe we can do like a rapid-fire legal round.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah, go for it.
Joe Casabona: And as rapid as you are comfortable, right? I don’t know if you’ll do the disclaimer, but you know, I’m not a lawyer, Sam is a lawyer but she’s not your lawyer.
Sam Vander Wielen: Always talk to your own lawyer. It’s like talking to your own doctor—only if they know you they can tell you. And your personal situation, your financial situation, your tax situation, especially. I can give you advice or information really but the point is you need individualized advice from somebody who knows you best and knows your situation.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, that’s exactly right. I will say my brother-in-law is getting married and one of my side hobbies is looking over those kinds of contracts. And he’s like, “Can you look this over for me?” And I’m like, “Okay, just understand I’m not a lawyer. This could be totally normal but these are the things I don’t like about it.”
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah, right. There’s always to not like.
Joe Casabona: We had a videographer for our wedding who had an act of God clause in their contract, except one of the clauses was like, “If we don’t show up on the day of your event, you still have to pay us.” And I’m like, “Can you tell me what this means?” And he was like, “Oh, basically, that means if you change any of the information and don’t tell us and we don’t know where to go, then you still have to pay us.”
And I’m like, “That is not what this clause says.”
Sam Vander Wielen: Right.
Joe Casabona: And then there was another one that was like, Oh, if you get a copyright infringement cease and desist, you indemnify us. And I was like, Why would you be using copyrighted music in my video? And he’s like, Well, like if someone else puts music to it and upload it to Facebook. And I’m like, That is not even remotely what this clause says.
So I was like, “You gotta change those.” And he’s like, “But then we’d have to send it back to our lawyer.” I’m like, “You sure do.” And he’s like, “We’re not gonna do that.” And I’m like, “All right, I’m not gonna hire you. I can’t agree to those terms.”
Sam Vander Wielen: I don’t blame you.
Joe Casabona: But it’s usually not as dramatic as that. But I assume most people do not read this person’s contract.
Sam Vander Wielen: Most people don’t read them. That’s the issue.
Joe Casabona: I told my brother-in-law, I was like, “I don’t know if they’ll move on any of this stuff but the fact that they’re putting you on the hook for feeding your third party vendors, I don’t like that.” If the photographer wants to get fed, let him put it in his contract.
Sam Vander Wielen: Totally.
Joe Casabona: The venue shouldn’t be putting you on the hook for that. So they should redline that. But everything else they’re probably not gonna budge on.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah, pretty much.
Joe Casabona: Anywho, okay, so, first of all, I’m selling digital products, I’m not engaging in any client work, do I still need a contract? How do I protect myself that way?
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah, absolutely. So with digital products, in particular, whenever we’re selling anything, it doesn’t matter how we’re selling it. If for selling it through our site, or I know people are like selling them through stamp pages on TikTok now, and all this kind of stuff. So it doesn’t matter. It’s just like the fact that you’re selling anything in exchange for money requires some sort of contracts to be there.
And when we’re selling digital products, because we don’t have that opportunity to like, if you were entering into that $10,000 coaching contract you were talking about, that would be more like you guys would have a conversation, then he would send you the contract, you would (a) sign and send it back. It’s more of a traditional method.
But when we’re selling digital products, we have to include something at checkout that acts as a contract because the key legal thing that you all need to know is that you have to have the terms of whatever somebody is agreeing to made available at the time that somebody is purchasing.
So sometimes customers will come to me and they’ll be like, “Oh, I have people buy my products.” And then in the email that they get after they buy, I give them this contract that they have to sign.” But that’s already gone. You’ve lost that opportunity.
The example I always give is final sale clothing. When you go to buy something that’s final sale, it’ll say final sale on the tag and there’s usually a final sale sign. And then when you go to checkout, they’re always like, “Hey, Joe, you know these jeans are final sale, right?” And you say yes, and then you pay. You paying is you accepting the terms of the agreement, and you go on your merry way.
If they were final sale and they never told you and it never said it anywhere, and nobody ever brought it up and then you were only ever surprised after you paid, there would be no way that that could stick. That’s why they tell you, that’s why there’s a sign.
So I want you to think about that. Like when you’re setting up your products, it has to be made available to people when they purchase so that they know what they’re getting themselves into. They have to know like do you have refunds, how am I allowed to use this, all that kind of stuff.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, essentially before they give you money, they need to know what they’re on-
Sam Vander Wielen: Or released concurrently, like at the same time where they can check off the box and pay or whatever. Or at least has to be made available to them. Like if they decide to pay first and then they check it off or whatever, that’s fine. But they have to know what they’re really agreeing to in exchange for the money.
Joe Casabona: That was my follow-up question. Because I mean, you see it all the time, right? I get like for a week that’s like, “Hey, we’ve changed our Terms of Service.” So you essentially have a clause in the initial Terms of Service that is like, These can change at any time. Right?
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah. So it says that you can change it and then tells people how they’ll be notified. And so that’s kind of what gives them the legal peace of mind on their side. So you’ll say like, I reserve the right to change those at any time. You will be notified by email with like 14 days’ notice or whatever. And then the key as a business owner is just sticking to that.
Sam Vander Wielen: You just have it in the checkout.
Joe Casabona: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I use Paid Memberships Pro. Full disclosure, they have sponsored this podcast in the past.
Sam Vander Wielen: I gave a legal talk for them. So they-
Joe Casabona: Did you really?
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah. We talked about this. I did a presentation for them.
Joe Casabona: Oh, that’s amazing. They live like so close. They’re only on like Reading.
Sam Vander Wielen: Oh, that’s awesome.
Joe Casabona: Oh, man, I love Kim and Jason. They’re the best. So I assume that there’s probably something that I need to check on this and to show the Terms of Service. Maybe it’s already there. Maybe this has happened and I just haven’t tried it in a while. But the important part is have them.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah. People often don’t reserve their right to, you know, saying that this is copyright protected. I think often too because people make the mistake of thinking that you have to register stuff with copyright in order for it to be protected. At the same time, people often make the mistake of not going getting it registered so that they have the private [inaudible 00:52:16] like presumption of ownership. So it’s like that’s a mistake.
I think people aren’t often very clear. So what I see when people try to do their own agreements and write their own, what I end up seeing is a lot of redundancy that are contradictory. So they’ll put in like multiple different paragraphs. But because people are like, This is all bunch of legal, gobbledygook, I don’t know what this says, they include the kitchen sink, and then it turns out that everything’s just like canceling each other out as they go on and it’s super inconsistent. So I see that.
I see people constantly missing their choice of law clauses where we actually get to choose in America what states law applies to our contracts. You always just want your own states because you don’t want to be subject to everybody else’s laws, assuming that they could be worse, but also that you’d have to travel.
Joe Casabona: Right. Right. So I shouldn’t just put Delaware because that’s what everybody put?
Sam Vander Wielen: No. I’m also another big proponent of this whole registering your business in a million different places thing. I don’t think people understand what the tax implications are of that. If you’re running your business out of wherever you live and you have to, first of all, have your business register where you live, and you have to pay taxes where you live.
As we used to say, it’s butts in the chair. That’s what matters. In the law is like it’s where your butts in the chair doing the work. You can’t just like register your business in Delaware and call it a day. That’s a common misunderstanding.
Joe Casabona: When I registered my LLC, I asked my lawyer about that.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah. Like, Can I put it though?
Joe Casabona: I was like, “All these tech businesses register in Delaware.” He’s like, “You should register in Pennsylvania.” I’m like, “Okay.”
Sam Vander Wielen: Because you still have to pay tax. I mean, for like Apple, it makes sense. But Apple also has a store at the Christiana Mall in Delaware. And then they have an office with a desk and a chair and the lady or something who probably received service or process for them. They can afford to do that. But we’re not doing that.
Joe Casabona: Right. That’s exactly right. And like you said, there’s the tax implication, right?
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: Even though I sell a digital product to people in Pennsylvania, where my business is registered, have to pay sales tax on those digital products. I mean, this is my understanding and I have an accountant who handles that for me. But if somebody in Pennsylvania buys my digital product, they have to pay sales tax on it. But like if you’re in New York, from what I understand, you don’t have to because you’re not residing in Pennsylvania.
Sam Vander Wielen: That is my understanding.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah. Sales tax is super confusing. Most states currently aren’t putting sales tax on those kinds of downloadable course materials, where you’re like downloading videos. Yeah.
Joe Casabona: That’s what it is. Pennsylvania has. That’s extremely frustrating.
Sam Vander Wielen: It’s weird. But it’s like not other replaces. So there’s that. And then a lot of states also don’t tax a lot of services. Like if you’re coaching or something or if you’re just influencer, they’re not taxing that kind of stuff. So it’s a little tricky. There are like WordPress plugins… I know for like WooCommerce there’s like WordPress plugins that you can use to track all that stuff and it makes a little bit easier. But that stuff is complicated.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I was at a workout class at the gym the other day, and the guy next to me, he kept asking the instructor to make every move harder for him but he was never doing the actual move itself. He would just constantly talk about like, how could I make this harder? Like, how can I add weight to it? And I’m like, “Buddy, why don’t we like try doing the move first and you see if you can even do it.”
And that’s sometimes how I feel. I was thinking… my brain always converts everything to business. I was like, this reminds me so much of business where we’re like, should I move my business to Delaware? Should I be doing this? I’m like, How about we just start the business and then we see how it goes? And if you become Apple, we’ll talk about moving the business to Delaware.
Joe Casabona: That’s so funny. I was talking to Melody Moore about this. She’ll be on the show and a couple of weeks as you listen to this.
Sam Vander Wielen: That’s awesome.
Joe Casabona: But she was saying the same thing. Like, we focus so much on trying to scale our memberships before we have any members.
Sam Vander Wielen: Like, is this scalable?
Joe Casabona: Is this scalable? For my membership for How I Built Pro now, I just said, Screw it. I had a WordPress site, I said, Screw it, I’m just gonna do ConvertKit commerce. There are important missing pieces to ConvertKit Commerce, like you don’t know when someone churns, but whatever. I had it up and running and they can get my private podcast in a newsletter.
So until I get like 1,000 people and like 500 are churning, and it’s like actually costing me money for people to churn and still get my content, I’m just gonna not worry about it.
Sam Vander Wielen: So I’m like, we’ll solve that problem when it’s a problem. Like, if I’m making so much money that I need Delaware-level protection, then I think I’ll also have the money to hire a lawyer to move it there and we’ll work it out. So I just am not that fussed about it.
I feel like people are often intimidated by what I do and by the legal steps of starting a business or of starting to legally protect your business. And that sometimes is coming from a place of way overcomplicating it and not just dealing with what we have right now. Like, let’s just get the foundation in place and then you can add on later on.
Sam Vander Wielen: Perfect.
Joe Casabona: …so people can just scroll.
Sam Vander Wielen: Perfect.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah. This has been a very successful and mass conspiracy by the legal industry to make people think that things have to be written in legalese in order for it to be legally enforceable. You can write things in plain English and it as enforceable.
The thing that I will defend lawyers about that, you know, we get a knock for, though, is that we do have a way of being incredibly clear, even though… You know, and so that’s really helpful. And I think that sometimes when people try to write in plain English, they end up fumbling and not being super clear. So that is what’s helpful about legalese is that the formality sort of cuts through the ambiguous nature of talking about the stuff. So that’s helpful.
But, you know, contracts don’t have to be long or scary. I think that’s some of the funny things I get all the time is like, “Oh, I haven’t wanted to buy your contract templates because I don’t want to scare people off.” And I’m like, ‘What makes you think mine are scary?” Actually, I have mentioned mine are less lengthy than a lot of the ones that people try to put together themselves because they’re super tight.
Then we have like whether or not you want confidentiality in there. That’s really important for people who host like calls and group programs and things like this. So it kind of depends on what you’re doing. That’s how I build my legal templates.
Like they’re fill-in-the-blank style and then every single one of them comes with a video tutorial where I walk you through how to fill it out. And as I’m talking to you about it, I’m saying like, Hey, If you don’t do this, you can delete this part. If you do do this in your membership, make sure you keep this part in. This is what this is for. This is how you use it. So that’s where it’s helpful to have a little bit of support so that you only have what you need in there and you can make it super clear. But they’re not scary.
And also contracts are meant to protect both. This is something I feel like people in the online business industry often forget. And we can sometimes just as business owners only think about everything from our perspective.
And I’m always trying to remind my customers that their customers are meeting a random person on the internet, and then signing up for their membership, or buying their course, or signing up for the $10,000 coaching package. And you’re like, “Man, I hope this guy shows up. I hope he’s gonna do what he said.”
So they want to see a contract just as much as you want it so that you make sure you get paid. They want to make sure that they’re paying for something and that they’re getting what they think they’re deserving. So just keep that in mind too. Like you might think it’s scary, but they might think it’s scary if you don’t use one.
Joe Casabona: Right. That’s exactly right. And I love that point about it should protect both parties. This has been something that I’ve always made sure like my contracts protected my clients as well. I’m not just gonna up and leave, right?
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: Even if you’ve only paid me half, you get what you’ve paid for already.
Sam Vander Wielen: Right.
Joe Casabona: This is what I said to my brother-in-law about the venue contract. I was like, this contract doesn’t protect you at all. I said, this basically says if you decide to cancel the event, they keep your deposit, and if they decide to cancel the event, they get to keep your deposit and could sue you and then get their legal fees paid by you.
So I was like, when you go to this person, just be like, “This contract doesn’t offer me any protection.” And I would like at least in some language saying that you will put your best foot forward for making sure this event happens in… whatever manner. I couldn’t think of the language at 10 o’clock at night. But I was like, “You need some protection.
Sam Vander Wielen: Totally. Yeah. My best-selling product’s called The Ultimate Bundle and it gives people legal templates and trainings that they need for an online business. And one of the trainings that I added to it a few years ago was about how to read contracts that other people send to you.
Because as creators, you know, you might hire a web developer or you might hire a branding person photographer. And I wanted people to know, like, Okay, this is what I’m signing away. This is what I need to know. This is what they can do to me. This is how they can cancel on me. This is what I would owe. This is what they would owe.
So I really walk them through in this video with the contract right there and show them like, here’s how to read it. Here’s how to see how can they get out of it? How can you get out of it? How was everybody penalized? That’s how we’re trained as attorneys to review contracts.
Joe Casabona: I love that. And it makes me feel kind of good because again, I secretly wish I was a lawyer. Okay, I have two more questions in our lightning-ish round.
Sam Vander Wielen: Go for it.
Joe Casabona: It’s more like extended thunder round.
Sam Vander Wielen: You’re right.
Joe Casabona: The first one is around ownership. Again, this is like selfishly, because I’m going through this right now. I guess the way I’m going to word it is let’s say the creator is creating content on their channel for a brand and the brand wants ownership. How does one… This is really too specific to me, I think. I guess there’s a question around content ownership, right?
Sam Vander Wielen: Mm-hmm.
Joe Casabona: How do you navigate those waters? Let’s just get more general about it. Right?
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: Is there a default like they always own the content because they paid for it or what?
Sam Vander Wielen: It’s probably a work-for-hire issue and copyright law. So they’re probably in whatever they’re having you sign saying that this is a work-for-hire. So they’re just hiring you to create work for them. That’s why they own it and you don’t get to own it as the creator.
This actually becomes an issue where it’s some people, unbeknownst to them, end up seeing themselves in like a Facebook ad for a company and then they’re like, “What? I just created that reel for them and now they’re using it to monetize.”
So what I always tell customers is that you should look for that, see who owns the content, who can reuse it. And then that should just be part of your pricing strategy. I would make the price of what you’re charging dependent on like I know that they can continue to use this and monetize it. So what feels good to me, and what will not create any resentment on your part, I think that’s the most important thing.
Joe Casabona: I guess I always want to make sure that I’m not being too aggressive. This is why I said they’re like, Why is ownership so important to you? And I said, Well, for one, it’s on my channel, my channel is monetized. So I don’t want the monetization of my channel to be beholden to the whims of your company. That’s one thing. And the other thing is if you own it, then you could just use it in ads. What if I like blow up and become the number one podcast or whatever.
Sam Vander Wielen: You are, Joe.
Joe Casabona: Oh, thanks. Now you’re using my image in this without any extra compensation to me. I said, if you want to own these videos, that’s different from a sponsorship, right? Because that was a work-for-hire contract. I said, this is a sponsorship. You are sponsoring content to be created on my channels.
I said, if this is work for hire, I can do that. But it’s a different engagement where I charge per finished minute, my face is not going to be in it. It’s just going to be my voice, and it’s not going to be on my content properties. And that was like a month ago. I assume they just sent it back to their legal team.
Justin Moore talks about this. Because I accidentally, quote-unquote, forfeited paid usage rights to a brand. And he’s like, “Dude, never do that. Like, what if you blow up and now they’re using… They paid like, $2,000 to use your face?”
Sam Vander Wielen: You can put time limits on stuff like that to be one way. You can use it for a year and then re-evaluate. There’d be another fee like a licensing fee, essentially.
Joe Casabona: Yeah. That’s what I do now. It’s like you can have paid usage rights for… I think it’s like 25% of the engagement per 30 days or whatever, something like that.
Sam Vander Wielen: That makes sense.
Joe Casabona: All right. Last question. That was super fun. Thank you for that. I feel like I just got free legal advice. I feel like I got free confirmation of what I thought.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah.
Joe Casabona: The last question is around what happens when someone steals your content. This is like a rampant problem in the online course space. Like LinkedIn Learning has this problem where people are taking the courses, recording them, and putting them up on Udemy. Shame on Udemy. I can’t stand them. What can a creator do about that?
Now you have them on breach of contract because they bought your course, they agreed to these terms when they bought it. And they’ve now breached that by sharing it not in accordance with the way that you said that they could share it. So you have this whole other legal branch to go after.
And then there’s the copyright issue. A lot of course creators they will make the mistake of not sending their course content off for copyright registration. So you should send your videos, you can send handouts, you can send audio files, whatever it is that’s in your course or your membership to the US Copyright Office for registration. You can upload them if they have a digital form that you can fill out. So you can upload everything.
That’s how you register the actual content itself so that you have a presumption of ownership of this material. When you have a copyright certificate, which comes way faster than a trademark, like usually a month or two, you can get a copyright-
Joe Casabona: I’m waiting three years in on a trademark.
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah, it’ll take forever. It’ll take forever. So you can get that pretty quickly. And then when somebody violates us in some way, you’re gonna be able to take this stuff down in a snap, because basically all you’re going to do is send over your copyright certificate, show on this copyright certificate it lists out like all these little videos and the pieces of your course and everything. And it’s just gonna be like, no question.
There’s also the DMCA takedown route where you can contact Google, you can contact the server, you can contact the companies. A lot of these individual companies have reporting processes and legal teams that you can do.
Joe Casabona: That’s really interesting. Does one—I won’t like say you—does one normally submit every piece of content they create for copyright?
Sam Vander Wielen: Only that’s like in the main… in my courses. My digital products, they’re all registered.
Joe Casabona: So I’m not submitting every episode of my podcast for copyright registration.
Sam Vander Wielen: No. No. You could if you want to and if you think people are taking your copy or the outline of your episode, and then just regurgitating it. For me, I’m just kind of like that would be just stupid. I don’t know.
Joe Casabona: This is out there for free.
Sam Vander Wielen: This is where lawyer Sam takes off her hat and it’s like that seems… Yes, of course, you could do that and the lawyer may tell you that you have to if you want the protection. It’s also just not practical for our industry, given the amount of content that we upload.
So I personally do this for paid products. big meaty stuff. You could do this for freebies, like if you have a webinar, if you have handouts, all that stuff. I’ve registered like all the big stuff. And then moneymakers they’re all covered.
Joe Casabona: Good to know. And you said that there’s a forum for that?
Sam Vander Wielen: Yeah. Go to the U.S. Copyright Office website. Just go directly to the government site. Don’t go to all these third-party private sites because they all charge you a bunch of stuff. And it’s actually not very expensive through the U.S. Copyright Office. There’s now a digital online way to register.
Usually, you have to break it down by media type and so sometimes it’s like if you… For me, I had to submit different ones for my course for all the videos and the audio, and then one separately for documents and PDFs and downloadable products.
Joe Casabona: Okay, cool. I will be sure to link that in the show notes, which you will be able to find over at howibuilt.it/307. And there’ll be, I mean, links to everything we talked about here. Sam, thanks. This was super helpful. I need to do a little bit of stuff.
Something that we didn’t get to because we’ve been talking for a very long time at this point. But I have a fun… I mean, I’ve already consulted a lawyer about this. But about three months after this show launched How I Built This with Guy Raz launched. And they were smart and got the trademark on the name first.
So a little part of me is always like, are they gonna cease and desist me? And my lawyer was pretty confident that because I have demonstrable proof that I was here first, they probably won’t. She was like, you should have a plan just in case.
Sam Vander Wielen: Just in case, yeah. They probably have a lot of money.
Joe Casabona: So super interesting stuff. I have a little bit of homework. But like I said, I will link all of that stuff in the show notes. Again, that’s over at howibuilt.it/307.
Sam, if people want to learn more about you, and especially… You know, I don’t do this for everybody. But you’ve provided so much value. If people want to get the ultimate bundle, where can they go?
Sam Vander Wielen: You can go to SamvanderWielen.com. You can sign up for my free legal workshop called 5 Steps to Legally Protect & Grow Your Online Business. So you can save $400 off the ultimate bundle and get a bunch of free legal templates added to your template pack. So that’s one option.
And then if you obviously loves listening to podcasts, come over and listen to my podcast On Your Terms. Every single Monday and Thursday, I post new episodes with legal and with marketing tips for online businesses.
Joe Casabona: Strongly recommend that podcast.
Sam Vander Wielen: Thank you.
Joe Casabona: I’m a big fan. Sam, thanks so much for joining us today. Really appreciate it.
Sam Vander Wielen: Thank you, Joe.
Joe Casabona: And thank you for listening. Again, if you want to get an ad-free extended version of this conversation, where we talk about like Amy Porterfield and podcast downloads and the industry in general, you can sign up on the show notes page over at howibuilt.it/307. Everything you need is there.
Thanks to our sponsors, Gap Scout, Groundhogg, and LearnDash. And until next time, get out there and build something.