Business Mistakes to Avoid: Wearing Too Many Hats

We’ve all done it.  Entrepreneurs are passionate, busy people.  They are focused on so many things.  It may feel like you are supposed to, should be, or even forced to do it all yourself.  So many of us try to do it all – the new client prospecting, customer service, product design, billing, handling legal concerns.  Here’s the problem, No one is equipped to perfectly handle all of those positions, and mistakes are easily made.  Not only that, but studies show that trying to wear all these hats actually decreases our productivity and hurts your business.  Sometimes you just need to delegate.

Too many business owners try to save money by doing it all themselves and too many of them regret doing it later.  Here’s the hard truth, experts like attorneys or accountants, cost a lot because it takes an enormous amount of time to learn the trade and perform it competently.  Additionally, an expert usually takes on an enormous amount of liability when undertaking to perform expert tasks for your business.

In any business, there’s only so much money to go around.  You need to be strategic about where you spend it.  Law is a bit of a mirage too because it looks as if it should be easy.  I mean, come on, its written in English!  So, for example, if you don’t have a technical background, and you have to choose between designing your own website or drafting your own contract it might seem as if you should hire someone to design the website since you don’t know how to code, but you definitely understand English or you can at least print a contract template online for free and fill in the blanks.  Here’s the problem.  Legal English isn’t really English at all.  Legal documents use words in highly-specific non-obvious ways.  The courts are filled with cases that turn on the meaning of a single contract word.

For example: A researcher at Stanford University agreed to assign all his copyright and patent rights for his scientific inventions to Stanford.  However, rather than state that the employee “hereby assigns” all his right, title and interest to the inventions, the agreement stated that the employee “hereby agrees to assign.” See the difference? Pretty subtle, right? Would you even notice the difference if you downloaded the form? And if you did notice the difference, would you know what it means? So here’s what happened. As part of his research, the employee visited another lab where he had to sign a visitors agreement saying, in part, that he “hereby assigns” the patent to any inventions he created while visiting that lab. Stanford later filed to patent the researcher’s invention, but when Stanford sued to protect the patent from infringement, the court ruled that Stanford did not own the patent rights. The court held that the wording “agrees to assign” meant that the employee agreed to make an assignment at some point in the future, whereas “hereby assigns” means that the assignment has been made. Therefore, the lab owned the assigned patent, and could sue to enforce the patent rights, but Stanford (which had paid for the research) was out of luck. All because of a poorly drafted agreement.

When a mistake is of the legal nature, the consequences can be huge.  Back to the coding example, if you make a mistake in your web code, your site will likely be non-functional, which gives you the opportunity to edit your code until you get it right, so you can learn by trial and error.  You can’t rely on trial and error for legal matters in your business.  If you make a legal mistake, you won’t catch it until you’re in legal trouble – and that will be a different kind of trial, and an entirely different magnitude of error.  Trying to save money and handle everything on your own almost guarantees that important issues will be overlooked.  You’ll be too busy juggling all of your different roles to make plans for what is supposed to happen next.


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