Friday, February 25, 2011

How to Trademark: 5 minutes to deciding whether Trademarking is for you

My pretty trademark that most likely cost me $2000
If you are a mom (or a dad, parent, what have you) that owns your own business, the thought of trademarking your name will have crossed your mind. You might have seen another competing business using a name similar to yours. Or, you have direct competition that you feel you can dust if only you own the name of your company. Whether your motivation be suing the pants off of a rival that is irritating you or protecting a business name you have rightfully grown, you want a Trademark and you want one now.  Yet I continue to be amazed at the lack of knowledge out there for Trademarking. Judging by the types of questions I am asked, it is clear that many people don't know the differences between a Trademark, Copyright, and Patents.

A trade-mark is a word (or words), a design, or a combination of these, used to identify the goods or services of one person or organization.

I'd call this tutorial "Trademarking for Dummies," but the words "For Dummies" is trademarked and I don't want to be sued. (Also see my future article "How to survive being counter-sued", because that happened to me too)

Trademarking is one of the single most misunderstood parts of owning a business. I will never forget receiving an email from a friend who said:

"Hey, can you trademark my name, thanks".
Um, ok. I'm going to need some clarification here.  I emailed back, asking exactly what she meant.

She replied, "You know, copyright it. Let me know when its done. Ok, thanks."

Now for someone who has no idea what obtaining a trademark entails, this may seem like a fairly simple exchange.  But I've been through the ringer of trademarking so to speak, and there are three things you should know right off the bat.

Its expensive: The application to trademark you business name or logo will cost you a minimum of $250 if you submit online. If you submit through another way, such a trademark lawyer or one of the online services, you are looking at anywhere from $300 to $1500 to apply. Once you have been approved, it will cost you another $250 minimum to register it formally. If it does not become approved for whatever reason (someone opposes it, it is too close in name to another registered trademark), you are out your original $250. There is no refund window at the Trademark office.

Its time consuming - Just filling out the application is time consuming. Once you fill out the application, you can expect to wait up to a year for the trademark to be published in the Trademark Journal. If no one opposes your use of the trademark after it is advertised, you will be asked to submit the final registration form. For me, it took three years from start to finish. Some businesses don't even operate for three years, so you should be sure of what your future plans are before filing.

You need to be on the ball to cover everything - You have to be sure you cover all of the contingencies. For example, are you going to be using the name for just your business or a possible line of products? You better have all of the clothes, soaps, baby things, to which you plan on using it covered, or you could be in trouble down the road. For an idea as to what I put on my application, look at the pretty and ultra expensive registered trademark I own: Kidswap

Just like George Costanza, you will succeed if you do the opposite of what I did: Trademark law firms are plentiful online and off. After some research you may feel tempted to just hand over the reins of your application to a firm. I would advise against this, unless you have a lot of money to burn and/or you have a really complicated application. I was royally taken by a Trademark firm which shall remain nameless. This was way back in the day when I didn't realize that every single time a lawyer picks up the phone, it costs you a lot of money. I had called a trademark lawyer for advice at one point. They helped me with my application, and that was all I required. One of the lawyers from the firm took it upon themselves to call me three months later to 'check in'. I thought it was a just a nice chat, until I received a bill in the mail for $800. Avoid trademark firms and save yourself a lot of cash by researching it yourself. 

If you are in the market for a Trademark, I recommend doing some research on Google. You will find many links to companies that will process your trademark for $399, (you know now that the do-it-yourself fee is $250) but you still do all of the work on the application. Steer clear and keep your money in the bank.

If you have more questions, I'm happy to help.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

How to Change a Diaper

If you like funny, check out a new website by some guys at Funny or Die. Its called The Content Farm, and for people who focus on quality writing, its hilarious. It made me laugh even harder, because I recently signed up for Demand Studios. And in the same day, I removed myself from the site. As a freelancer, I keep my options open, so I thought I'd apply and try it out. I also thought it might be fun to write for LiveStrong, because I am an avid road biking enthusiast. Apparently, when writing for demand studios, you need to prove yourself first.  A plethora of subjects for eHow were my only choice, including how to fix a fly wheel on a tractor. Now I am well known for my ability to research, but that one was a bit out of my level of comprehension. Also, I don't want to spend over 4 hours researching something to only make $15.
And so, in honor of The Content Farm and content mills everywhere, here is my take on:

How to Change a Diaper

You don't need a license to have a baby, which is really too bad in many respects. You've weighed the pros and cons of which baby necessities to buy and discovered that the one thing you can't really do without is diapers. Unfortunately for you, you have no idea how to change a diaper. This is how you change a diaper:
  1. Get a hold of a baby: This could be your baby or a borrowed baby. Avoid borrowing babies from people who don't know you are borrowing them. You will end up in jail. Please see my How To article on "How to protect yourself when jailed for kidnapping".
  2. Determine that the current diaper needs changing: A strong indicator of a diaper in need of changing is a:) When it is hanging down in a soggy fashion between the child's legs, or b:) a strong, ripe odor is emitting from said child's current diaper. You may also see a trail of color seeping out of the diaper if you've waited too long or the eruption was particularly volcanic.
  3. Place the child on his or her back: Laying the child down, remove the old diaper and wrap it up with the tabs. You may wish to use a ventilation mask for this step, as the fumes can be strong and overwhelming.
  4. Wipe away the remaining mess: Don't be cheap. Huggies and Pampers sell baby wipes for a reason. Toilet paper will only leave you sticky fingered and dry dabbing. Consider that you will spend much more in antibacterial hand wash if you opt out of baby wipes.
  5. Place the new diaper underneath the child's bottom: At this point, be sure that the tabs are underneath the child's backside and that the diaper is placed the right way. Diaper manufacturers have added colorful characters and artful cartoon displays to the front side of the diaper. They say this is to make the diaper more appealing to children, but let's face it, the kid doesn't care as long as he or she doesn't have poop running down their legs. No, this is sort of a feature for parents, a "Put it on the right way for dummies." Look for the Elmo, he won't steer you wrong.
  6. Secure the tabs: Open one tab and place it over Elmo. Open the other tab and do the same. See, this diaper changing thing is easy.
  7. Sit back and bask in your accomplishment: You will have between 5 minutes to 2 hours before you need to change another diaper. You will begin to feel more confident in your assessment and changing skills as time goes on.
  • Resist the urge to place your face near the child's bottom. You may see others doing this 'sniff test' in order to guage whether or not the child has voided, but it can backfire. See my How To article on how to cleanse fecal matter from your glasses.
  • Always keep a diaper on a newborn baby boy. Their internal sprinkler system is set to high.
  • Be aware of volcanic eruptions that can occur when the child is having their diaper changed. In much the same way that a shift can occur in the earth's tectonic plates, so can a powerful push occur when changing a diaper.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What's luck got to do with being a good writer? Pretty much everything

Do you have dreams? I have many different kinds of dreams.

For one, I'd like a small acreage located near where I live now. It should have a house with a wrap around porch and a bench for me to sit on and watch the world go by. It should have a metal gate for keeping the kids in, and a small barn in the back for any animals I may attempt to own. I'd also like a spot for my parents to have a mobile home, just so I could see them more than once every 2 years. The land should have enough room for my husband to grab his excavator and build some dirt jumps for him and the kids.

Yet another dream? I'd like to write a few books and have them published. Nothing crazy. I'm not shooting for the New York best seller list, but to be able to make a decent income doing what I love is a dream of mine. Not only because I have four kids to raise, but because I love writing.

Neither of these dreams are unobtainable. To get the house, I just need to find a job and/or a steady stream of gigs to supplement our current income. Writing the book is a bit harder. I have quite a few ideas, just no time beyond my current family and writing gigs to actually start. I'd also have to say that I'm sort of afraid to go there, but that is an entirely different post.

I've viewed my life as a sort of ladder. Since I've started writing I've taken it one rung at a time. One job led to another, which led to another, and as my confidence in my writing has grown so has my desire to go beyond what I have already accomplished. I've written for some very amazing clients, and I'm happy to continue doing just that. But on another level, I need to take it one step further. In the immortal words of Walt Disney:

A person should set his goals as early as he can and devote all his energy and talent to getting there. With enough effort, he may achieve it. Or he may find something that is even more rewarding. But in the end, no matter what the outcome, he will know he has been alive.

Which leads me to something I have been pondering. What does luck have to do with advancing your writing career? If you asked me, I'd have to say a lot. I read a book once called "Lucky or Smart: Secrets to an Entrepreneurial Life" by Bo Peabody. It didn't change my life, but it certainly made me realize that I could be a prolific writer and if no one ever gave me a chance? I could go back to bagging groceries at the local Save On or just really focus on cleaning up after the kids for a change.

Isn't luck really about being in the right place at the right time? No matter if its who you tweet or whether you send in an query to an editor who is just looking for that topic, luck is basically when the Universe aligns and points its big finger at you and says, Today is YOUR DAY!

Yes, you should probably start with a basic talent, but I've seen some severely untalented writers take it to the next level and beyond. Case in point: Perez Hilton. If you look at it in a writing perspective, his success defies the imagination. Yet he is a famous blogger/writer and let's face it, he dresses much better than I do. Lauren Conrad wrote one best selling fiction novel called LA Candy. Her claim to fame? The Hills, an annoying 'reality' show that most likely has given every single girl a complex at one time or another. There are better writers out there, with sharp witted jabs and the ability to make you laugh or cry with the single twist of a synonym, yet they fester in obscurity. Why? The lucky break has not happened for them yet.

What does luck have to do with writing? I'd say everything. I read all of the books/blogs/news I can handle, and I make a point of writing something every single day. At some point or another, if I never receive a lucky break, I'll just be blogging into the abyss.

What do you think?