By Bethanie Hestermann
Attorney + serial entrepreneur Nicole Swartz of Sprout Law is on a mission to help women protect their brands through trademarks. After a nightmare of a rebranding process that stalled her own startup business a few years back, Nicole has made it her goal to prevent the same thing from happening to other women who are working tirelessly to build their businesses but don’t feel comfortable navigating the legal side of entrepreneurship.
Nicole’s goal is to help women build businesses, be financially independent, and get paid what they’re worth. She says that legal stuff we’re all ignoring (guilty!) doesn’t have to be overwhelming or scary. Get Nicole’s tips on trademarks + learn more about Sprout Law in today’s Q&A.
What inspired the creation of Sprout Law?
In 2015, I started a skincare line that was featured in hundreds of stores around the world and even the Golden Globes giftbags. After two years, I had to rebrand the entire business because I didn’t have a trademark. It was a nightmare!
I was already an attorney at that point, but I was so focused on getting sales and the 100 things you have to do as a small business owner that I skipped the legal areas. After I had to rebrand, I learned everything I could about trademarks and started talking to my entrepreneur friends about protecting their brands. It grew from there, and now I help other women trademark their brands to avoid the same situation.
What’s your favorite part about your job?
I love helping women build their businesses. I get to see people’s dreams evolve from an idea into a thriving business. The freedom and independence that you get from running a business can really change your life, and it’s so fun to see that evolution in our clients.
What is the main mission of Sprout Law?
To help more women build a business, be financially independent, and be paid what we’re worth.
What services do you provide to women entrepreneurs?
We mostly help with trademarking your brand, which ensures you own it and can stop copycats from stealing it. We also have affordable contract templates on our website like website policies and client agreements.
What tips do you have for those who are thinking about trademarking their brand?
I think it makes sense to trademark your brand when you start feeling upset about copycats. If you found a copycat today who started the same brand name and is selling the same things as you, would you be upset? Would you want to stop them? If yes, then it makes sense to trademark your brand because, as a small business owner, if you don’t have a trademark, it’s really hard to stop copycats. Ideally, you’ll do this before you have a copycat, because the trademark process takes a while.
My other tip is to definitely work with a trademark attorney to help you through the process. It seems simple, but 84% of all trademark applications are rejected at first. Working with an attorney gives you a much better chance at approval and protecting your brand. I work with trademarks every day, and I’ve yet to see a DIY application that was approved and actually protected the brand from copycats.
What are the most important ways to protect yourself when starting a business (even a small one)?
LLCs can protect your personal assets. Trademarks can protect your brand name, logo, and tagline from copycats and prevent you from having to rebrand like I had to. Copyrights can protect your creative work like designs, courses, and websites. Contracts protect you anytime you’re interacting with another person—whether that’s an online shopper, a client, or another brand.
What are some common misconceptions small business owners have about making it official?
One big misconception is that the legal areas are overwhelming and scary. But they don’t have to be. There are a ton of resources out there that break down the legal parts of running a business in a simple way—we have a lot of blog posts about it. It doesn’t have to be scary, and it doesn’t have to be boring. I’m on a mission to make it fun! Like, we talk about celebrity trademarks on our Instagram all the time.
Another misconception is that it’s fine to put the legal areas on the back burner because it’s uncomfortable. That’s why I lost my first brand. I was too busy focusing on sales and followers and all the other parts of running a business, which are obviously important. But putting off the legal areas has some scary and expensive consequences. After that experience, the first thing I do when I start a new business is set up the legal parts of it. The trademark is #1. And I’m a serial entrepreneur, so I have a lot of trademarks.
Is trademarking a super expensive process?
It’s definitely an investment in your brand. But in 2021, it’s not that much of a choice. So many people are filing trademarks and taking brand names that if you skip it, you could be at risk of getting a cease-and-desist letter from someone else. That’s why I typically recommend that business owners look into the trademark process when they know that they’re going to stick with this brand name long-term. Once you know that you’re in it for the long haul, it’s time to do it. We do a lot to make it affordable, like we have a five-month payment plan, and we do a trademark scholarship every two months.
If you were to urge all small biz owners to do just one thing today, what would it be?
Run a trademark search to make sure the brand you’re building is actually available. There are over 2 million registered trademarks. So a lot of brand names are already taken by someone else, and you’re not allowed to use them. If you start a brand with a name or logo that’s already trademarked in your industry, you’re likely to get a cease-and-desist letter, and you may have to rebrand. That’s what happened to me, and that’s why I tell all the business owners I know to do this early. When you’re building a brand and investing in it, you have to make sure it’s one you can keep long-term.
Who inspires you?
All the women I know who run small businesses. They have 1,000 things on the to-do list, and they’re out there getting it done and making it happen for themselves. It’s such an empowering and inspiring thing to see and a community to be a part of. They’re rockstars in my book.
Get more tips by following Nicole on Instagram at @sproutlaw!