How to Legally Protect Your Online Course and Wellness Business 

This article is a guest post by Sam Vander Wielen

Adding an online course or program can be a great way to diversify your business and maximize your reach with clients. But have you ever worried about legally protecting yourself, your business, or your content before putting your first course out there?

I know I have.

In case we don’t know each other already, let me quickly introduce myself. I’m Sam Vander Wielen, an attorney-turned-health coach and entrepreneur.

When I first left my job as a corporate attorney, I started my own health coaching business focused on balance and self-care for busy professionals. I quickly learned that there was only so much I could do in terms of seeing 1-on-1 private clients. There weren’t enough hours in the day and I simply wasn’t making the income I needed to support my family on private coaching alone.

So I created an online course on self-care for busy professionals and ran it twice: once during the holiday season and again in the new year. People loved it! And I loved being able to reach so many more people in a new way. Plus, I experienced a big bonus I didn’t anticipate: a lot of those course members loved the course and working together, so they wanted to work privately together later on.

Around the time I started my own online courses and programs, they seemed to be gaining popularity online. I couldn’t help but notice something that made me nervous: how many women offered health, fitness, or self-care courses without legally protecting themselves or their businesses at all.

So I created Sam Vander Wielen LLC as a way to empower coaches with the legal information and education they needed to run their businesses.

Now that I work with coaches through my legal template and business mentorship business, I see another common theme. So many of you are afraid to start your long-dreamt-about online course or program because you’re afraid.  You’re afraid that…

  • It’s already been done.
  • Someone’s done it better than you.
  • Someone will steal your content, so you might as well just not create it.
  • No one will buy it.
  • It leaves you and your business legally exposed.

Here are a few ways you can protect your online course or program, yourself, and your business in the process:

1. Start With Your Website

Even if you don’t run your online course or program through your website, you need to have certain website legal protections in place before you start offering any type of program or course, let alone private coaching services.

Why would it matter if your website’s protected if you offer an online course or program through another platform? Because, to legally protect your online course, your whole business and yourself, you should make it clear to site visitors (who either find you through your website/blog posts/social media/etc. or who visit your site once they hear about you somewhere else) who you are, what you do, and what your rules (terms) are.

Here’s an example. If you’re a health coach who’s thinking of offering a 12-week healthy eating program, you’re going to blog about it, advertise it on your website, and post on social media (linking back to your site) to let people know about your new course. If any of those people who visited your site end up signing up for your 12-week program, you want them to know ahead of time that you’re a health coach, not a physician, and that you stay within your scope of practice.

That way, it makes it hard for them to sue you because they thought you were something you’re not. Because you were super clear with them on your website, you put them on notice before they worked with you, and they bought from you anyway.

Protect yourself and your business’s website by having a clear, professionally done privacy policy, website disclaimer, and terms & conditions easily conspicuous and available on your website.

2. Strengthen Your Sales Page

Carry over links to your website legal documents (privacy policy, website disclaimer, and terms & conditions) on your sales pages, too. It’s always possible that someone who’s never been on your website before lands on your sales page promoting your course or program. This way, you’ll make sure they’re also familiar with you and what you do.

3. Get Terms of Use

Up until now, we’ve talked a lot about protecting you and your business from a defensive perspective. But what about when you want to proactively defend your business, too?

There are a lot of legal things to be aware of when you’re selling your online course or business. You want to make sure you:

  • Get paid in full (especially if you accept monthly or installment payments)
  • Protect your intellectual property
  • Set the tone and rules for your program
  • Establish a refund/return policy upfront
  • Protect your business and self from personal liability & so much more.

So what’s the best way to get all that accomplished before someone signs up for your course or program? Have them review and agree to a Terms of Use agreement. Terms of Use are similar to the client agreement you use for your 1-on-1 coaching programs, except that Terms of Use includes a number of policies and legal protections that are unique to running an online course or program.

Since it would be unrealistic and overly complicated to have each and every client sign an individual contract for an online course or program (especially one that’s evergreen), Terms of Use are the next best way have that client “agree to” certain policies and legal protections upfront. And remember, it’s vital that clients have the opportunity to review and agree to the Terms of Use before signing up. It’s likely not enforceable if you only send it to them after they pay for the course.

So what questions do you have about protecting your online course or program? Has the fear of legal ramifications ever held you back from starting your own course or creating any other content you really wanted to create?

Sam Vander Wielen is an attorney-turned-entrepreneur who empowers women with DIY legal templates and business mentorship to confidently run businesses they love. She’s on a mission to help women fearlessly pursue what sets their soul on fire and make legal accessible, easy, and cozy (yes, cozy!). After taking the leap from corporate law to entrepreneurship to live a more authentic life, Sam’s discovering she loves to read, travel, and craft the perfect cup of coffee. She lives outside of Philadelphia, PA with her husband. You can find Sam and her DIY legal templates on her website, Instagram, Facebook, and Fearless Femmepire, her online book club + community for fearless entrepreneurs.

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