As featured on Marie TV, Jo-Ná A. Williams, Esq. founded J.A. Williams Law P.C. – The Artist Empowerment Firm in 2011 to provide artists, entertainers and this generation’s thought leaders with ways to successfully navigate their careers and provide assistance with business, entertainment and intellectual property matters. She is dedicated to issues regarding the rights of artists and content creators because she believes they are a population highly vulnerable to exploitation without proper knowledge. She founded Artist Empowerment Group in 2013 to advise artists on business, branding and marketing. Some of her clients have written best-selling books, created award-winning blogs, been nominated for Grammys, listed in the Billboard Top 100, Amazon and iTunes Top Album Charts and received local and international acclaim.
BlackEnterprise.com caught up with Jo-Ná to get her thoughts on how her own cautionary tale carved a career path for her to help artists and entrepreneurs avoid common pitfalls and protect their intellectual property.
BlackEnterprise.com: What led you to a career empowering artists and entrepreneurs?
Jo-Ná A. Williams, Esq.: At a young age I was working as a background vocalist and songwriter with an engineer and I was told that I would be credited and compensated for my work and that never happened. Little did I know that would lead to a life of empowering others and helping them create successful brands and protect their creative genius, but it did. I am so grateful for that experience because it led me down this path and I love what I do.
If there is one thing that you could change about that period or you could advise others to avoid what would that be?
I would tell young artists to protect their work. Never sign anything without having an attorney look it over and NEVER start working if you don’t have the arrangement in writing. Yes, it can be a pain in the beginning to square up legal documents but once you have that foundation you can focus on the best part of the process, creating. However, you’re doing it with a new sense of freedom because you’re not thinking in the back of your mind, “What’s going to happen?” You already know, it’s in writing.
Tell us about how your background as an artist impacts your representation of artists and entrepreneurs?
Well, I am an artist at heart and an entrepreneur by trade (and heart) and I think this allows me to have a deeper level of compassion and understanding. I’ve been on the other side of this battle and I also know how challenging it is to be an artist or start a business in this day and age.
So it’s not just about getting things signed, it’s also about understanding and being sensitive to the emotions and insecurities [of my clients] that may come up with asserting yourself and your worth. That’s tough for most independent artists and new entrepreneurs. Understanding that allows me to create a sense of empowerment within my clients before they take that step.
What types of services does your firm provide?
My firm is focused on protecting amazing world changing brands and empowering creatives to protect their work, grow their income and expand their reach. So, at the firm we provide legal courses and education on starting and securing a business, we offer a system that allows my lawyers to draft all the legal documents you need for starting your business, trademark registration, wealth and legal strategy sessions and we also have a list of celebrity clients such as Marie Forleo, Derek Halpern and Danielle LaPorte with whom we do customized legal work.
In your practice, what is the biggest mistake that you see made by artists and other entrepreneurs?
Not bringing in a lawyer from the start of their business. I always tell people, there are two team members you ABSOLUTELY should have when starting your business, a lawyer and an accountant. Most people don’t follow that and wind up in some really bad legal situations or incurring tax liability they could have avoided. So it’s better to be safe and not take the risk with your livelihood and your work. It’s that important.
There’s quite a rise of tech and online entrepreneurs, do they need advice specific to their industry as opposed to traditional brick and mortar entrepreneurs?
Yes. While there is some overlap, it’s very important to have a lawyer on your team who understands the nuisances that online entrepreneurs go through. It’s another world. When you don’t hire that type of lawyer, you are paying for him or her to get educated in addition to doing the legal work so it’s not cost-effective.
What do you say to folks who are not yet generating income and feel they can’t afford an attorney or business representative?
There are so many attorneys out here that work on a pro-rated, flat fee or pro-bono basis. Reach out into your community. Ask your colleagues. Look at the legal organizations and advocacy services that are low-fee, no fee. It’s a matter of taking a no-excuses approach to getting what you need and once you do, your mind will think of creative ways to solve the problem. There are so many options. It’s just a matter of finding the one that works for you.
What’s on the horizon for you and J.A. Williams Law and Artist Empowerment for 2015?
I am so excited because our legal education program, “Secure Your Empire” will be launching again very soon and Artist Empowerment is releasing a new, incredible way to educate artists in the early part of 2015. It’s going to be so exciting. I can’t wait to show you what we have in store.
Do you have any parting words of wisdom for our readers?
Whatever you do, don’t give up. It may seem overwhelming or challenging at times but that dream is in you because it was meant to come out of you. Be patient and allow it the space to live. Keep going.
Stay in touch with Jo-Ná’s law firm at jawilliamslaw.com. If you sign up for her newsletter you will receive her free “Brand Protection Guide: Top 10 ways to legally protect your content online and beyond.” If you’d like more information about Artist Empowerment Group, check out, jo-nawilliams.com for great artist entrepreneur tips and inspiration.
Michelle Y. Talbert, Esq. is a DC-based, NY-bred relationship strategist and social media content producer, working with corporations and professionals to position their social media presence for success. She produces and co-hosts the popular weekly podcast “They Met Online…,” in addition to writing about successful relationship strategies in business and in love. She’s a passionate non-techie startup founder and was a member of the 2014 Lean Startup Machine DC contest winning team. Connect with her on Twitter @MichelleTalbert and LinkedIn.