AI Applications and Risks for Co-ops

Artificial intelligence (AI) is creating a buzz across sectors. Generative AI tools have the potential to enhance personal productivity, create new operational efficiencies, and more. However, the space can be complex and intimidating for non-experts.

On May 29, 2024, the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) Center for Cooperatives and Mid America Cooperative Council hosted special guest experts for an online roundtable about artificial intelligence for the cooperative community. Guests shared practical ways their businesses are implementing AI, how cooperatives can develop their capacity to engage with AI tools, and strategies to manage risks associated with AI adoption.

Watch the Recording and Access Experts’ Slides

"AI Applications and Risks for Co-ops featuring experts from Nationwide and GROWMARK" in white text on a blue background with a man and woman in business attire.

A recording of the program along with audio transcript are available via Zoom! Users will be asked to register to view the recording to help us track the reach and impact of the session. Feel free to share the recording link with your colleagues!

An image of a farmer standing next to a combine head with the GROWMARK and FS logos and white text "AI Applications and Risks for Co-ops, Leland Roling"

Slides from Leland Roling, Director, Information Systems Development with GROWMARK Inc.

Meet the Guest Experts

Leland Roling is Director, Information Systems Development with GROWMARK, Inc. Over the past 15 years, Leland has been instrumental in the development, implementation, and maintenance of numerous business-critical digital solutions at GROWMARK. Whether assuming the role as a developer, technical lead, product owner, or overseeing all of the above, he has consistently driven initiatives serving internal operations, wholesale product divisions, and member companies within the cooperative.

In his role as the Director of GROWMARK’s information systems development teams, Leland steers the strategic direction and vision of their development and data platforms. He ensures the delivery of state-of-the-art digital solutions and pioneering technologies, such as generative AI and machine learning, within the ever-changing agricultural landscape.

GROWMARK is an agricultural cooperative serving cooperatives, retailers, businesses, and customers in the U.S. and Canada.

Radha Narla is AVP & Chief Architect, Strategy, Data and Innovation with Nationwide. Radha Narla is currently the Chief Architect for Strategy, Data, and Innovation organization at Nationwide in Columbus, Ohio. She leads the architecture function supporting Technology Strategy, Customer Data, Enterprise Analytics, Enterprise Strategic Partnerships, Enterprise Innovation, and Emerging Technology R&D. Radha has been at the forefront of Generative AI enablement in Nationwide, establishing foundational architecture for this cutting-edge technology.

Radha holds a Masters degree in Computer Science from Franklin University, and Bachelors Degree in Electronics Engineering from India. She lives in New Albany, Ohio with her husband. She enjoys being outdoors, hiking, biking, and camping with family and friends.

Nationwide, a Fortune 100 company based in Columbus, Ohio, is one of the largest and strongest diversified insurance and financial services organizations in the United States. Nationwide is rated A+ by both A.M. Best and Standard & Poor’s. An industry leader in driving customer-focused innovation, Nationwide provides a full range of insurance and financial services products, including auto, business, homeowners, farm and life insurance; public and private sector retirement plans, annuities and mutual funds; excess & surplus, specialty and surety; pet, motorcycle and boat insurance. For more information, visit Follow Nationwide on Facebook and Twitter.

Cooperative Farmers Markets

An abundance of fresh vegetables stacked on a table at an outdoor market.

Here in Ohio, the growing season is ramping up quickly! In some communities, farmers markets have already kicked off their season and in others, local food enthusiasts won’t have to wait long to enjoy the market. The estimated 8,000+ farmers markets across the United States[1] are an important way farmers sell to customers directly.

Based on the most recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Census of Agriculture, in Ohio an estimated 8% of farms sell approximately $90 million worth of products directly to consumers.[2]

Advocates of farmers markets, like the Farmers Market Coalition, cite benefits like:

  • Helping farm businesses succeed – Farmers with direct-to-consumer sales are more likely to remain in business than other farms, according to USDA data.[3] Producers with farms that sell food through direct channels, like farmers markets, were more likely than all U.S. farms to be female and aged 34 or younger.[4]
  • Creating community food access points – 99% of farmers markets responding to a 2019 USDA survey sell fruits and vegetables and about half of responding markets accepted Federal Nutrition Programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP)[5]
  • Positive community impact – About half of farmers markets responding to a 2019 USDA survey had a paid market manager and just over 5,000 markets across the U.S. engaged over 31,000 volunteers.[6]

A stall of vibrant, fresh vegetables like tomatoes and cucumbers, at an outdoor farmers market.

Farmers Markets and Business Structures

Starting and growing a successful farmers market involves many moving parts – building a community of farmers, engaging with local community leaders and patrons, effective marketing, and strong operational plans. Among the important aspects for new and established markets to consider is their business structure – like whether the market is an independent legal entity like a corporation or part of a larger umbrella organization. A market’s business structure can impact how decisions are made for a market, the extent of personal liability for market leaders, eligibility for certain types of funding like grants or charitable donations, how the market is taxed, and more.[7]

The Farmers Market Legal Toolkit from the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School provides helpful information about business structures for farmers markets, along with information about accepting public benefits and managing risks at markets.

Cooperatives as a Business Structure for Farmers Markets

An illustration of raised hands in rainbow colors.Cooperatives are one of various business structure choices for farmers markets. Cooperatives are member owned and controlled businesses that distribute benefits based on use and grounded in principles like democratic member control and concern for community.[8] Cooperatives operate across sectors from insurance and financial services to housing, purchasing, and utilities. In agriculture, cooperatives market various food and agriculture products, procure supplies and inputs, and provide services, like financial services.[9]

Farmers markets structured as cooperatives might be owned and governed by farmers who sell at the market, by community members who shop at the market, or by both groups in a “multistakeholder” cooperative.

Cooperative markets owned and governed by farmers are one form of marketing collaborations for farmers. Learn more about “Marketing Collaborations for Farmers” in our blog post here.

Some of the potential benefits of structuring a farmers market as a cooperative might include:

  • Member engagement and decision-making – Many decisions for a cooperative are made by a board of directors elected from and by the members. Members elect the board and can cast their vote on certain major issues for the cooperative. Democratic control is a defining principle of cooperatives and members generally vote using a “one member, one vote” set up. Cooperatives generally distribute their profit to members based on their use of the business.[10]
  • Community focus – As a business, the focus of a cooperative is on providing benefits to its members.[11] The internationally recognized cooperative principles highlight that “[c]ooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities.”[12] This member and community orientation might create opportunities for cooperative farmers markets to develop a community-orientation and focus.
  • Existence of the market beyond current leaders – Operating a farmers market can be a lot of work. To ensure the successful operation of a market well into the future, it may be important to consider how to effectively share or transfer responsibilities for leadership and how to create a stable structure. As independent legal entities that are governed by a board, cooperatives may have opportunities to share leadership responsibilities and generally can exist perpetually as long as appropriate formalities are met.[13]
  • Limitation of liability and easily updated membership – Generally, cooperatives are legal entities created by filing appropriate forms with a state agency. As independent legal entities, generally the personal liability of each member in a cooperative is limited to the equity the member holds in the cooperative. Cooperatives set up as separate legal entities can add and remove members.[14]

However, cooperatives may have disadvantages compared to other potential business structures for farmers markets. For example, cooperative markets may be limited in their ability to legally use volunteers and unpaid staff compared to nonprofits, they may be limited in raising certain kinds of capital compared to corporations, and they rely on strong engagement and participation from members compared to structures that rely on just one or a few members like limited liability companies.[15]

People in business professional dress standing in a circle holding wooden gears together.


Like any decisions for a business with varied and far-reaching consequences, those interested in exploring the right business structure in their specific situation should consult knowledgeable competent professionals, like attorneys, accountants, and others. This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not legal advice. It is not a substitute for the potential need to consult with a competent attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction.

Take a deeper dive into the cooperative business model, including cooperative legal frameworks, governance, financial concepts, and more with Co-op Mastery: Beyond Cooperatives 101 at



[1] 2019 National Farmers Market Managers 2019 Summary. (Aug. 2020). U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

[2] Data from the 2022 Census of Agriculture “Ohio: Market Value of Agricultural Products Sold Including Landlord’s Share, Food Marketing Practices, and Value Added Products: 2022 and 2017” and “Ohio Historical highlights: 2022 and Earlier Census Years,” U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

[3] Key, N. (2016). “Local Foods and Farm Business Survival and Growth.” U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service.

[4] Direct Farm Sales of Food: Results from the 2020 Local Food Marketing Practices Survey. U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

[5] National Farmers Market Managers. (Aug. 2020). U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

[6] National Farmers Market Managers. (Aug. 2020). U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.

[7] “Why does the market’s business structure matter?” Farmers Market Legal Toolkit. Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, Vermont Law School.

[8] (2014). Co-op Essentials: What They Are and the Role of Members, Directors, Managers, and Employees. USDA Rural Development Cooperative Programs.

[9] Wadsworth, J., Lapp, K., & Rivera, J. (2021). Agricultural Cooperative Statistics 2019. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Service Report 83.

[10] “Co-ops 101: An Introduction to Cooperatives.” (2012). U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development, Cooperative Information Report 55. Retrieved from

[11] Zueli, K. & Cropp, R. (2014). “Cooperatives: Principles and practices in the 21st century.” UW Extension.

[12] “Cooperative identity, values & principles.” (n.d.). International Cooperative Alliance. Retrieved from

[13] “Legal Foundations of a Cooperative.” (1995). U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business – Cooperative Service, Cooperative Information Report 45, Section 9. Retrieved from

[14] “Legal Foundations of a Cooperative.” (1995). U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Business – Cooperative Service, Cooperative Information Report 45, Section 9. Retrieved from

[15] “Cooperatives.” Farmers Market Legal Toolkit. Center for Agriculture and Food Systems, Vermont Law School.

Business Basics to Help “Do Business Better”

Whether you’re a sole entrepreneur running a retail business, a group of workers who own a café cooperatively, or a non-profit organization working to improve your community, basic business skills in marketing, finance, and human resources can be important for success and cooperative approaches might help you overcome challenges. That was the simple idea behind a learning series in Gallipolis, Ohio, this spring presented by the Small Business Development Center at OSU South Centers and College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Center for Cooperatives and sponsored by United Way of the River Cities and Gallia County Chamber of Commerce.

A woman teaching attendees in front of a slide presentation People sitting at a conference room table watching a presentation A woman teaching attendees in front of a slide presentation

Caption: Training participants heard from Melanie Sherman, Hannah Scott, and other partners during the series, held at Ohio Valley Bank On the Square in Gallipolis, Ohio.

Explore Resources from the Training Series

The three-part learning series kicked off on March 28, 2024, with a dive into best practices in branding, identifying target markets, finding low and no-cost media tools, and exploring cooperative approaches to small business marketing. As part of the training, CFAES Center for Cooperatives staff shared approaches like group purchasing of supplies, pooled advertising and customer outreach, and shared space, that may help small businesses lower costs and reduce transaction costs.

A slide titled "Business Basics Marketing" with logos for The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, Environmental Sciences, Ohio Small Business Development Centers, and U.S. Small Business Administration

Explore select slides from the finance training here.

Accessing capital and managing finances can feel like a hurdle for small businesses and community organizations. Whether it is funds to purchase a building, hire staff, or invest in new equipment, or understanding basic financial statements to make better business decisions, these areas can seem overwhelming. On April 25, 2024, Hannah Scott, CFAES Center for Cooperatives Program Director, and Melanie Sherman, a small business counselor with OSU South Centers, helped attendees learn about basic business financial terms and statements, reviewed best practices for pricing products, and outlined processes for finding loans and grants. The team introduced participants to the worker cooperative model, using a mock worker co-op as a model throughout the presentation to help attendees learn about the unique business model. Worker cooperatives, among other opportunities, may help individual entrepreneurs pool equity investments and share risk.

A slide titled "Business Basics Financial Literacy" with logos for The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, Environmental Sciences, Ohio Small Business Development Centers, and U.S. Small Business Administration

Explore select slides from the finance training here.

Hiring and retaining the right team is integral to business success. Small businesses and non-profits need to consider many factors to manage talent, from meeting various regulatory requirements to keeping workers engaged and effectively reaching new candidates to join their team. On May 23, 2024, Melanie Sherman and Hannah Scott, both with business programs at the OSU South Centers, shared basic considerations for recruitment marketing to help hire the “right” employee and cooperative shared service approaches for human resource functions. Ms. Scott also introduced participants to employee owned business models, like worker cooperatives, which can create benefits for workers like increased wages, greater retirement earnings, and opportunities to meaningfully shape their workplace.

An image of the title slides of the presentation "Business Basics: Human Resources for Profits and Non-Profits"

Explore select slides from the finance training here.

Connect with the Speakers!

A black and white photograph of a sign for the OSU South Centers and Endeavor Center with a field and buildings in the background.

Do you want to learn more? Offer similar trainings in your community? Interested in one-on-one counseling to grow your business? Reach out to Melanie or Hannah!

Melanie Sherman, CBA
Venture Development Analyst

614-247-9729 Office /

Hannah Scott, JD
Program Director

(614)247-9705 Office /

Cooperative Frameworks in Ohio

An enterprise’s legal structure informs who is in control and how they exercise their control, who is liable for losses by or actions of the organization, how the enterprise raises capital, and who receives income and suffers losses, among other characteristics of the enterprise.

Business entities are organized according to state law and there is great diversity in the cooperative laws across the United States.

For a deeper dive into the framework for cooperatives under the Ohio Cooperative Law, including the key roles of members, explore these educational resources.

Image of cover for "Key Roles of Members in Ohio Cooperatives" resource.  Image of cover for "12 Key Roles of Members in Ohio Cooperatives Infographic" resource.Image of cover for "Quick Summary: Ohio's Cooperative Law" resource.




This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not legal advice. It is not a substitute for the potential need to consult with a competent attorney licensed to practice law in the appropriate jurisdiction.



O’Brien, D., Hamilton, N., & Luedeman, R. (2005). “The Farmer’s Legal Guide to Producer Marketing Associations.” Drake University Agricultural Law Center. Retrieved from

Student Cooperative Start-up Toolkit

A Guide to Creating Your Own Student-Led Agricultural Co-op

Student Cooperative Start-up Toolkit cover photo

A student-led cooperative, where young people in an agricultural class, 4-H club, FFA chapter, or other group, operate an enterprise using cooperative principles, may be an opportunity to teach young people entrepreneurial skills and the unique aspects of the cooperative business model, which is an important part of American agriculture.

Cooperatives are an important part of American agriculture. As of 2019, over 1.8 million farmers, ranchers, and fishermen were members of agricultural cooperatives. Cooperatives market a wide range of commodities like fruits and vegetables, cotton, grains and oilseeds, dairy, nuts, livestock, wool, and more. They provide financing for agribusinesses and farmers and they help producers access inputs and new technologies. The user-owned and controlled business model is not new – the first documented farmer cooperatives in the United States were initiated around 1810. In the Buckeye state, farmers started a cooperative effort to market hogs in 1820. If you’re involved in agriculture in the United States, chances are you interact with the cooperative business model.

At the student-led cooperative farm at the Ohio Valley Career & Technical Center’s Agribusiness Management program in West Union, Ohio, students gain real-world experience as they manage their school’s 300-acre farm where they raise row crops, livestock, and more. Since 2016, students have used a student-led cooperative model in their program, an approach initiated by their instructor, Mr. Luke Rhonemus.

Students can become a ‘member’ of the co-op and are eligible to serve on the student-elected board of directors, which helps make decisions about the farm alongside Mr. Rhonemus. Eventually, the students and Mr. Rhonemus hope alumni of the program can join the cooperative to market their locally produced farm products.

As part of a project funded by the Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program of USDA focused on enhancing the student-led cooperative model, the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State has collaborated with Mr. Rhonemus and others to provide education and training for students on the cooperative model, agribusiness marketing, and production-related areas like meat butchery. Specialists with the CFAES Center for Cooperatives and the OSU Extension Direct Food and Agricultural Marketing program helped the students and instructor develop a marketing plan and conservation plan for their farm and to implement parts of the plan to enhance their student-led school farm co-op.

Educators, advisors, and community leaders interested in developing a similar student-led cooperative learning experience in agriculture can explore a recently developed toolkit to explore, understand, and develop the model. The toolkit includes ideas for activities, links to resources and videos, and templates that educators can make their own. Users will need to consider their specific circumstances, consult with advisors, and tailor their approach.

Student Cooperative Start-up Toolkit: A Guide to Creating Your Own Student-Led Agricultural Co-op


This material is based upon work that is supported by the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, under agreement number 2019-38640-29879 through the North Central Region SARE program under project number LNC19-428. USDA is an equal opportunity employer and service provider. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Learn more about SARE at:

Online Resource “Co-op Mastery” Refreshed and Open for Learning!

An illustration of multicolored connected gears, puzzle pieces, light bulb, and arrow on a light yellow background.

A lot has changed since 2018.

When the CFAES Center for Cooperatives launched the online learning platform Co-op Mastery: Beyond Cooperatives 101 in 2018, our goal was the create a resource for cooperative stakeholders where they could learn about the unique business model through accessible learning materials. We used infographics, videos with co-op experts, recorded presentations, and brief articles. We shared the platform and associated workbook with stakeholders, including people exploring new cooperative ideas.

But in the early part of 2023, we recognized that our team and others in the cooperative community had generated a lot of knowledge and learning resources since 2018. Often, we were referring people to these updated resources, so we launched a refresh of Co-op Mastery to reflect new knowledge and incorporate new learning materials.

Visit Co-op Mastery: Beyond Cooperatives 101 at


Refreshed Co-op Mastery Highlights

In the refreshed Co-op Mastery, you will find some of the original materials developed for Co-op Mastery, but you will also find references to new knowledge and materials.

You will find links to recent webinars about housing cooperatives, video tours of Ohio cooperatives, and new data about worker cooperatives in the refreshed Cooperatives in the Community page.

Some of these materials come from the 13 recordings of online learning sessions about the cooperative business model that were part of the Center-led Appalachia Cooperates Initiative from 2020-2023. From a webinar about “Selling to Your Workers” in September 2023 to a dive into “Legal Frameworks for Cooperatives in West Virginia” in 2022, and more, the recordings are available to the public at:

In Co-op Mastery’s Cooperative Benefits and Principles you can explore a real-world example of the international cooperative principles by watching a webinar featuring leaders of an emerging Ohio cooperative working to grow new farmers.

Learn about the key roles of directors and members through new research from the University Wisconsin’s Cooperative Governance Research Initiative and links to recent resources like the guide Navigating Your Legal Duties: A Guide for Agricultural Cooperative Directors, published by the National Agricultural Law Center in 2021 and co-authored by CFAES Center for Cooperatives Program Director, Hannah Scott.

Explore the legal foundations of cooperatives in the refreshed Cooperative Frameworks section of Co-op Mastery that includes a video interview with a cooperative attorney and links to new resources like a National Agricultural Law Center compilation of state statutes that govern the formation of agricultural cooperatives as of 2022 and a “State-by-State Co-op Law” resource focused on worker cooperatives from the Sustainable Economies Law Center’s

Our team continues to refresh content related to building a new cooperative, so we encourage you to check back on the growing learning resource!

Marketing Collaborations for Farmers

Marketing is “creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value,” according to the definition adopted by the American Marketing Association. As is clear from the definition, marketing is broad! It encompasses concepts around product, price, place, and promotion.

At the 2023 Farm Science Review (FSR), CFAES Center for Cooperatives program director, Hannah Scott, shared collaborative approaches to marketing that may help fruit and vegetable farmers grow their businesses. From cooperative efforts to reach customers to group buys for marketing supplies, the key question for collaborative approaches is whether a group can do something better together than they can individually.

Colorful pattern of lettuce, tomatoes, eggplants, and carrots on tan background.

Collaborative Promotion

To help reach customers and promote their farms and products, farmers might consider taking advantage of collaborative programs like Ohio Proud, a program of the Ohio Department of Agriculture to promote Ohio grown, raised, or processed food and agriculture products. Other community-led efforts to promote local food, like the Pike County Local Foods Directory, led by Pike County OSU Extension, may be opportunities for farmers to reach new customers and raise awareness.

Interested in Collaborative Promotion Strategies? Here are some things to consider:

  • Are there existing programs your farm could engage simply and efficiently?
  • How can your farm share promotional items from these collaborative programs? Using social media or placing materials around your community?
  • If you help create new materials, who will “own” keeping them updated?

Controlling Costs through Joint Purchasing

Does your farm use marketing supplies that others also often use? Think of items like bags, boxes, cartons, crates, stickers, signage, and more. Sometimes purchasing supplies as a group may help farmers access bulk discounts while reducing the inventory they need to hold themselves. Group buys might also help control shipping costs and reduce administrative burdens.

Interested in Collaborative Purchasing? Here are some things to consider:

  • Will group purchasing save costs on goods and/or shipping?
  • Do the logistics work for the group?
  • Be aware of potential risks and plan for them, including potential risks around payments for goods, the quantity purchased, storage and timing considerations, and more.
  • Ensure that communications around the what, when, where, and how, for group purchases are clear and consistent.

Collaborative Marketing Approaches to Enhance Product Diversity

Sometimes offering a diverse array of products might help a business attract more customers. For example, farmer’s markets often work to recruit a diverse group of vendors so they can offer customers everything from fruits and veggies to meat and proteins, dairy, baked goods, and more. In some instances, business-to-business (B2B) sales, including approaches like multi-farm CSA’s, may help farmers or markets increase their product offerings or extend their marketing season.

Interested in Collaborative Approaches to Enhance Product Diversity? Here are some things to consider:

  • How can you manage for the quality and safety of products you do not produce?
  • Does product diversity actually help sales in the market channel you are in?
  • What strategies might you need to help manage risk and set clear expectations around terms of B2B sales?
  • Does the market channel where you sell products allow for B2B sales? For example, some farmer’s market rules may not allow for sales of items a vendor did not produce themselves.

An illustration of a laptop with retail store awning and paper airplane next to brick buildings to represent online business marketing.

Cooperation to Reach New Market Channels

Some market channels require higher volumes of product more consistently than others – think k-12 institutions or wholesale buyers – and these markets might be challenging for some farmers to enter. Producer-owned cooperatives that market products on behalf of their members may offer opportunities for farmers to pool products to reach higher volumes more consistently. Some farmer’s markets may be producer-led cooperatives (like the Chillicothe Farmers Market in Ross County, Ohio). Cooperatives may be a useful approach where pooling product or resources helps solve a challenge, but they can also be complex.

Interested in the Producer-Owned Cooperative Model? Here are some things to consider:

  • Who will be involved as members and what will be their role?
  • How will the group make decisions?
  • How can the group manage risk?
  • Will working together create the intended benefit? Can that benefit be clearly identified and communicated to members?

Access the slides for the presentation, “Marketing Collaborations to Improve your Farm’s Bottom Line” here!


To learn more about cooperative and collaborative approaches in agriculture, reach out to the CFAES Center for Cooperatives at Ohio State at or 740-289-2071. The publication, “Cooperative Farming: Frameworks for Farming Together” published by Northeast SARE is also a great place to start learning about cooperative and collaborative approaches in agriculture.

Farm Science Review is a three-day, annual outdoor event hosted by Ohio State University featuring commercial exhibits, educational programs, and field demonstrations showcasing the future of agriculture. The presentation was part of 15 different learning sessions at the OSU Extension Fruits & Vegetables exhibit at FSR. The OSU Extension Fruit & Vegetable team posts educational resources and updates at

Wait, Who Owns that Photo? A Basic Intro to Copyright for Small Business Marketing

As the calendar turns to a new year, it is a natural time for entrepreneurs to consider how they want to improve and to plan for the coming month, quarter, and even year. It is also a great time to review past marketing strategies and plan for the coming year. Have you thought about how you can improve your business’s marketing in the new year? Here are some thoughts to consider.

Marketing and Legal Considerations: Intellectual Property

Whether a business is thinking about entering a new market channel, wants to reach a different target customer group, is planning to refresh its website, or thinks a new social media platform would be useful, business marketing and branding can include legal considerations, including factors like content ownership and the use, protection, and monitoring of intellectual property like trademarks and copyright, among various other areas.[1]

As they market themselves and their products, businesses may create intellectual property and that may be useful to monitor or protect, depending on its value and many other factors. Also, businesses may need to use others’ intellectual property in their marketing efforts and will likely want to avoid infringing others’ property rights as they do.  The following is a brief introduction to one basic area of intellectual property, copyright, and may be helpful. As small businesses develop or update their marketing plans, it may be useful to consult with an attorney about potential intellectual property needs.

Multi-colored graphic of thought bubbles and text boxes connected by arrows

Introducing Copyright Basic Concepts

What is copyright?

Copyright law protects “original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression. . . “[2] In general, a copyright gives the owner legal rights to reproduce copies, distribute copies, display or perform a work, and develop derivative works.[3]

Some examples of copyrightable works include: websites, pictures, advertisements, musical recordings, business plans, software, sales presentations, and more! Facts and ideas are not copyrightable.[4]

Who owns a copyright?

In general, initially the author of a copyrightable work owns the copyright.[5] However, an employer generally owns the work created by its employees in the scope of their employment.[6] Further, when a certain type of copyrightable work is specially ordered or commissioned from an independent contractor, the party who commissioned the work owns the copyright if there is a written agreement to that effect.[7] Copyright owners can transfer parts or all of their ownership.[8]

How is a copyright created?

When a work that qualifies for copyright protection (e.g., the work is original and expresses a minimal level of creativity) is “fixed in a tangible medium” (for example, when it is written, recorded, or saved in a digital format), it is protected by copyright. As one guide for entrepreneurs put it, “No action is required to obtain copyright protection,” and while a copyright notice may be advisable, it is not a legal requirement.[9] However, registration of a copyright can confer additional rights and benefits, including the right to sue for infringement.[10]

Social Media Platforms and Intellectual Property

Social media platforms offer various opportunities for small businesses to market their products and services, like the ability to connect with large audiences for little or no cost.[11] As entrepreneurs use social media platforms to market their products, services, or businesses, they should be aware that these platforms may have specific policies related to intellectual property. For example, TikTok’s Intellectual Property Policy states that it is a violation of the platform’s Terms of Service and Community Guidelines to post, share, or send content that violates or infringes another’s copyrights, trademarks, or intellectual property.[12] For a deeper dive into music use on TikTok, check out the article, “Music Licensing in the Age of TikTok.”

Developing a Marketing Plan

Outline of head with multi-colored graphics of business icons like pie chart, bar chart, and gearsAs businesses consider their marketing opportunities for the coming year, a written marketing plan may help keep ideas organized, track progress, and communicate plans with key team members. Some questions to consider in developing a marketing plan include:

  • What is the profile of your target customer(s)?
  • What product or service are you marketing?
  • What is your advantage compared to competitors?
  • What promotion strategies will you use?
  • What are your sales goals or forecast?
  • How will you measure outcomes and success?

Tools and Resources for Entrepreneurs

As entrepreneurs build digital marketing strategies, they will likely need images, videos, graphics, and other content. Various online outlets offer imagery like photos, illustrations, graphics, and video, as well as sound like music and sound effects, that are licensed for users to use for little or no cost.

Want to learn how to build a website for your business or enhance your social media marketing strategies?  Connect with the Small Business Development Center at The Ohio State University South Centers, which covers a 10-county region in southern Ohio.

Looking for help developing or updating a marketing plan for your small business? Connect with your local Small Business Development Center (SBDC). SBDC’s offer free business consulting and at-cost training to small businesses across the country. Find your local SBDC online here.

Food and farm entrepreneurs who want to learn more about direct marketing their products can explore the Ohio State University Extension Direct Food & Agricultural Marketing program, including online resources like webinar recordings and short videos.

Important note: This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not legal advice and is not a substitute for the need to consult with an appropriately licensed attorney.



[1] “The Legal Implications of Social Media Marketing & Advertising.” (n.d.). Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.

[2] 17 U.S.C. §102

[3] 17 U.S.C. §106

[4] Bagley, C. & Dauchy, C. (2012). “The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Business Law: 4th Edition.” South-Western, Cengage Learning: Mason, Ohio.

[5] 17 U.S.C. §201(a)

[6] 17 U.S.C. §201(b)

[7] Circular 30: Works Made for Hire. (2021). United States Copyright Office.

[8] 17 U.S.C. 201(d).

[9] Bagley, C. & Dauchy, C. (2012). “The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Business Law: 4th Edition.” 534. South-Western, Cengage Learning: Mason, Ohio.

[10] Id.

[11] Fountain, T. (Jan. 25, 2021). “Why Small Businesses and Startups Should Invest in Social Media Marketing.” Forbes.

[12] Intellectual Property Policy. (June 7, 2021) TikTok.

Why Small Businesses Should Consider Video in Social Media Marketing

Social media platforms offer numerous opportunities for small businesses as they market their products and services – from free access to broad and vast audiences of potential customers to opportunities to drive traffic to websites where businesses are selling goods or services to tools for selling products and services directly on social platforms.

The importance and reach of video marketing on social media platforms means that entrepreneurs developing their social media marketing strategies and building their digital skills would be well-advised to invest in creating video content. Consider that:

For more information about social media and video marketing, including a helpful overview of how different social media platforms utilize video and tips for effectively incorporating video into marketing for various platforms, check out this guide from Vimeo. Vimeo also has a blog dedicated to video marketing for business with articles and resources ranging from “Small Business Saturday ideas for both planners and procrastinators” to “How to set up Instagram Shopping for your small business.”

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Upcoming “Foodpreneur School” to Focus on Social Media Marketing for Food & Farm Entrepreneurs

Food and farm entrepreneurs ready to learn more about using social media marketing and creating impactful video for marketing, join us for “Foodpreneur School” in Hillsboro, Ohio on Tuesday, October 25, 2022! Foodpreneur School is an educational program for food and farm entrepreneurs ready to grow through enhanced sales and marketing. Experts from Ohio State University will teach entrepreneurs about creating impactful video content and effectively using social media for small business marketing. Entrepreneurs are encouraged to bring their preferred devices (mobile phone, tablet, laptop, etc.) for managing their social media presence, as the session will be interactive! Learn more and sign up for no-cost online.

If you require an accommodation, such as translation, to participate in this event, please contact Samantha Black at or 614-247-9705. Requests made two weeks in advance will generally allow us to provide seamless access, but the university will make every effort to meet requests made after this date.

CFAES provides research and related educational programs to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis. For more information,

Developing your Business’s Social Media Marketing Strategy

In a 2017 survey of over 3,000 consumers in the U.S., Germany, Colombia, and Mexico, 35% of people reported they go to social media for information when they’re considering buying something and want to research options. That figure was closer to 50% for consumers aged 18-34.

As small businesses and entrepreneurs consider how they will market their products, social media can offer numerous potential benefits – from helping build brand awareness, to offering a way of reaching large audiences in a cost effective way, and driving traffic to a business’s website, among many other opportunities.

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Developing a Social Media Strategy

Consider these four questions from a 2020 Harvard Business Review article as you develop your social media strategy:

  1. “What are your goals?”

Are you trying to expand to a new geography? Launch a new product? Increase sales? Whatever the answer, your strategy should be tailored to fit your goals, so start out by identifying those goals. Remember to ensure your goals are SMART – specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and timed.

  1. “Which platforms should you use?”

Different social media platforms have different formats, business tools, and more. For example, Facebook has useful business tools like detailed analytics and allows businesses to incorporate lots of information like contact details and hours of operation. Meanwhile, Pinterest and Instagram are highly visual platforms with focus on photo and video content; categories like food and DIY projects are some of Pinterest’s most popular categories. Check out the “Social media platforms for businesses” section of this recent article from Business News Daily to learn about the different business tools and formats of major social media platforms.

  1. “What is your content strategy?”

Will you use pictures? Video? To develop effective digital marketing for a small business, entrepreneurs will need to consider the type of content that is right for them based on their target customers, their resources, and more. Authors writing for the Harvard Business Review counsel, “Your content should be unique, useful, and shareable.”

  1. “Are you ready to talk with your audience – in real time?”

Social media platforms offer opportunities for businesses to engage with their customers and it is important for businesses to relate to and interact with customers on social platforms. As one author shared tips for businesses using social media, “Create a consistent voice and tone . . . one that resonates with your audience and influences how they see your brand.” If you’re using social media for customer service functions, consider that 42% of consumers expect a business to respond to complaints raised via social media within 60 minutes.

Upcoming “Foodpreneur School” to Focus on Social Media Marketing for Food & Farm Entrepreneurs

If you’re a food and farm entrepreneur ready to learn more about using social media marketing, join us in Hillsboro, Ohio on Tuesday, October 25, 2022! Foodpreneur School is an educational program for food and farm entrepreneurs who are ready to grow through enhanced sales and marketing. Speakers at the October 25 session will include experts from Ohio State University sharing the ins-and-outs of social media marketing for small business and insights on creating impactful video content for marketing. The session will include hands-on learning opportunities and entrepreneurs are encouraged to bring along their preferred devices (mobile phone, tablet, laptop, etc.) for managing their social media presence. Learn more about the session and sign up for no-cost online!

If you require an accommodation, such as translation, to participate in this event, please contact Samantha Black at or 614-247-9705. Requests made two weeks in advance, will generally allow us to provide seamless access, but the university will make every effort to meet requests made after this date.

CFAES provides research and related educational programs to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis. For more information,