Published: 00:01, 16 September 2016
Many businesses take the view that professional advice is only required when something goes wrong.
This might be when an employee raises a grievance, a customer does not pay a debt, or a dispute arises with a supplier.
However, prevention is always better than cure and there are many steps that businesses can take to future-proof their business and help avoid problems arising.
1. Make sure your business structure is right
There are many ways to structure a business. Many businesses start off being run by sole traders but operating as a limited liability company should always be considered as there are a number of benefits.
Other options include partnerships, limited liability partnerships and public limited companies.
An accountant should be able to advise you on what structure is best for you.
2. Understand your legal obligations
If your business employs staff, you need to be aware of your legal obligations as an employer.
Turning a blind eye to your obligations could result in a costly claim being made against you in the future.
3. Keep up to date with changes to your obligations
The law changes over time and it is important to keep up to speed with changes.
Staff policies and terms and conditions in particular should always be kept under review to ensure that they are legally compliant.
4. Enter into all contracts in writing
Although contracts can be entered into orally, a written contract is always best as it will prevent future dispute over what was actually agreed.
He-said-she-said situations should ideally be avoided.
5. Ensure your business’ terms and conditions are adequate
In an effort to save costs, often small businesses will prepare their own terms and conditions or contracts rather than turn to a lawyer.
However, investing in professionally drafted terms and conditions can save money in the long run.
Too often agreements are badly drafted, ambiguous or omit key contractual protections – a recipe for problems in the future if a dispute arises and the agreement is the subject of litigation.
6. Make sure your terms and conditions apply
Printing terms on the back of invoices is not enough.
These need to be introduced before the contract is agreed.
In addition, in business-to-business arrangements, be alert to the risk that both parties may want to impose their own terms and conditions in a contractual arrangement.
Any staff involved in the contracting process need to be properly trained on how contracts are formed to avoid a situation whereby another party’s terms and conditions inadvertently apply.
7. Protect your IP
Most businesses are likely to have some form of intellectual property.
Whilst some intellectual property rights will arise automatically (for example, copyright in drawings and designs), some intellectual property rights need to be registered in order to be protected.
Inventions should be patent protected and trademarks should be registered to ensure maximum protection of a business’ brand.
8. Plan for the future
If your aim is to grow your business, you will invariably need a plan.
Taking professional advice on raising funds for growth can be extremely worthwhile.
Similarly, business owners should always bear in mind the importance of having an exit strategy in place for when they want to leave – your lawyer and accountant will be best placed to advise you on all the options available.
9. Manage bad debt
Ensure payment terms are adhered to and do not be afraid to enforce them.
Many businesses encounter problems with debtors not paying invoices in time.
Carrying out credit checks and a quick search about the supplier or customer before entering into an agreement can help mitigate the risk of bad debts.
Consider whether you need to limit the available credit or seek some form of security.
It is never too late to start implementing strategies to make your business withstand any potential threats in the future.
Ensuring your business is risk resilient and equipped for sustained growth is of paramount importance.
Maidstone-based law firm Brachers is hosting a series of events around identifying business opportunities and risks, to equip bosses with best practice strategies and provide future-proofing strategies to improve performance and minimise costs.
Visit www.brachers.co.uk/news-events to register or contact solicitor Sarah Hewitt on 01622 776459.
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