The Government has announced an extension of the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme...read more
If you’re thinking of setting up your own business, you may think you can skimp on the legal paperwork, but having written contracts and agreements in place can save you endless hassle – and cash – in the long term.
That’s one of the messages of a new book – part of the famous Dummies guides – which aims to give small business owners a guide to some of the many legal issues that may arise when you are starting out and growing your business.
According to research by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, only 30% of small businesses take external legal advice, yet the Legal Services Board estimates that not taking care of their legal business costs small companies £100 billion a year.
Clive Rich, author of Law for Small Business for Dummies, lists ‘deciding not to bother with lawyers or contracts’ as number one on his list of legal bear pits to avoid. You may argue that as a lawyer, dispensing advice to SMEs, he would say that, but, as a lawyer, he puts forward a strong argument. “Dispensing with lawyers is often tempting – some of them can be expensive, slow and difficult to understand. But they aren’t all like that,” he says. Similarly, you might think you don’t need contracts. “If I had a pound for every time I’ve picked up the pieces in this situation I could buy Disneyland. Well, perhaps buy several flights to Disneyland. Or even somewhere I’d like to go,” says Rich. The important thing is to find a good lawyer who can help you draw up the right contracts.
Rich, who set up online legal firm LawBite, says many small businesses prefer to go it alone and take risks because they perceive lawyers as “expensive, difficult to understand and generally unhelpful”. Traditional law firms, he says, often don’t offer the kind of service they need. They prefer regular clients and take time over the considered advice they give, he states. But small businesses don’t require regular or in-depth advice, don’t have lots of money to spend on lawyers and tend to want their advice quickly.
It was for those reasons that Rich wrote the book, which is described as “your own in-house legal adviser – at your fingertips 24/7”. It covers the trajectory of a small business – from start-up to exit strategies, is written in a chatty style with icons, signifying areas such as tips, jargon busters and technical information. In addition to the book, there are extra online articles for SMEs.
While it cannot take the place of an actual lawyer, the book does provide information about the law in an accessible way so that business owners know the issues and understand the value of taking preventive action early to avoid costly mistakes later on.
The book starts with legal structures – sole trading, partnerships and limited companies, pointing out the benefits and drawbacks of each. Rich provides useful tips such as the importance of not assuming that if you have a domain name that precedes the date of someone else’s trademark you will be okay. He advises registering a business name and the domain name at the same time to avoid this problem.
Also covered are funding agreements, health and safety law and online policy, including online trading and privacy law, and employment legislation. Rich advises against using zero-hour contracts because of a variety of factions, including legal confusion over whether people on such contracts might be employees.
Other chapters span intellectual property, selling abroad, supplier and customer contracts, dispute management [Rich advises preventive action such as drawing up clear terms and conditions], liquidation and selling the business.
The book counsels keeping up to date with the latest business-related legislation and, when seeking legal advice, Rich suggests shopping around, negotiating, checking what you’re being charged for and watching out for special initial rates which suddenly rise exponentially.
The book is perfect for dipping in and out of, depending on what stage your business is at, but the impression that comes across if you read it from start to finish is that there are a huge array of potential legal quagmires you can step into when you start and grow a business. Being aware of as many as possible so that you can take preventive action can only be a positive for your business.
Rich says his mission is “to democratise the law for small companies” by making it more accessible. He states: “We found that many of our clients were coming to us when they already had a problem, rather than sorting out their legals from the get-go.” He hopes his book will better educate those thinking of starting up a business as well as provide a guide for those who are in doubt at any stage in their business’s journey.