For most people running small businesses, the last thing they want to spend money on is legal fees. However, the alternative is often equally uninviting: writing your own contract.
Keep your website contract simple!
During my pre-business days as a contract lawyer I developed a deep loathing for lengthy overly defensive contracts. In my experience, what really mattered was clarity and what invariably led to disputes was the parties failing to think through the contractual arrangement before signing up. For exactly this reason, long contracts are often counterproductive. It is much better to have a contract that your clients actually read rather than try to sneak in every clause under the sun and hope they don’t bother.
Get my contract for free to copy and re-use
To save you a bit of time I thought I would share the standard contract that I use at White Fuse. Of course, you likely need to tailor this slightly to your circumstances, but it should form an adequate starting point for most consultancy or design businesses.
The document works in tandem with a clear description of scope. You should make sure that the description of scope refers directly to the standard terms and that you provide the client with both documents at the time they sign (or agree by email, which is fine as long as it’s an unambiguous approval).
Getting an office can be a stressful business. This short guide provides some tips on how to avoid pitfalls.
Types of arrangement
This is often the most convenient option. Serviced offices generally roll all costs into one charge and tend to be the most flexible. A one month notice scheme is not unsusual. However, this convenience and flexibility comes at a cost. For long term office space, serviced offices can be very expensive.
Full repairing and insuring (‘FRI’) lease
FRI leases are the most common type of lease. The tenant takes responsibility for repairing the building and insuring it. However, where the lease covers a unit it is likely that the landlord will insure the property and repair common parts. The charge for these services will then be passed back to the tenants through a service charge.
Costs to watch out for
If you are new to office space negotiations of moving from a serviced office to an FRI lease for the first time then there are a number of costs to be aware of.
There is no absolute requirement to get legal advice on taking out a lease and many people do not, but it’s at least worth getting input from someone who has experience of taking out commercial leases. If you do get legal advice you should be able to get a quote in advance for a fixed fee service.
The top line price you will be quoted will be the rent. This is often expressed as a cost per square foot or metre. Be aware that this is usually a lot less than the total you will end up paying.
It can be easy to focus in on practical skills first: who will look after the finances? who will review policies? Practical skills are essential but don’t neglect the ‘soft’ skills.
A board is just like any other team or group: it has the capacity to grow and improve but is unlikely to do so without some intentional skills development. Some people are great at pushing forward a board and keeping it learning.
The People Person
Directors and trustees often have to make hard decisions and manage change, both inside the board and within the organisation they govern. This needs people of diplomacy, tact and compassion.
It can sound naive, but the drive and energy that comes from genuine enthusiasm can be a powerful force when harnessed by a well balanced board. This can often be an argument for youth and new faces, but not necessarily so.
Most organisations can benefit from partnerships and external input. It is therefore important to have people on the board who know how to network, manage external relationships and advocate.
Boards should be active in shaping the future direction of their organisation. For this reason, they need people who anticipate future challenges and generate vision.
One of the first questions people ask when they are setting up a business is whether they need to set up a company. It’s a good question.
For most people the choice is between trading as an individual (becoming a sole trader) and setting up a company.
Limited liability to keep you safe
When people talk about companies they normally mean ‘limited liability’ companies. This concept of ‘limited liability’ is crucial to answering the original question.
The biggest single reason to trade through a company rather than as an individual is that your liability will be limited.
Put simply, if you trade as an individual and things go pear shaped you can lose all of your possessions and go personally bankrupt. Alternatively, if you trade as a company the worst that can happen (as long as don’t do anything illegal) is that the company runs out of money and is wound up.
In a limited liability company, the liability of the owners is limited to the value of the companies shares, which is often as little as a pound or two.
Building a team with your company
The other non-tax-related reason for trading through a company is that it can allow you to build a team (crucial to the success of many businesses). The law sees companies as ‘people’ that can enter into agreements and generally be an actor in the world of business; but behind that company can be a complex ownership structure.
There are other ways to build a business with other people. Industries dominated by services that are strongly linked to individuals, like law and accountancy, have made great use of partnerships (they have also historically been restricted from setting up companies). Parnerships are a legal mechanism for people to do business together without setting up a company.