There are many entrepreneurs who have lost everything because they placed all their trust in a certain individual or group of people. Accountants and financial directors have stolen millions from entrepreneurs who trusted them with their banking. Sales reps and account managers have made businesses go into liquidation after taking all the customers or key accounts. Business partners who you trusted with your life — the godparents of your children! — left with your business and hard-earned cash, laughing all the way.
Business is a funny thing and money makes people react in unpredictable ways. Business people are still just people. And not all of them are awesome. Agreements were invented for this very reason.
The smart entrepreneurs protect themselves against these possibilities. As a basic principle, draft and conclude proper agreements with everyone you do business with. Include restraint of trade clauses with employees, partners and suppliers. Set up internal controls in the company to ensure that no one individual is allowed to make payments or have access to cash.
Never rely on customers to fulfil their promises and don’t take risks that could sink you. Customers often over-promise and under-deliver, so be careful with their credit terms and ensure that there are proper agreements in place in case anything should go wrong.
These are all basic principles in business and most corporates will comply with them but the SME owner wants to hustle and conclude the deal. That’s a shaky tightrope to walk when you don’t have piles of cash to cushion the fall.
As a bare minimum, you need to ensure that you have the following agreements in place to help you run your business effectively and protect against any disputes that may arise as your company grows:
Despite being sure that the relationship will last, it’s wise to prepare for the worst. A partnership or shareholder agreement sets out the responsibilities of each party and the procedures for settling conflicts. It also sets the terms and mitigates risks for all involved should one party wish to exit the agreement.
Employment agreements regulate the relationship with your employees and help to avoid misunderstandings and disputes. They regulate leave, working hours, deductions, termination, etc. The last thing you ever want, is to end up at the CCMA without an employment agreement in place.
A sales agreement sets the framework for delivery (inclusions and exclusions) and payment expectations. It creates a shared understanding between you and your client. When everything is working, no one ever refers to a contract. When there’s a problem, you can have endless disputes or simply refer to an agreement both parties signed.
4. Suppliers or subcontractors
When you depend on suppliers or subcontractors to fulfil your service obligations, you should definitely mitigate risks and protect your intellectual property. Have an agreement that stipulates delivery or performance requirements, includes a confidentiality and restraint of trade clause, and specifies how and when payments will be made. Most importantly, include provisions for rights and the action you can take if any part of this agreement fails.
The point of having agreements in place is to protect your business interests. There is little use in a contract that can’t be legally enforced. Having an attorney draw up your agreements may seem expensive, possibly over the top, but it will go a long way to ensuring that you can avoid legal proceedings in the long run.
Don’t be pennywise, pound foolish. Get the right agreements in place and protect yourself! Trust, but don’t be stupid about it.