Small business BIG growth®
Words by Mira Stammers, CEO of Legally Yours
Small business can be tough. To set up your business correctly can be expensive, particularly if you’re trying to do everything by the book. We get it. As a business owner you’ll probably need to have a range of legal documents drafted for your business such as:
- Shareholder agreement or Partnership agreement
- Contracts with suppliers
- Terms & Conditions
- Employment agreements
Having these documents in place will help you protect your business from liabilities, help you structure exactly how your business operates, and help your clients, suppliers and employees understand what they can expect from you.
But the cost of engaging lawyers can mean that setting things up properly at the outset is not possible. So what to do? Many people turn to the internet. It’s very tempting to just copy someone who has a similar business and who has their documents available online. We don’t blame you. But, like a protective mother would say, if you’re going to make that choice, at least be aware of the risks.
Copying documents and repurposing them for your business can put your business at risk and do some serious harm. Here’s how.
If you’re copying someone else’s documents without their consent then what you’re effectively doing is stealing their intellectual property. This breaches copyright laws and could put you and your business at risk. To avoid this, business owners should ensure all of their documentation is original. If there’s a budgetary constraint then try to find a fixed-fee lawyer and get one document drafted at once.
Good lawyers will tell you what you need at what stage, and often this advice can be obtained for free (our lawyers offer this advice for free).
2. Making sure the terms are relevant to your business
Every business is different. Given this, each business needs original documents so that the specific risks relating to that business can be managed.
I remember a client once coming to us with a terms & conditions that he had copied form someone who was also in his field. The problem was that they operated their businesses quite differently, which meant that using the other person’s terms & conditions was actually putting his business at risk rather than protecting him. It didn’t take much time or expense for him to put in place some appropriately tailored documents. Once in place he expressed great relief and wished he had sourced a lawyer earlier.
When you’re copying from other people you have no idea where they have sourced their documents from or whether or not those documents are correct. Take for example some terms and conditions for a psychologist that I reviewed recently. The terms had been copied from California and actually stated in them that the terms & conditions were to be governed by Californian law. Not so helpful since the Psychologist resided in Sydney.
Don’t assume that other business owners have legally sound documents. There is every chance that they themselves have copied someone else and so on. In most instances the terms are probably outdated and incorrect.
In conclusion, whilst we understand the temptation to copy content online, it’s important that you understand the risks associated with doing so. Is your business and everything you’ve worked so hard for worth risking?
Mira Stammers is the founder and CEO of Legally Yours, which provides specialist legal advice to consumers and small-business owners at fixed-fee prices. Mira is a regarded as a leading Australian lawyer and regularly writes legal articles for various small-business and property-investment publications.