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Get your contracts in order

Assuming you are a star business owner and sign a contract with all of your customers and suppliers, do not leave the paperwork languishing in a dusty pile or even simply file them away tidily, thinking “well that’s that then!”

Think of your contracts as recipes or tools for each deal that you sign. They should clearly set out who will do what and when. If they are incomprehensible or fill you with dread, then your lawyer has not done a good job! You need to record key elements of each contract, so that you do not find yourself in breach or conversely, forgoing rights that you would otherwise be entitled to.

I would start a table/Excel spread sheet with the following key details of each contract:

  • Name of the other party
  • Start date of contract
  • End date and how much notice is needed to end it. Beware: Some contracts renew automatically if you do nothing! This is where your calendar tools in Outlook can be really useful. Simply enter the longstop date minus few weeks’ thinking time as a reminder. If, for example, you need to let a supplier know by 30th Nov 2012 whether you want to continue with him or not, enter a reminder for 1st Nov 2012 so that you have time to think about whether you want to continue or not.
  • Key dates/milestone dates e.g. when certain goods or services have to be provided
  • Payment terms e.g. when you may invoice, when you have to pay for things, agreed hourly rate
  • Special terms that are key, but which differ from customer to customer e.g. territory of supply, any exclusivity provisions or non-competition clauses

Whilst you are going through the contract, it is a good idea to check that it is actually dated and signed! You would be surprised at the number of contracts that are half signed, undated or still peppered with blanks that should have been filled in. Not good if you later want to rely on that contract to enforce your rights.

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