Here’s a quick test. I’d like you to take a deep breath and answer one simple question without thinking.
Ready? Breathe in. Breathe out. And go:
When I say the word ‘law’, what’s the first thought that springs to your mind?
Now, I’m guessing that many of you have the taste of metal in your mouth; or maybe your stomach has knotted. Maybe you are frowning. Or maybe the words or concepts that have sprung to mind are things like: rules… boring… policing… slow… complicated… expensive… hurdle…
You can admit it. Even though I am a lawyer, I won’t be hurt or surprised if you are not full of wide-eyed wonder. I’m all too aware of the corner legal matters get thrown into – the corner of last resort. Law is often the afterthought, the thing you look at when it all goes wrong and the thing you worry is going to burn up all your money.
In my experience, many people equate law with dealing with problems and fighting court cases. That side of the law usually is fraught, expensive and, actually, avoidable. However, there is whole other terrain to law that is forward-looking and geared for avoiding problems and disputes in the first place.
The Brighter Side of Law
What many entrepreneurs and businesses overlook is the creative, cheerful side of the law: the process of setting up your business for success by ensuring that you put appropriate business and legal frameworks in place. And for many businesses, this includes having clear and robust terms of business – AKA ‘Terms and Conditions’ or standard client contract.
I’ll refer to them here as T&Cs.
These legal niceties are too often neglected or put into place without ensuring that they really fit. ‘Too little, too late’ is often a recipe for disaster. Almost all of my commercial-litigator friends (those who deal with business disputes) agree that businesses could save thousands or even tens of thousands of pounds in litigation costs – not to speak of irretrievable time and untold misery – simply by having spent a teeny-tiny proportion of that to define their T&Cs at the outset. Disputes often arise because obligations and responsibilities weren’t set out clearly – or even talked through at all – so there isn’t a mechanism to deal with a particular issue. The parties often can’t agree what to do when things go wrong, because their ideas of what is fair or reasonable or what should happen are poles apart.
Defining your T&Cs need not be an ordeal. Here are five tips to make your T&Cs work hard for your business, rather than making them hard work.
TIP 1. Write Your T&Cs to Fit Your Business
In other words, don’t let your T&Cs tell you how to run your business. This might sound obvious, but the inbuilt danger of using T&Cs you have bought online or borrowed from a friend is that they reflect someone else’s business processes instead of your own. T&Cs should accurately reflect the way you do business and your processes. To achieve this, your processes need to come first, not the other way round.
Never resort to ‘standard’ terms or templates; they have been written either for someone else’s business or for an imaginary, generic one. So, at best, they will be clunky and vaguely acceptable; at worst, they will be like trying to force a square peg into a round hole.
TIP 2: Do It Early
Start developing your T&Cs early on by reviewing what policies or procedures you already have in place, and what have yet to be defined. For example, have you decided how you will deal with cancellations or complaints? If so, capture your processes and procedures as you formulate them in practice and then standardise them into a policy. This saves time in the long run and helps you avoid having to re-cover old ground later on down the line.
Attending to your T&Cs also enables you to plan and develop your business with more rigour. It’s a prompt to think about the workings of your business, enabling you to pre-empt any potential glitches, insert mechanisms for dealing with them and avoid future disputes. Thus, it actually serves a dual purpose.
TIP 3: Choose Your Language Carefully
Any communications expert will tell you that everything your business does will reflect on your branding. This includes your T&Cs. If, as a forward-thinking business owner, your core values include integrity or kindness, why would you want T&Cs written in eye-watering language or microscopic font size? Using clear language in a style that is similar to (or at least not entirely at odds with) your business ethos will be more ‘on brand’.
Direct and transparent communications allow clients to understand what they are signing. Their expectations can be set from the outset, thus avoiding disputes further down the line.
Editor’s side note:
Directness and Transparency are two of the 7 Graces of Marketing.
TIP 4: Know When to Engage a Lawyer
In the early stages of setting up a business, your resources can be stretched. If you are still in the process of developing your offering, it may be premature to start thinking about allocating any of your budget to legal fees. This doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem. It is possible to write your own simple contract spelling out your T&Cs. If this is your only option, even a DIY contract could help keep you out of a lot of trouble.
However, you must bear in mind that such a DIY contract may help cover the basics, but it won’t be comprehensive. You’ll need a lawyer to advise you on more complicated topics you may not be deeply familiar with, like how far you can legitimately attempt to limit your liability, or how to deal with compliance and regulatory issues such as entering into contracts with consumers.
Even if you already have a DIY contract, I suggest obtaining tailored, professional T&Cs as soon as you can. In high-value, regulated or high-risk areas such as employment or investment, I always recommend that you obtain legal advice.
TIP 5: Invoke the Grace of Invitation
As I’ve suggested above, having jargon-riddled, muddled and poorly laid-out T&Cs in a miniscule font is not a good idea. It can even be – in 7 Graces parlance – downright ‘invasive’ (Invasion being one of the 7 Deadly Sins of marketing).
For example, many larger businesses have standard T&Cs that are completely one sided and aggressive. They may even seem arbitrary or capricious. We, the weary customers, are meant to smile sweetly and agree without questioning them. These one-sided T&Cs often arise because any well-intended lawyer wants to ensure their client that they are in a strong position, which then gets translated into ‘the client gets all they can’. Businesses often buy into this mean, tough stance.
The truth is, however, that these T&Cs may not actually stand up in a court of law if they are challenged. But many businesses will use them anyway on the assumption that they are unlikely to be challenged by their customers. After all, even if a customer realises that taking them to court is an option, the cost of doing so is often disproportionate to the issue or possible outcome.
But I believe there is an alternative way to approach T&Cs.
As a 7 Graces Community member and graduate of the 7 Graces Foundations of Ethical Marketing course, the Graces are part of my business values. And to me, having clear, well-thought-out T&Cs invokes the Grace of Invitation.
The Grace of Invitation suggests that we invite clients and customers into our businesses just as we would invite treasured guests into our homes. Instead of bullying our customers into submission with complex, furtive and aggressive T&Cs, we can give them a breath of fresh air by being clear, simple, direct, consistent and (most of all) respectful. To me, being in a ‘strong position’ means to create win-win solutions – to work with a collaborative mind-set.
Editor’s side note:
Collaboration is another one of the 7 Graces of Marketing.
The point is this: just because they are legal contracts, that doesn’t mean T&Cs have to be heavy. They can even be…charming! You have the choice when it comes to your own business. You can create crystal-clear T&Cs that reflect your core values.
When I say the word ‘law’, what’s the first thought that springs to your mind?
Is your response different now from what it was a few minutes ago?
I’d love to know your thoughts. What do you think about T&Cs? How have you approached them in your own business? How will you make them your own? I invite you to leave your comments (or questions) below.
Until next time,
Lubna Gem Arielle
10 October 2014
Lubna is a graduate of the 7 Graces Foundations of Ethical Marketing course. Click the image below to find out about the course, and to listen to an info call about what it covers and how it can help your business.
LUBNA GEM ARIELLE is a lawyer who went back to art school and has a portfolio career. As a legal educator, she lectures on MA programmes at Birkbeck and Sotheby’s Institute of Art, makes law accessible for creatives as a professional speaker and trainer and is a writer/presenter for Legal Network Television. She is a legal adviser to Artquest, providing advice to visual artists. In her creative practice, Lubna works with sharing and integrating information, stories and knowledge across real and virtual media. She is also a legal experiential practitioner specialising in outcomes-focused communication with the Personal Communications Academy. Lubna is a graduate of the 7 Graces Foundations of Ethical Marketing Course and member of the 7 Graces Community and the Professional Speaking Association.
Lubna on Twitter @info_bites
Lubna’s Website: http://www.6minutebites.com
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Find out more about how changing the paradigm can help make the world a better place:
The 7 Graces of Marketing: how to heal humanity and the planet by changing the way we sell, by Lynn Serafinn, where you can learn how the 7 Deadly Sins and the 7 Graces impact the world through media and marketing. Brit Writers Awards Finalist eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian & Ecological Social Issues
Tweep-e-licious: 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market Their Business Ethically by Lynn Serafinn, which can help you learn how to create meaningful collaborations through Twitter and other social media. eLit Book Awards Bronze Medal in Business and Sales.
Get instant access to a free 90-minute Twitter marketing class at http://tweepelicious.com
The Social Entrepreneur’s Guide to Successful Blogging: An Effective, Creative & Ethical Way of Marketing for Visionaries & New Paradigm Business Leaders. To receive an update when that book is available, just click here. As a thank-you gift for showing your interest, you’ll get instant access to an exclusive, free 5-page PDF revealing the exact same blogging template we use with our clients and we teach to participants on the ethical marketing training courses at the 7 Graces Project.
LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.
Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.
(not just for Londoners, as we meet also on Skype)