Practically everything we sign up to nowadays comes with a ‘terms’ a contract or document, whether it’s in hard copy or online. The reality is that many businesses, and individuals for that matter, happily sign without reading through the full details of what they are being offered. It’s only when they decide to leave a service or fall foul of penalty clauses they find out what they thought was okay, actually isn’t, that’s when they begin wishing they’d read that contract more carefully at the outset.
Our top advice is: Read the small print.
What’s in the Contract?
That means reading all the documents and terms and conditions before you even take the cap off your pen. There have been numerous examples of SMEs and even bigger companies getting into difficulties because they weren’t aware of the small print – that goes for everything from your IT support contract, your building lease and supplier agreement to the tools and services you sign up for online. Ignorance is not a protection.
If you fail to read the contract properly, don’t be surprised if you start getting mysterious charges and penalties or even find yourself in a much longer agreement than you originally envisioned. It’s essentially your fault.
Be Sure to Clarify
If you don’t understand something in the contract then don’t pretend that you’ve read it through. Ask for clarification and don’t sign on the dotted line until it meets your expectations. The more thorough you are the less likely you are to be disappointed when the contract begins. If you need a lawyer to explain something to you in simple terms then it is better to pay for a little independent advice than let everything you don’t understand slip by.
Is it Right for your Business?
Don’t just look at the contract as a solid, all-or-nothing proposition, ask yourself what you would like to see in there. What works for your company? Do you want to make any amendments such as removing certain clauses or adding others? That contract basically embodies all that the providers want to see in the document so you may need to add to it so that it suits you more.
Ask for Changes
You’d be surprised the number of experienced business people who will look at a contract, see something they are not happy with and sign just the same. If you don’t ask the company to change it, they won’t change it. They may have a very good reason not to or they might want your business bad enough to show a little flexibility on their terms.
What Happens When Things Go Wrong?
Yes, everything may well run smoothly over the duration of the contract, but what if things go wrong? What happens if there is a breach on either side? Think up a range of scenarios that could happen to your business and check to see if the contract is robust enough to deal with them so that you have a chance of coming out on top.
Don’t Sign Because of a Limited Time Offer
Whilst large companies have to go through numerous processes if a contract of any worth is to be signed, which means that every ‘t’ is crossed and ‘I’ dotted, smaller companies usually only have one or two people responsible for signing. If a provider is offering a limited time offer if you sign on the dotted line straight away, then our advice is to resist. You should always give yourself time to step back and take a fresh look at things before you commit. If the company really wants your business, they’ll be prepared to wait.
In our experience there are some terrible contracts out there that can tie your business up and cause unnecessary aggravation. They can also cost you a good deal more money than you first envisioned. The simple act of reading a contract carefully and not being in a hurry to sign can save you a lot of heartache in the long run.
Remember, your signature is important. Use it wisely. Read the small print!