If you're in business, the chances are you will need professional legal or accounting advice at some point. This will be more useful, and probably cost you less, if you know exactly what questions to ask.
Professional services don't come cheap these days. You could pay up to $500 per hour for a solicitor, so every minute counts. Walk into a meeting blind and you may need a second mortgage to settle your account!
The secret is to be prepared. As well as gathering together all the necessary paperwork, swot up on the subject matter, too. That way, you can get straight into the matter at hand when you arrive in your solicitor's office.
Doing your research online first will at least give you some understanding of what's involved, and you will get to know the terminology. There are plenty of good sources - you may even find you can solve the problem yourself.
There was a time when research entailed a lengthy visit to your local library. These days, thanks to search engines such as Google, you can pretty much find anything online. For businesses, there are some great free resources - here are a few to get you started.
We know the 'customer is always right', but business owners have rights, too. The ACCC - Australian Competition & Consumer Commission - offers a wealth of information on contracts, complaints, penalties, compliance and more.
For example, did you know that you are protected by law against behaviour that limits competition? In other words, if your competitors engage in practices that limit or prevent you from fairly competing, the law is on your side. Find out more about anti-competitive behaviour and cartel conduct here.
It is a given that you need suitable insurance as a business owner. But exactly what, and how much, is a grey area. Before you book an appointment with your solicitor or insurance agent, check out the Australian Government's business website.
The type of insurance you need depends on the size of your business, your industry, and the number of staff you employ. Some insurance is compulsory, including workers' compensation insurance, third party personal injury insurance, and public liability insurance.
As an employer, you have a responsibility to protect all your stakeholders - including employees, customers, contractors etc - whilst they are on your premises. Failing to do so can result in huge fines and even a prison term.
Certain aspects of your business are known as IP - or Intellectual Property. These include patents, trademarks, designs, copyright, and more. These can be protected by law against theft.
IP is crucial for innovation to grow and flourish in Australia. In 2015, patent applications went up by 10%, and trademarks by 14%. That was the best growth in a decade. IP theft costs businesses millions of dollars every year.
Find out to protect what is rightfully yours here.
Small businesses and family enterprises will find the Ombudsman a great source of free legal information. They can also offer advice on starting, running, growing and selling a business in Australia.
You may still need paid professional advice at some stage, but this website will help you understand your rights and requirements.
While the words Tax Office might strike terror into your heart, the ATO is actually a great source of information and advice for businesses. Learn about key topics like tax incentives, concessions, PAYG, and Super, and your trip to the accountants could cost less than you think.
If you are a small to medium-sized business owner, you should check out the SME Association of Australia. This group speaks for around 2 million SMEs - that's around 95% of all businesses.
The group offers members advice, events, latest business news, networking opportunities and more. By sharing experiences with other business owners, you will be better equipped to deal with solicitors and accountants in the future.
Many business chambers offer some form of free legal advice for their members. For example, the NSW Business Chamber offer a Legal Advice Line. They understand that businesses often need some simple legal advice, rather than a full legal consultation.
It's worth checking out your local business chamber, to see what they offer.
As well as Australian Government services for businesses, you can also access useful help and advice from your State Government. Here are some useful links:
Victoria - http://www.business.vic.gov.au/
South Australia - https://business-sa.com/
Tasmania - https://www.business.tas.gov.au/
There are many free resources out there for businesses in Australia, including mentoring schemes, and advice on grants and assistance. These are especially useful when starting up a new business.
The more you understand about what's out there, the quicker and easier you'll access the help and advice you need. Sharing your experiences with others, and learning from your peers, can often save shelling out for a professional.
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