In this challenging economic climate, it is more crucial than ever that businesses are well prepared for whatever impacts come their way.
Our latest episode of Business Insights is the first in a three-part series on how SMEs can best prepare themselves for uncertainty using the 3 Ps of preparation: processes, policies and procedures, and protection.
Our guest for the series is an expert in this area: Natalie Ledlin, Solicitor Director at Ledlin Lawyers.
In our first episode on processes, Natalie takes us through the key legal considerations around customer onboarding, credit policies, prioritising payments and privacy of data.
Natalie Ledlin transcript #1
Hello and welcome to the latest episode of Business Insights. I’m Michael Pollack, Head of Content at CreditorWatch, and I’m pleased to say that today I’m joined by Natalie Ledlin who is Solicitor Director at Ledlin Lawyers. Thanks for joining us, Natalie.
Hey Michael thank you for having me today and hello to everyone out there listening.
So, this is the first episode in a 3 three-part series on the 3 Ps of preparation to help businesses safeguard themselves in this uncertain trading environment that we currently find ourselves in due to the ongoing effects of COVID like supply chain disruptions.
They’re obviously causing problems for the building industry in particular with material shortages cost blowouts and also labour shortages, and then we have the impacts of the East Coast floods and the war in Ukraine. Natalie has kindly agreed to go through the 3 Ps of preparation to help small businesses buffer themselves I suppose in the best possible way for this uncertain environment.
So, thank you again, Natalie. I think it’s best that we just get into it. So, firstly, could you just tell our listeners what the 3 Ps of preparation are, and what they can expect from this series and what you’ll be specifically focusing on today?
Yeah, absolutely thanks, Michael. Well, I love a bit of alliteration, so I’ve got our 3 Ps which are process, which is what we’ll be talking about today, policy and procedure, which will be our second session and then our third session will be protection. So, how to keep yourself protected in these uncertain times.
There’s absolutely no doubt that over the last couple of years we’ve seen some of the most uncertain times that we’ve experienced as you’ve said, and one of the biggest trends that we’ve noticed here at Ledlin Lawyers amongst our clients, are those clients who are coming to us and looking to review their processes and all of their documentation and just get themselves set up properly to handle anything that comes their way.
So that’s what we’ve been really focused on in the last couple of years. So, I’ve got some really great tips today and over the next couple of weeks for some really easy things that businesses can implement today without having to do too much to their current processes and procedures and get themselves protected.
Excellent. Well let’s get into it then, shall we? There’s no place to start like the beginning. Let’s take a look at onboarding if we can Natalie. What are some of the common gaps that you see there, in the onboarding process and how can businesses tighten up this process?
Well, what I always say to my clients is that good credit management starts from before the customer even comes on board. So, you really need to be focusing before you’ve even agreed to sell anything or supply anything to your customers.
You need to be ready to deal with them and any issues that might come up. So, the number one thing that we recommend is knowing your customer. So, take the opportunity when your customer is for example, filling in a credit application when they’re coming on board to find out as much as you possibly can about who you’re dealing with.
So, some of the biggest gaps that I see in the onboarding process is either businesses that don’t have any documentation at all or the documentation that they do that they do have has a lot of gaps and they don’t actually know who they’re dealing with, whether that is the legal entity or the people behind that legal entity.
So, there’s lots of different things that you need to be asking for when your customer is coming to you looking for something. And when they need something from you at that time that they’re coming on board is the best time to get as much information as possible from them because they want something from you at that stage.
So, some of the things that we recommend to clients to ask for to kind of fill the gaps are for example, if you’re dealing with a trust. have you got a copy of the trust deed? Do you know that that trustee entity can actually enter into that transaction?
Do you know who the adult beneficiaries are because they are the ultimate asset holders for when you’re dealing with a trust? Do you need to ask for personal guarantees and we will touch on that in our third session. What sort of information do you ask for from directors?
Do you ask for personal email addresses for example, because if their business or if their company goes out of business and you’ve no longer got access to that business email address you need a way of contacting that individual personally. We have actually struggled a lot over the last couple of years with trying to serve people. So, any information that you can get from your customer about who they are and who you’re dealing with is really really crucial at that initial stage.
So, company structures can be confusing for business owners and it’s critically important that they understand the type of structure that they have or that an accountant has set up for them. Could you just talk us through the key considerations there please Natalie?
Yeah, definitely. The one thing that I find often when I’m talking to clients is that they actually don’t often have any idea of what their business structure is. So, perhaps they’ve gone to their accountant, and they’ve said you know I want to start a business. Can you set something up for me?
And the accountant will go off and do their thing, but they won’t actually know legally how they’ve been set up. And that’s important for you to know for yourself, but also for the customers that you’re dealing with.
So, I think a lot of people forget that a credit application and terms and conditions are basically a binding legal contract. So, you need to know exactly who it is that you’re entering into this legal contract with. So, for example, if you are dealing with a trust, the legal entity that you’re dealing with is not the trust itself. It’s actually the trustee. And the trustee could be an individual. It could be a company. You won’t know unless you ask some specific information from your customer.
So, if you are for example, dealing with your customer, you don’t get paid, and you need to take legal action, then you need to know exactly who it is that you’re going to sue. Are you suing a person? Are you suing a partnership for example, are you suing a corporate entity?
You will need to know exactly who that is in terms of filing legal proceedings, and we will talk in a couple of weeks about the PPSA. But, in particular, if you are looking to register on the PPSA, you’re going to need to know exactly who your customer is because there are very specific ways of registering depending on the entity type that your customer is.
So, if you don’t know who it is that you’re dealing with and what structure they are, chances are you’re going to get your PPSA registration wrong, which is obviously extremely detrimental to your protection.
So, you mentioned credit applications there. What specifically should small business owners and operators be aware of when setting those up?
I think the number one thing, especially in the last couple of years Michael that we’ve spoken to our customers about, is actually making it really easy for your client or your customer to do business with you when they are filling in your application.
So, a lot of businesses have moved over the last couple of years to more of an online process where it’s a lot more streamlined – they’re using electronic signatures, for example, making it easy for the customer to fill in a document and actually do business with them.
So, I guess if you think about it, lots of people are working from home. They might not necessarily have access to printers or scanners. So, having that online access I think is really important. So, starting to look at streamlining your processes and making sure that the information that’s put in – we’ve spoken a lot so far about having the right information – but actually making sure that you can verify that information.
So, if somebody has given you an ACN for a company, can you actually verify that the ACN matches up to the entity that you think that you’re dealing with? So, basically identifying businesses and making sure whether you actually do want to do business with that customer.
There’s lots of information available, for example, in credit reports and that sort of thing that can allow you to do credit assessment once your customer does actually fill in the credit application. So, making sure that you actually are using the tools that are available to you.
The other thing that I would say is making sure that in your credit application you actually do have proper consents for privacy and credit checks and that sort of thing because I see lots of credit applications out there that don’t actually get consent from their customer to do those credit checks. That’s really important to have that in your credit application as well.
So Ts and Cs obviously an important one right now, particularly around factoring in the ability to pass on increases in the cost of goods and materials that we’re experiencing through the supply chain disruptions that we talked about earlier. Could you just elaborate on that for us please Natalie?
Yeah, definitely. We always recommend when a customer is coming on board, you make it part of your process that you are giving the customer a copy of your terms and conditions, so they know exactly the basis on which they’re doing business with you.
And also making sure that within your terms and conditions, you do actually have the ability to change those terms and conditions. For example, making sure that you’ve got the ability to change your price list.
If your suppliers and manufacturers are increasing costs as I know a lot of them are out there, do you actually have the ability in your terms and conditions to pass on any of those costs to your customers.? Something that we’ve recommended to a lot of our clients is incorporating some terms around pandemics into their terms and conditions.
Prior to COVID coming around, we never really saw anything in terms and conditions about pandemics. But now we’re recommending that clients actually put those into their terms and conditions.
It’s really important to make sure that you’re reviewing your terms and conditions regularly to make sure that as the world changes, you’re actually able to change your documentation as well and making sure that you can protect yourself as best as possible within those terms and conditions, because as I said before, that’s your contract with your customer. That’s the basis on which you’re doing business with them, and you need to make sure that you’re you’re as protected as possible with those terms and conditions.
Great advice. Thanks Natalie. Some really valuable information there on how to protect your business in this uncertain trading climate. If you’d like more information on properly setting up processes in your business, you can get in touch with Natalie at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit ledlinlawyers.com.au. And we’ve included those details in the podcast description so you can catch them there. Thank you again Natalie, that was that was great, really informative.
Thanks Michael and I’m looking forward to our next session.
Indeed. We’ll be back next Wednesday with the second instalment of our three-part series on the 3 Ps of preparation for small business. That one will be on essential policies and procedures, so don’t miss it. Bye for now.