Starting your own business is one of the most exciting things you could ever do, but being your own boss isn’t all about freedom. It also comes with a lot of red tape — and not staying ahead of it could get you into a lot of trouble.
Developing clear policies in every critical area will give you a reliable framework to keep you, your business, and your employees safe, so what should you consider? There is no question that industry-specific standards play an important role, but these essentials apply to practically every small business.
- 1. Employee Handbook
If you plan to employ other people (yes, even if you plan to start a family business and everyone’s related to you), you’ll need an employee handbook.
This document should outline working hours, break policies, overtime procedures, vacation time, expected behavior, a dress code, hiring policies, and anything else relevant to the relationship between you and your employees. The handbook should also cover harassment and discrimination, because it is essential to cover the contingencies you prefer not to think about.
It should give everyone a clear idea of what to expect. Should conflicts arise, you should be able to point to this document as you seek to resolve them.
- 2. Health and Safety
Health and safety, or OSHA, practices heavily depend on your industry, but one thing is clear. You need a clear guide no matter what field you’re in — even if getting hurt by a stapler is the worst risk you can think of. They should cover safe working conditions, emergency and evacuation procedures, and first aid. In some fields, health and safety includes personal protective equipment and best practices, as well.
- 3. Data Security, Privacy, and Social Media
Nearly every business benefits from having a website in the 21st century. You’ll need to establish a clear approach to data security and privacy even if your (future) digital storefront only has a contact form where potential customers can ask questions or request an estimate. If you plan to run an online store, this aspect becomes even more pressing.
This policy should clearly detail what data you collect, how long you keep it, how you use it, and how you protect it. There should also be an opt-out clause and a plan for dealing with data breaches.
If your business has a presence on social media (and it should!), you should develop a similar policy for these third-party sites. For example, it is crucial to only share customer photos with their permission.
- 4. Physical Security
Physical security protocols should govern key access, alarms, locking and unlocking, surveillance, guest and customer management, emergency response plans, storing physical and potentially sensitive documents, and collaboration with local law enforcement. If you or your employees travel to other locations to conduct business, that should be included in your approach to safety and security, too.
- 5. Customer Relations
Despite the famous saying, we all know the customer isn’t always right — but neither are you. Yet, the way you treat your customers will ultimately make or break your business, and it is essential to establish clear guidelines.
Your customer relations policies should clearly communicate your procedures for refunds and exchanges, including time limits, permitted circumstances, and the manner in which refunds will be made. It should also handle protocols for dealing with difficult customers, circumstances under which you will refuse service, and ways to deescalate tricky situations on the spot.
- 6. Supplier Relations
Whether or not you plan to sell physical products, every business depends on good working relationships with multiple suppliers. Develop clear positions in this area. Supplier relations considerations include the criteria you use to select and evaluate suppliers (such as cost, quality, and reliability), payment policies, confidentiality, continuity, and conflict resolution.
It is partially your responsibility to ensure that all your suppliers are compliant with relevant laws and regulations, so this should feature in your plan, too.
- 7. Financial Policies
Your financial policies should cover a range of topics, including invoicing, payment, payment terms and late fees, and the payment methods you accept. They go beyond these basics, though, and also cover budgeting, tax compliance, audits, cash handling, business banking, and debt management.
- 8. Compliance
The general heading of “compliance” covers anything that ensures you follow local, state, and federal laws, as well as industry-specific regulations. These policies outline what your business will do to stay on the right side of the law under all circumstances — and they may pertain to anything from taxes and workers’ comp to data collection and product acquisition.
- What Next?
Starting a business can make you feel like everything is coming at you all at once. No matter how much you know about your field, regulations will always be daunting — and it will usually seem like you’re missing something big in the early days.
The types of policies we’ve covered in this brief guide should give you something to work with, brainstorm, and research. However, unless you’re a lawyer embarking on the adventure of starting a solo law firm, you won’t be able to do it alone.
Use the ideas you’ve found in this guide to do further research. Draft protocols and procedures for your business, and then consult a competent, experienced attorney. A business lawyer can help you comply with all relevant laws and regulations, including those you may inadvertently have missed, and develop a framework that governs all your daily operations.
Once in place, you should periodically review all your business documents to ensure they are still compliant and up to date.
- Bottom Line
Every industry is unique, and every field is governed by industry-specific regulations, but one thing always remains the same. If you’re starting a small business, clear policies ensure your operations unfold smoothly, and you can continue to thrive and grow. The more prepared you are, the better — so make sure your contingencies have contingencies, your lawyer has reviewed all your plans, and nothing stands between you and a very successful company.