A company founder has to do everything possible to limit liability for any problems that occur, whether it involves anything from worker safety to refund policies. Get your policies and procedures in writing as soon as you can.
By John Boitnott Journalist and digital consultant
As a small business owner, you face a variety of risks, especially as you begin to work with more clients and hire employees. Your business deals with a certain amount of liability each day and you can reduce some of that liability by having your policies clearly outlined in writing.
With so much to do, maintaining an extensive policies and procedures manual can be tricky. Luckily there are many templates available to get you started, especially if your policies are internal. You can refine these templates for your specific needs and update them as your business grows. Here are six basic policies your business should have in place before you add another client or hire additional employees.
1.) Workplace Safety Policies
Whether your business operates in a factory or a standard office complex, anyone who steps onto your property faces some level of risk. A data entry worker could develop carpal tunnel syndrome while in your employ. Your company vice president could injure himself moving a computer from one office to another. By putting workplace safety policies in place, you can help mitigate any damages caused by an employee’s negligence.
2.) Disciplinary Policies
Occasionally you’ll have the need to terminate an employee. When that occasion arises, you’ll have a much more straightforward experience if the employee has been cautioned about the process. If your expectations for performance are outlined in the employee’s initial job description, you can show a history of problems by detailing those issues in regular evaluations and write-ups.
3.) Device Use Policies
You may not realize that as an employer, you could be held responsible for the actions of those in your employ. That means if one of your workers conducts illegal activities on one of your systems, you may be answerable for it. Businesses protect themselves against liability in these instances by having a clearly written usage policy that outlines what workers can and cannot do on devices connected to your network.
4.) Work Hours and Turnaround Time
In the early days, your policies may relate more to your business processes than your team, since you won’t have a robust team starting out. One important first step should relate to your availability, including your working hours. Studies show that customers prefer talking to live customer service representatives. Will you be available for calls or emergency concerns after hours or are you only available during business hours? Set those expectations up front to avoid disappointment on either end.
Your turnaround time for each request should also be outlined in the beginning. Whether your business handles graphic design or pest control, you should have a clearly outlined policy regarding response time. If a customer or client asks that you dramatically reduce that response time, you should also have a written policy in place to cover whether this will incur an extra charge.
5.) Late Payment Policies
Before you do your first job, you should create a payment process for the work you’ll perform. How will you invoice your clients and what forms of payment will be accepted? Set a grace period for payments to be made before a small service charge is added. Many businesses allow 30 days from the time of invoice for the payment to be made before they begin sending late payment notices.
6.) Return/Refund Policies
If your business is a retailer or e-commerce business, you should have a return policy clearly posted on your website or store signage. If you put a strict return policy in place, ask yourself whether you plan to stand firmly behind that policy or capitulate for those customers who escalate a complaint up the chain of command. Refunds are still a possibility for service-oriented businesses, even though there is no product to resell. Many businesses offer satisfaction guarantees to lure new business in. While you likely won’t be able to offer a 100 percent money-back guarantee, you should consider how you’ll handle things when a client or customer is dissatisfied with your work.
Written policies are a great way to protect yourself, while also providing a safe, fair working environment for your employees. While written policies won’t completely eliminate the issues you’ll face as a business owner, they will provide an element of protection as you hire new team members and work with clients.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.