Terms of Trade – Protect Your Business

Why do you need terms of trade?

Your terms of trade define how you do business. You might consider that some terms are implied, but implied terms will never replace expressed terms or terms that are in writing. You might already be familiar with the concept of an ‘agreement’ or a ‘contract’ (ie, a legally binding agreement), so consider your terms of trade as your contract with your customers or clients.

In that contract you can determine things like what you’re going to do for them and what they’re going to do for you in return (ie, payment).

You might cover other things like time for payment and penalties for late payment, or you might detail issues like warranties, guarantees and maybe return policies. The extent and detail of your terms of trade really depend on the nature of your business and the risks that you wish to manage.

If your business is all about ‘point of sale’ transactions that happen over the counter, you might not have a written contract with each of your customers but you may need to have notices regarding return policies clearly visible around your shop. If you extend credit to your customers, you might require your customers to provide security in the form of personal guarantees or maybe even an interest over some kind of property. If you trade over the internet, your website might contain your terms of trade as part of the website or the online shopping cart. Or if you do business by quoting and signing up customers, you might place your terms and conditions on the back of your quoting form and ask customers to sign their acceptance of the quote as well as your terms.

The bottom line is that there’s no specific rule regarding how your terms of trade should be reflected in your business, and you need to assist your business or sales procedure to determine at what point in time do you ‘have a deal’. That’s when you need to concentrate on ensuring that your customers or clients have clearly understood your terms of trade and have accepted them. Finding the right balance between what is commercially acceptable and legally enforceable is not easy, and sometimes you need to find an acceptable compromise that protects your interest but does not hinder your ability to do business – and that’s exactly where we can help.

Director’s Duties

No matter the size of your company, if you are a director of a company, you have a number of duties and responsibilities to both the company and the public. These duties are primarily imposed by the Corporations Act 2001 (Commonwealth). In addition to their duties under the Corporations Act, directors have a number of other duties set out in various other legislation as well as the common law.

It is important to understand and comply with these duties. The failure to comply with these duties may result in directors being personally responsible for any loss caused by the breach of these duties, or even criminal prosecution by the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC).

The most significant duties of directors are:

To act in the best interest of the company

A director must act in the best interests of a company and to its shareholders as a whole, ahead of their own personal interest. This can get confusing especially in a situation where the directors and the shareholders are one and the same – a common scenario in small businesses. It is important to remember that the company is considered a separate legal entity, has its own interests, and these interests may not be the same as the director’s interests.

To act with care and diligence

A director must perform their duties with the same care and diligence that a reasonable person would have should they be in the director’s shoes.

To act in good faith

A director must perform their duties in good faith, and dishonestly or fraudulently.

To use their position as a director for the proper purposes

A director has an enviable position that allows them to control the company’s business. It is important that they do not abuse this position to act in their own interest, or the interest of someone else. In addition to this, a director would commonly come into information as a result of his or her position. A director cannot use this information to act in their own interest or the interest of someone else.

To avoid conflicts of interest

Directors also have a duty to avoid any actual or potential conflict between their interests and the interests of the company. This arises from the duty of a director to act in the best interests of the company.

To prevent the company from continuing trade if it is insolvent

A director has a duty to prevent the company from incurring additional debt if there is a reasonable suspicion that the company cannot pay its debts when it falls due. This duty is not exercised for the benefit of the shareholders, rather it is exercised for the benefit of the creditors.

Other duties and responsibilities

There are numerous other laws affecting trade practices, taxation, environmental protection, and occupational health and safety that apply to companies. A breach of those other laws may give rise to a director being held liable for the breach.

Summary

If you are a director of a company, it is important to be aware of the core responsibilities and duties that have been imposed upon you by the law. While your primary duty is towards the company, you also have duties towards the shareholders, creditors, and the public. The failure to comply with these duties may result in directors being held personally liable for breaches of these duties. If you are unclear about the duties you should comply with or you are unsure of where you stand, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible.