Amid all the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus outbreak, business owners may feel their fate isn’t in their own hands – but in fact there’s lots that they can do to help them take control.
“These are uncertain times. No-one knows exactly how this is going to play out. But there are certain things you can do to protect your business,” said David Tew, a dispute resolution specialist with Cartmell Shepherd Solicitors.
“A bit like the advice across society about taking sensible steps such as washing your hands, there are steps you can take as a business to protect yourself,” said David.
Here David shares half a dozen simple steps aimed at helping you and your business to be prepared and to focus on what you can control.
Check your ongoing contracts
“Check your contracts. What are your obligations and your rights?
“Will coronavirus allow a contracting party to pull out of its obligations on an existing contract? It depends very much on what is the exact wording in the contract.
“In particular, you should be checking is there a force majeure clause in your contracts which allows a party to suspend or terminate the performance of its obligations when certain circumstances beyond their control arise.
“If there is not a force majeure clause then it is possible to look at the legal doctrine of ‘frustration’ where it is impossible to complete a contract because of a change of circumstances outside your control. But this is open to different interpretations and may be difficult to rely on, highlighting the importance of ensuring that your contracts are fit for purpose.”
Check your insurance policies
“Have a close look at your business insurance policy to see if you have any business interruption coverage, and check exactly what those terms are.”
Carry out a risk assessment
“Carry out a general risk assessment on all parts of your business to identify exactly what is at risk, and then focus on controlling those areas which are within your control.”
Take practical steps
“So far much of the focus has been on the international aspect of coronavirus. But that is set to move to a more domestic level and it is important as a business owner that you do everything you can now to make sure you, your employees, your supply chain and your clients are as prepared as possible.
“If we are moving towards a situation where the advice will be for more people to self-isolate, or if there are restrictions of movement, then there are practical steps that you can take now to mitigate those risks.
“If you want to move to more remote working, then check the practical issues that will involve. Do the business processes and procedures work remotely? Check employee policies – do they cover working from home? Is it practical for all employees to work from home? Do they have a safe environment to work in?
“Review your supply chain. Have a discussion with those in your supply chain and discuss action plans with them.”
“It is really important to keep communication channels open between you, your employees, your clients and your supply chain. Keep talking and discussing how you can support each other. Follow any guidance online https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public
“Identify ways you can work together. There will be cases where, because of the way a contract has been worded, it is within your legal right to ensure that those obligations are met. But that might not be the best approach when it comes to long-term business relationships.
“You are likely to want those relationships to be positive in the long term. And while the temptation might be to jump on the specific wording in a contract, remember that your clients and customers will still be here long after this situation has come and gone. How you act now is likely to affect those business relationships in the future.
“Showing flexibility and understanding, and being willing to restructure that arrangement in the short term, is likely to be of benefit in the long term.”
Ensure you have good legal advice
“A good solicitor will help you with your concerns and give you the advice on how you can best protect your business. If you are unsure about anything it is always best to ask.”