Here’s why business owners need to care about terms and conditions

By Laura Jackson, Xero responsible data use council member and owner of Popcorn Shed

Terms and conditions (Ts & Cs) were not something I gave much thought to before I started Popcorn Shed. However, in our first year of business, we learned the hard way. We naively signed an unfavourable contract with an agent that had no termination clause. In hindsight, we did not take the care and attention to understand what we were signing up for and did not get the necessary advice. As a result, we incurred high legal fees to help us terminate the agreement with difficulty and wasted a lot of time. It was a costly but important lesson to learn about truly understanding the fine print.

As a small business owner, do you read the Ts & Cs? Do you know and understand what you are agreeing to when you use a service or buy a product online?

Avoid scrolling and read the fine print

Ts & Cs have become such an integral part of our everyday lives. I used to have a terrible habit of scrolling down the long pages of Ts & Cs, not reading them and quickly selecting ‘Agree’. But without reading the fine print, we won’t understand exactly what we are agreeing to, where our data and that of our customers is going, and how it is being used or shared.

The concern with not reading and fully understanding Ts & Cs is that you may be agreeing to participate in an activity or sharing of data and information that you cannot easily escape, or end up paying for something even though you do not remember agreeing to it. All it takes is one small line added to the fine print to leave you with problems down the line.

As a business owner, my advice to other small businesses would be to take the time to read all Ts & Cs and contracts before you agree to the terms. If in doubt, ask what the clause means and try to negotiate if anything looks unfavourable.

Creating your own Ts & Cs

When it comes to your own Ts & Cs, this is an opportunity to earn and maintain your customers’ loyalty and trust. We picked up the first set of Ts & Cs we listed on our website from another food and drink brand, and we didn’t give much thought to them. However, when UK legislation changed with GDPR regulations coming to force, it gave us an opportunity to rethink, assess and recreate our own Ts & Cs that suited our business.

We also developed our own data policies. The new GDPR regulations encouraged us to avoid copying and pasting standard Ts & Cs, and instead create new ones that felt right for our business. We also had conversations with our third-party vendors (from our warehouse to our tech service providers) to help us gain a fresh understanding of how they treated and used our data and our customers’ data.

Using Ts & Cs to address data use broadly

Ts & Cs can also be a great way to open up a broader and necessary discussion about data use and sharing with your customers and business suppliers and partners. It’s an opportunity to earn your customers’ trust by being open and honest, and this can only be achieved if the Ts & Cs are written in plain, simple language that everyone can understand.

As our business grows, our Ts & Cs are constantly evolving. For example, we had to reassess and change many of our delivery policies as a result of Brexit. In addition, we recently celebrated the launch of our mini popcorn range, Mini Pop!, in a retail chain called Sainsbury’s, running a marketing sweepstakes offering participants a chance to win popcorn for life. Before we launched this campaign, we wrote some very detailed Ts & Cs. We knew how important it was for our customers to understand what they were agreeing to by participating.

It is not just the Ts & Cs our customers agree to when they order from us that are important. For every business we supply, from cinemas and theatres to department stores and gift basket companies, Ts & Cs need to be agreed to in order to ensure we have a successful working relationship. These critical business arrangements ensure we all understand the payment terms, delivery timelines and, most importantly, data use policies.