4 essential documents for small business

in Growing by Helen MacDougall
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small business documents

Despite the mentality that managing a business is often rewarding – even fun – and organising paperwork isn’t, it can’t be dismissed as an unnecessary requirement. If it’s set up properly and maintained consistently, the right documentation can help you grow your company, protect your business and regulate your operational processes.


The full set of company documents you require will take time to accumulate and they may not be perfect on the first go. However, experience will lead to tweaking, as will changes in circumstances or in the business environment.


The minimum portfolio should include four key documents:


  • Memorandum of understanding (MoU)

  • Staff employment

  • Contact information

  • Mission statement


Memorandum of understanding (MoU)


This document, also known as a letter of intent, is a written agreement between two or more parties that lays out a common line of action or mutual pact.


In a small business environment, MoUs are typically used as a precursor to a shareholders agreement. They can be used to identify business objectives, shareholdings, individual duties, confidentiality, board structure and any restrictive covenants.


Content checklist: while MoUs are generally recognised as binding, to have any legal standing all parties must be identified, the subject matter and its objectives must be explicitly stated, the critical terms of the agreement must be stated and it must be signed by the contracting parties.


Staff employment contract


An employment contract is an agreement between employer and employee that defines the exact nature and scope of their business relationship.


The key elements should be discussed in the hiring procedure and the document signed when the employee starts work. Subsequently, it provides a useful agenda for discussing or measuring staff performance.


Content checklist: job title and line of reporting, job description and areas of responsibility, remuneration and incentive plans, working hours and holidays, confidentiality and exclusivity agreements, reasons for termination of contract, notice periods and redundancy terms.


Contact information


If you have a website, you need to pave the way for prospects to contact you easily. Ideally, the contact details should be linked to an organisational structure. The latter is a useful way to pique the interest of potential customers, provide sufficient information to hold their attention and to facilitate their decision to initiate contact.


Content checklist: as a bare minimum, include phone number, email, fax and physical address. If the address is difficult to find, give directions and a map. If you are inviting contact with specific departments or teams, list the services covered, the names of the individual contacts, as well as their phone numbers and email addresses. If the phone numbers are limited to certain office hours, ensure a voicemail service is available.


Mission statement


A mission statement encapsulates the aims and values of a company. A good one will serve to inspire you, your employees and your customers. It will set the framework for how to run your business and can also be used as a benchmark for setting targets.


Get feedback before going to press, though. While there’s no harm in making subtle changes to the mission statement over time, making substantive ones will send the wrong message to those who are meant to remain inspired by it. It should be a beacon, not an ever-changing goal post.


Content checklist: the content of the statement should refer to your key market, the product or service you will be providing and the distinguishing benefits to them. The mood of the statement should convey your own beliefs, attitudes and standards. The phrasing should be expansive, even challenging, communicating a sense of optimism and energy.


The final touches


These four essential documents provide a basic framework upon which to build. In the future, it may be that you need to develop documents that are unique to your own business.


If you need to develop a new document, start by clarifying:


  • Why you need it

  • What the expected outcome is

  • When you need it

  • Who will use it

  • What the key elements are


Adopt the axiom in the design industry that characterises every good creation: form follows function.


Taking charge of the paperwork shouldn’t be seen as an unpleasant chore. It’s a positive, constructive step that, once tackled, will allow you to spend your time and talents on what you do best: expanding your business.

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The negative effects of working longer hours

This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.

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With six years of Advertising behind her and a commendable portfolio in tow, Helen decided to follow her passion for writing and set up as a Freelance Writer in 2012. Her writing shop, Copyfox, offers copy for predominantly digital channels - optimised website copy, website content and articles, eMail marketing activity and social media content and management. As well as a writer, Helen is also a Digital Producer, with a strong technical knowledge of online strategy, digital design and build.

Poll Results

How many hours do you work on your business each week?

  • 20-30
  • 30-40
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Poll Results

How many hours do you work on your business each week?

20-30: 18%
30-40: 18%
40-50: 23%
50-60: 41%