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Do you know how to read that business contract?

Whether you start a new business or have an existing one, you will more than likely come into contact with a vendor, supplier or someone else who will want you to enter into a contract for goods or services. The other party may simply hand you a contract and expect you to sign it.

Fortunately, you are well informed and smart enough not to do that. You are creating a legal relationship with the other party, and that document will govern what happens if you end up in a dispute.

What you should look for as you read a contract

You and the other party should agree on the contents of the contract. In broad strokes, the contract should reflect your verbal agreement, address any potential situations and/or disputes, and answer all of the questions you may have regarding the relationship it creates. Other parts to review include the following:

  • Make sure you review all of the standard language, such as mandatory arbitration clauses, indemnity clauses and more. You may not agree with one or more of these clauses, but if you don't read them, it will be too late to do anything about it after you sign.
  • Make sure to identify the appropriate entities as the parties to the contract. For instance, you wouldn't want your personal name in the contract if it is for your business.
  • If you don't understand the wording of a provision in the contract, you have the right to ask for clarification. You want to be absolutely sure of what you are signing before you do so.
  • If you feel something important to you is missing from the contract, you should feel free to speak up.

It may seem easy to accomplish the above, but more than likely, you are wondering how you are supposed to know when something isn't right or does not represent your interests if it is not blatant. For this reason, you may want to go a step further and work with an attorney to make sure the contract says what you want and need it to. Of course, you may not get everything you want, but you could get close.

If you do end up in a dispute with the other party, the contract is the only documentation you have of your agreement. Should your disagreement end up in a courtroom, you will need to prove that the other party breached the contract, and the provisions of your contract are all you have to fall back on to prove it to the court.

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