Tracey Mylechrane Solicitor for Small Businesses, Q & A

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Tell us a bit about what you do

I am a lawyer, an entrepreneur, a small business owner, a wife and most importantly, a mum to 2 energetic children (who keep me on my toes in ways I never imagined possible!). 

I founded my virtual, online law practice earlier this year because I know that the traditional law firm model has so many limitations for so many clients.  It’s just not what clients necessarily need (or want) anymore. I wanted to create something that worked for me and my clients, and flexibility and affordability were central to that. 

At the heart of this venture for me was making specialised legal services more accessible to more people – to be easy for everyday people, Australia wide, to work with.  That’s what I do.   I have done away with ‘billable hours’ and hourly rates, and instead I use a fixed fee structure for legal services so clients know what they will be paying for, up-front, with no surprises.  It really works. 

How can you help Small Business Owners

I specialise in working with new and established small businesses, to either help them get set up properly right from the very start, or to tidy things up once they have been up and running for a while.  I have been in the law for more than 15 years, and I have seen a lot!   

I have spent so much time helping clients at the tail end of a business dispute, or business break-up, and I have seen first hand what that does to a business, and to the well-being and livelihoods of those involved. Most of what I have seen could have been avoided if the parties had have taken the time at the beginning to get their legal documents in order.  Often at the beginning everything is so exciting people tend to want to ‘get on with it’ and either don’t think to take the time to work with their lawyer, or they just don’t want to.  This is the first mistake that a new business can make. 

I can add considerable value to small business when they are experiencing a dispute, whether with a customer or client, or with a business partner.  There is much to be said about strategising early when a dispute arises, so as to avoid drawing things out (which is always far more stressful for all involved), and to avoid potential negative impact on the business.

When are milestone moments a Small Business Owner should get in contact with you?

Before the business starts trading!  This is the most opportune time to start working together.  We can identify what the business needs, and make sure everything is set up properly.  Things like business terms and conditions (and how to use them to comply with the Australian consumer law), privacy policy, website terms, ATO compliance, business structure and employee contracts, are all things that every business would be wise to attend to before starting.  

Of course, that’s in a perfect world, and we all know that things don’t always pan out that way. Other milestone moments will be:

  • Taking on a new partner;

  • Taking on new employees;

  • If a dispute or disagreement arises with a client or customer, or worse, with a business partner (it really is best to tackle these things early, rather than waiting until matters have escalated too far); 

  • Wanting to look at an alternative business structure (usually as a result of growth); and 

  • Debt recovery.  

What happens if you have a business partner, and things aren’t going so well. How can you help?

I have seen partnership disputes arise for so many different reasons.  Things like payments to a partner (either an over payment or an underpayment); difference of opinions on expenses, profits, operational matters etc; a conflict of interest by one of the partners (or a perceived conflict of interest); personality differences; general stress and pressures and poor communication.  These are all common areas for disputes within a partnership. 

I can help by getting to the core of the issue quickly, and without getting caught up on the history and the personal aspects that the partners themselves often find difficult to navigate through. I tend to bring both objectivity and a level of practicality to the situation.  I have seen it all before, so i know what I am looking for. 

My approach is practical and efficient, with a view to working through the issues to get to an end-point, without disrupting the business unnecessarily.  The last thing any business owner wants is to have the profitability and the value of the business to suffer when trying to navigate through a tricky situation with a partner.  

What’s the best way to approach outstanding payments from customers / clients?

If you have your business terms and conditions set up properly at the beginning, you will be a step ahead right at the very start.  Being able to rely on those is critical for a streamlined process from here. 

The best way to approach this is to have the expectations clear for the beginning.  Ensure all parties know what goods or services you are providing, on what terms, and for how much.  Make sure the terms around payment are clear.  These things help minimise the scope of confusion or dispute later on.  

If payment terms are not met, have a streamlined process in place, so that your time and energy are not absorbed in dealing with outstanding payments, rather than working in the business.  A good process will include a mechanism to detect outstanding payments early, an initial email/correspondence to issue to follow up (a template form will work well because it saves time).  This initial follow-up needs to be able to rely on the terms and conditions, and payment requirement.  This needs to be crystal clear.  

If the initial correspondence did not resolve the matter, then a formal letter of demand should be issued (again, have a template set up is a sensible way to maximise efficiency). Once this occurs, usually he client or customer will raise any genuine issues that they have.  If the parties can work together to resolve this, then that is a good outcome. 

If the outstanding payment is still not resolved, then the business can look at recovery through the small claims jurisdiction of their state or territory.This can often be done self-represented, without the need to engage a lawyer (and spend more money).If a business reaches this point, and they have their terms and conditions properly set up and they have used them correctly, and they have adopted the above system by issuing correspondences to the client or customer, then the process to get started here is much, much easier, and more likely to be successful.Templates can be used again for commencing this sort of claim, and that is certainly something I work with small businesses to achieve.

Tracey Mylechrane Solicitor

About Tracey : Tracey Mylecharane has more than 12 years’ experience in legal practice and has developed considerable knowledge of business and commercial law issues. She specialises in helping new and established small and medium businesses across several industries.  Tracey has an eye for detail and can help you set things up properly and thoroughly right from the very start.  She has a knack for identifying what can go wrong – and will help you avoid those pitfalls.