If your business is involved in some kind of a dispute, you’re not alone – and help is available.

Here are some of the most common disputes in small business, followed by what you can do about them.

Contractual disputes

A common example of a contractual dispute is when you may have paid upfront for services that you haven’t yet received, such as a website design. You might have spent a lot of time and effort chasing up your supplier – or your client – who hasn’t met the terms of their contract.

This type of dispute can often arise when two parties have different expectations about what the end result of a project should look like. Whether you are the supplier or the client, and whether it’s a simple task or complex project, it’s important to agree exactly what a contract covers before you start the project. Get everything in writing before the project begins, even if this means a bit of going backwards and forwards to have everything included clearly in the contract.

You may also want to consider matching progress payments to milestones in a contract if there is a lot of work to be carried out, or if it is going to take a long period of time to complete. This may avoid disputes arising at the completion of a contract and provide parties with a way to check in and resolve issues at an earlier stage.

Disputes about repairs and maintenance

A leaky roof, storm damage and vandalism – these are all common types of repairs and maintenance that can cause a dispute related to your commercial lease. Sometimes it’s not clear who is responsible for what.

Debt collection disputes

If you’re having trouble getting an invoice paid, it can lead to a dispute between you and your client or customer. This can be a common dispute if you supply goods or services without receiving upfront payment – perhaps if you work from home as a freelancer or solo entrepreneur.

Product, pricing or customer disputes

If you’re running a franchise, perhaps your franchisor has created an offer that means you’ll need to sell certain products at a loss. Or perhaps an unhappy customer wants a refund but you’re not sure who’s at fault.

How to handle a dispute

There are as many different types as business disputes as there are small business ideas. The good news is there are some simple ways to handle these disputes. If you’re faced with a dispute:

Stay calm

Take a breath, take a walk or take a moment to get your thoughts together as you work out how you can respond. Chances are, someone has been through the same kind of dispute before and there’s a process you can follow to sort things out.

Be professional

Regardless of your dispute, it’s generally not a good idea to use social media to vent your frustrations with the other party involved. As a business owner, it’s probably better to stay friendly and professional as you work through the issue, and keep in mind that you may need or want to work with the disputing party at some point in the future. .

Keep records

Keep a paper trail of any products, warranties, contracts, leases or correspondence.

Put your concerns in writing

Write to the other party in a friendly and professional manner to let them know your concerns. Outline the issue and specifically state what you would like them to do to resolve the issue.

Aim for a solution

Ultimately, finding a win-win solution is more important to your business overall than being able to prove you’re right about an issue.

You can find out more in our guide: How to manage a business dispute.

Help is available from the SBDC

Running a business can involve handling challenges you’ve never faced - and it’s worth getting guidance from small business experts when you need it.

If you need support, contact our free business advisory, who can provide initial advice and refer you to our dispute resolution service if you need more assistance. There is a range of business disputes we can help with and we can help in situations where you are having trouble communicating with the other party.

Dispute resolution
26 March 2024