10 Essential Business Contracts for Startups and Small Businesses (with Templates)

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Date published: 16 Oct 2020
by DocPro Legal
Last Update: 18 Nov 2020

Why are Business Contracts Essential for a Small Company / Startup?


As a small business/start up you are always in a rush to grow your business. The entire focus is on bringing the vision to reality rather than building a strong legal base. As a result, you often neglect the importance of entering into business contracts. In fact, most start-ups rely simply on trust and verbal agreements when conducting business in their relationships with shareholders, partners, suppliers and customers.  However, not documenting such agreements and understandings properly can prove fatal to business and brand image in the event of a dispute/litigation.


What are the Essential Business Documents for a Small Company / Startup?


Most small business owners/ start-up founders are unaware of what contracts their businesses need to protect their relationship with other parties. We have identified below 10 essential business documents for start-ups and small businesses while starting out and conducting business operations:


  1. Shareholders Agreement 
  2. Investment Agreement 
  3. Confidentiality Agreement 
  4. Service Agreement
  5. Employment Contract and Offer Letter
  6. Contractor Agreement
  7. Memorandum of Understanding
  8. Joint Venture / Partnership Agreement
  9. Lease Agreement
  10. Privacy Policy


Where do I get these Essential Business Contract Templates?


It is crucial to have a central repository of the most common business contracts that a small business/start up will need to kick-start and run the business operation while protecting their business’s interest in any unforeseeable legal battles. However, most business owners do not know where to obtain these templates.


The most obvious way is to instruct a law firm to prepare business contract templates for you. This would easily cost tens of thousands of dollar and many start-ups and small businesses may not have the financial resources to do so. For businesses that would like to save on time and costs or without a legal budget, an alternative way is to create business documents through DocPro. This article lists out the links to the relevant business contract templates where you can tailor them to your need and download them in Word format.



10 Essential Business Contract Templates for Your Business


Are you running a small business/start-up without agreements? Here is a list of 10 business contracts templates you need to kick-start and run your small business/Start up:



1.         Shareholders Agreement 


What is a Shareholders Agreement?

If you are starting a business with another person then you need to put in place a Shareholder Agreement. It regulates the relationship between the company, its shareholders, and directors and governs how your business will be managed.



What to include in a Shareholder Agreement?

It is vital to draft a comprehensive Shareholder Agreement as it will be the go-to agreement in case of potential disagreement between the shareholders.


Here are some key provisions that your Shareholder Agreement must include:

  • Shareholder funding/contributions i.e. how much the shareholders have to contribute initially and in the future.
  • Whether the Shareholders own equal shares or unequal shares
  • Duties and Responsibilities of each shareholder
  • Procedure for issuing new shares/ rights to buy additional shares
  • Protections for Minority Shareholders
  • Dividend Policy
  • Accounting Policy
  • Exit strategy if a shareholder wants to exit or terminate its interest in the Company
  • Dispute Resolution Mechanism



Why is it important?

When starting a business with limited budget/resources, the co-founders often make the mistake of running the business without setting up a proper business structure. But as the business grows and starts to generate revenue, issues arise amongst the co-founders and can become a cause of business failure. Without a Shareholder Agreement, you will expose the business to huge risks and litigation costs, howsoever unforeseeable it may seem right now.



Shareholders Agreement Templates:

DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Shareholders Agreement - Equal Shareholdings

A Shareholders Agreement is suitable for the set up of a relatively simple joint venture - a company with equal shareholding. This agreement is drafted for 4 parties and can be in Neutral, Strict or Loose Form.   


DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Shareholders Agreement - Unequal Shareholdings

A Shareholders Agreement to be entered into upon completion or establishment of the Joint Venture Company with standard clauses for minority protection. This agreement is drafted for 4 parties and can be in Neutral Form, or favour of the Majority / Minority Shareholder.   


DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Parental Guarantee to other parties in relation to Shareholders Agreement

In relation to a Joint Venture / Shareholders Agreement, a guarantee is given by a party's parent to the other shareholders for the party's obligations.


2. Investment Agreement 


What is an Investment Agreement?

An Investment Agreement is a contract between the company and investors who would like to purchase shares of the company. The investor can be a new shareholder, an external investor or even an existing shareholder.


What does it include:


The Investment Agreement covers the following key provisions:

  • How much should the investor pay and how many shares is he/she entitled to?
  • After a transfer of shares, would the rights and obligations of shareholders remain?
  • How can the risk of investing in an unprofitable company be mitigated?
  • How can the owners of a company gain trust from the investors?


Read more at: https://docpro.com/blog/top-3-capital-raising-and-investment-agreements-for-startups-free-templates



Why is it important?

As your business develops, you will need funding to expand and grow in new areas. It is crucial that you enter into an Investment Agreement and outline the terms and conditions for the incoming investor such as restrictive covenants on selling/transferring of company shares, rights to purchase new shares etc. Since the investors will have ownership rights in your business, it is important to have a well drafted Investment Agreement to minimize the chance of any dispute.



Investment Agreement Template:

DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Investment Agreement – Single Investor

An investment agreement is a contract defining the terms of investment which a single investor invests in a company owned by managers/founders. The agreement is drafted in neutral form.


3. Non-Disclosure Agreement/ Confidentiality Agreement (“NDA”)


What is an NDA?

The NDA prevents any unauthorized disclosure of confidential information to a third party and restricts the use of disclosed information only for the purpose specified in the NDA. The obligations can be mutual or one-sided depending on whether the disclosure is only by you or by both the parties



What to include in the NDA?

A good NDA template must cover the following key provisions:

  • Identification of the parties as disclosing party/receiving party
  • What information is confidential information?
  • What information is not confidential information?
  • In what circumstances, can the confidential information be disclosed to a third party?
  • What is the intended use of confidential information?
  • How will the confidential information be handled? Whether it will be returned/destroyed?
  • Confidentiality obligations of the parties
  • Consequences of breach of the NDA and the remedies available to you
  • Term of NDA



Why is it important?  

At various stages of business with other parties, you will inevitably share information on intellectual property, private equity investments, business proposals, marketing strategies, customer lists, trade secrets. Since the said information is sensitive and crucial for the growth of your business, it is strongly recommended that you must require the other party to sign the NDA before sharing any confidential information. A signed NDA will provide you a protective framework to freely share confidential data and develop better business relationships with your clients.



NDA Templates:

DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Confidentiality / Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) for Business (Two way / Mutual) Neutral

This is a two-way Confidentiality/Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) for discussion of the business relationship with a mutual obligation of confidentiality. This is drafted in neutral form.

DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: NDA / Confidentiality Agreement for Business (One way / Unilateral) Discloser / Provider

One way Non Disclosure agreement for discussion of business relationship. It imposes a unilateral obligation of confidentiality on the party who receives the information. This is drafted in favour of the Discloser.

In case you are not sure of which version you may need, refer our quick reference guide: https://docpro.com/cat40/general-business/nda-confidentiality-agreement



4. Service Agreement


What is a Service Agreement?

A Service Agreement is an agreement under which one party agrees to provide services to the other party for a remuneration.



What to include in the Service Agreement?

A Service Agreement must include:

  • Scope of Services to set in stone the expectation of the parties
  • Fees
  • Payment Terms (including late payment fees)
  • Refund Policy
  • Responsibilities of both parties
  • Limitation of Liability in case of the third party claim
  • Term of the Agreement
  • Rights of the parties to terminate the Agreement
  • Dispute Resolution Mechanism



Why is it important?

If you are in the business of providing a service, then you need to execute a service agreement to define the terms of your relationship with the clients so you both are on the same page and avoid any potential misunderstandings. It also helps you in defining your responsibilities as a service provider and limits your liability in the event of third party claim.


Also, as the business expands, consistent use of Service Agreement with the clients will make the contract management process more effective for you.



Service Agreement Templates:

DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Service Agreement – Long Term Neutral

A Service Provider providing various services in relation to Customer on a regular, long term basis. Both parties intend for the services to continue indefinitely. This agreement is drafted in Neutral Form.

DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Service Agreement – Long Term Provider

A Service Provider providing various services in relation to Customer on a regular, continuous or long term basis. Both parties intend for the services to continue indefinitely. This agreement is drafted in favour of the Service Provider.


5. Employment Contract


What is an Employment Contract?

The employment contract is a legally binding agreement between an employer and employee to outline the terms of employment.



What to include in the Employment Contract?

It includes the following key provisions:

  • Particulars of the Job (Job Position, department of work)
  • Remuneration and benefits
  • Working Hours
  • Probation Period
  • Reporting Management
  • Leave Structure
  • Non-Compete Clause (restricting your employee to work for your competitors)
  • Confidentiality Provisions
  • Notice Period
  • Dispute Resolution Mechanism



Why is it important?

The Employment contract is beneficial to both employer and employee as both will clearly understand the scope of employment which minimizes the chance of a dispute. The employee is aware of what will be expected from in terms of performance standards or any unacceptable behaviours at work. If the roles involve handling sensitive information, the confidentiality clause in the contract will ensure the employee will not disclose any confidential information to others.



Employment Agreement Templates:

DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Employment Agreement for Junior/Mid Level Staff (simple form)
Employment Agreement between the employer and junior/mid-level employee highlighting employment terms, benefits and restrictions. This is drafted in favour of the employer.

DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Employment Agreement (Junior Employee with Share Options)

Employment Agreement between Company and Junior Employee with option for Junior Employee to purchase share options. This is drafted in Neutral form.

6. Independent Contractor Agreement


What is an Independent Contractor Agreement?

The independent contractor agreement is a written agreement that establishes the business arrangement between you and the contractor.



What does it include?

An Independent Contractor Agreement must include:

  • Scope of work
  • Project Timeline
  • Payment Terms
  • What will be the role and responsibilities of both the parties
  • What will be your insurance obligations
  • Expressly spell out the independent contractor status (i.e. the contractor will not be deemed to be an employee/agent of your company at any time)



Why is it important?

The main purpose behind hiring independent contractors is to avoid the consequences of forming a legal relationship of employer and employee/agency/partnership with the other party.


You can hire independent contractors to execute certain projects at various stages of business. It is much easier to end the relationship/contract once the project is completed without being responsible for the benefits that employees are entitled to by law.



Independent Contractor Template:

DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Independent Contractor Agreement – Simple Job Customer

A freelance Independent Contractor Contract performing a simple job for Customer at an Agreed Price. This agreement is drafted in favour of the independent contractor.



7. Memorandum of Understanding/Letter of Intent (“MoU”)


What is a MoU?

A Memorandum of Understanding/Letter of Intent (“MoU”) is a non-binding agreement that records the intent of the parties to enter into a business transaction and is followed by a formal binding agreement between the parties.



What does it include:

MoU is a common document amongst small businesses and startups for business transactions such as joint ventures/sale of a business. It must include:

  • Description of the business transaction;
  • Any contingencies that must be met by either party
  • Restrictive Covenants (e.g. non-disclosure of confidential information);
  • Due Diligence
  • Explicitly states that the MoU is non-binding for both parties;
  • End date for the MoU



Why is it important?

MoU outlines the proposed business arrangement which will provide you complete clarity on what to expect from the business relationship. It will enable you to make an informed decision before you decide to enter into a formal binding agreement with the other party. Also, it expedites the transaction that would otherwise turn out to be a lengthy process involving negotiation and drafting of a complex agreement between the parties.



Memorandum of Understanding/Letter of Intent Template:

DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) - Joint Venture

A memorandum of understanding (MOU) in a joint venture situation. This represents the good faith intentions of the parties to proceed but is not legally binding. This document is drafted in favour of joint venture participants other than the leader.



8. Joint Venture / Partnership Agreement


What is a Joint Venture?

A joint venture is a business arrangement where two or more businesses collaborate with the purpose of pooling their resources on new business activity.



What does it include?

  • Nature of the joint venture i.e. describe each party’s contribution to the joint venture and what goals it plans to achieve
  • Revenue Percentage allocated to each party
  • Management Structure
  • Any Restrictive covenants (e.g. using brand name, trademarks, etc.
  • Dispute Resolution
  • Parties individual rights after the end of the agreement (e.g. any continuing liabilities, future income, IP rights)
  • Exit Strategy



Why do you need it?

As a small business/ Start-up, you aren’t equipped with all resources and expertise (such as funding, distribution services, technology, marketing expertise, etc.) needed to fuel your innovative business idea. In such a scenario, creating a joint venture by collaborating with other companies and combining their resources with yours to meet defined goals is a smart solution.


There are two ways of creating a Joint venture:

  • Via Separate entity wherein you collaborate with another party to achieve a goal but both of you continue to be separate entities. This created venture dissolves once the goals are met; or
  • Via partnership where you join hands with another business and both of you combine to form one entity i.e. both the parties become the co-owners of the joint venture.


Need more information on whether you should have a joint venture or partnership, check out our blog here: https://docpro.com/blog/joint-venture-partnership-and-llp-what-is-the-best-structure-for-co-operation-free-templates



Joint Venture Template:

DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Joint Venture Agreement

An unincorporated Joint Venture/Consortium Agreement with a Joint Venture leader and participants to provide service to a client in a particular jurisdiction. The association is for non-permanent services required for a specific project. This agreement is drafted for 4 parties and can be in Neutral Form, with full or no indemnity between participants. 

Partnership Agreement Template:

DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: General Partnership Agreement

A General Partnership established under local laws. It provides a basic Partnership framework only. This agreement is drafted for 4 parties and can be in Neutral, Strict or Loose Form. 



9. Lease Agreement


In the early stages, a small business/start-up usually commences work from a home office. However, as the business expands, they eventually need to lease commercial property or rent coworking/shared office space than a traditional office.



What do you need to consider in the lease agreement for commercial property?

If you decide to rent a commercial property, you will sign a lease agreement with the landlord. A lease agreement governs the use of the rented property for commercial purposes.


The important things to watch out for in a lease agreement are:

  • How much is the base rent and are there any additional charges for parking fees, utility, and insurance.
  • How much is the Security Deposit?
  • How long is the lease for?
  • What is your responsibility for major structural expenditures?
  • The types of improvements and upgrades you can make
  • How much notice do you need to give before terminating a lease?                                                             



What do you need to consider before renting a Coworking Space?

A coworking space is rented through a license to occupy i.e. it only gives you permission to use the property. It does not need a traditional lease agreement as in the case of renting a commercial property. It is more popular amongst small businesses and start ups for its lower rental prices and flexibility.



The important things to consider before renting a Coworking Space?

  • How much is the rent?
  • How long is the rental period?
  • What are the resources and services will be provided (such as WiFi, printer, locker, power back up, conference rooms, etc.)
  • Terms and conditions (strict/flexible, free trial)
  • Networking opportunities i.e. who are the other tenants of the coworking space.


Can’t wait to start renting a coworking space? Check out a full blog on 5 things to consider before renting a coworking space. Read more at: https://docpro.com/blog/5-things-to-consider-before-renting-a-coworking-space



Lease Agreement Template:

DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Lease – Commercial (Neutral)

Lease of commercial property with options on rent free period and early termination. A lease is generally over 3 years and in the form of a deed. This is drafted in neutral form


DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Licence to Occupy - Commercial / Shared Office Neutral

Licence giving the licensee the right to occupy the commercial property for a defined length of time. A licensee has only a personal interest and this interest can be revoked by the landowner at any time. This is a shared office arrangement drafted in neutral form.


10. Privacy Policy


What is a Privacy Policy?

A privacy policy is a guide on the collection and processing of personal identifiable information of a customer by the business. Personal identifiable information means the information that can be used to identify a particular person (such as name, e-mail address, phone number, address, etc.) (“Personal Data”).


If your business requires a customer to provide personal identifiable information, then you need to make Privacy Policy a part of your customer/client agreements and publish on your website.



What does a Privacy Policy Include?

A well-drafted Privacy Policy will equip your business with the best practices for protecting/handling Personal Data and limit any disputes on data privacy violations.


 A Privacy Policy must include the following key provisions:

  • Type of Personal Data collected;
  • Purpose of collecting Personal Data;
  • Procedure for data storage and security
  • Policies for deleting Personal Data
  • Customer’s right to its Personal Data (including the right to access and request update)
  • Terms of disclosure of Personal Data to third parties and cross-border data transfer, if applicable
  • Consent to collect information about customer’s IP addresses and Cookies.



What is GDPR and does it apply to your business?

General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) is a complex and strict privacy law drafted and passed by the European Union. As a business, you are responsible to comply with the GDPR if you are collecting or processing data related to people living in the European Union. Any non-compliance with the GDPR policy can result in heavy penalties.


If you deal in global markets and the GDPR policy applies to you, check out our complete guide to GDPR for small businesses: https://docpro.com/blog/a-guide-to-the-7-principles-of-gdpr-for-small-businesses-and-consumers



Privacy Policy Templates:

DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Internal Privacy Policy/ Personal Data Protection Policy
Template of an Internal Privacy Policy/ Personal Data Protection Policy for a company's internal use. The policy aims to protect the fundamental right of privacy and act as guidance for the employees to use the data they have collected

DOWNLOAD IN WORD OR PDF: Privacy Policy (With GDPR) for Website

or Mobile APP

Privacy Policy for Website or APP. Special wording has been inserted for European users under GDPR. User is deemed to have accepted them by using the service.



Please note that this is a general guide on the most common contracts a business will need. This does not constitute legal advice. As each business, may be different, you may want to speak to your local lawyer.



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DocPro Legal

DocPro Legal is a team of legal professionals with a passion for making quality documents and legal contract templates widely available to the public through cutting edge technology. Our lawyers are qualified in numerous common law jurisdictions including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, India, Singapore and Hong Kong. We have experience in major law firms and international banks with expertise in business, commercial, finance, banking, litigation, family, succession and company laws.

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