Business Companion: advice on the unexpected

Sometimes running a business can feel like exploring uncharted territory. Snags and traps lie in wait for the unsuspecting, a bit like the unpopulated parts of old maps that bear the legend: 'Here be monsters'.

Whatever the nature of your business, and no matter what you sell or where you sell it from, Business Companion offers free, authoritative advice on a mind-boggling array of issues that business owners need to be aware of.

Some of the information may seem niche, and that's precisely the point. Businesses come in all shapes and sizes, just like the complications they face. Problems that can arise day-to-day often centre around issues that may seem unimportant or irrelevant until they loom up out of the depths and threaten to capsize everything.

If your business is involved in the sale of second-hand cars, for example, Business Companion lays out crucial information on how you can avoid unwittingly committing an offence. This involves common-sense procedures such as ensuring all of your staff have received the appropriate training. But it also runs through more technical matters regarding consumer rights as they specifically relate to the sale of motor vehicles.

Business Companion also offers guidance on the sale of goods that are subject to age restrictions, such as alcohol, tobacco, fireworks, knives and aerosols. Again, much of the information contained here is common knowledge - for example, it is illegal to sell alcohol to those under the age of 18.

What is perhaps less widely known though is that all businesses that do sell alcohol should maintain a 'refusals log' as part of recommended best-practice procedures, keeping track of any incidents in which underage customers do attempt to purchase alcohol but are turned away. If any mistakes are made by you or an employee, this can help demonstrate that your business has a track record of taking the law seriously.

When it comes to the sale of knives and other bladed items, there is a wide range of powerful legislation that determines retailers' responsibilities. This includes the basic rule that it is illegal to sell a knife to anyone under the age of 18. But Business Companion also lays out the specifics of exactly what kinds of knives are covered by the prohibition; it excludes those with a blade of less than 7.62 cm, for example.

Similarly, it highlights that, while sales of 'antique' knives are generally exempt from offensive weapons controls, it is always best to exercise care when describing such items, and points out that advice on such matters should always be sought from your local police.

Business Companion also contains a massive amount of important legal information for those involved in agriculture and the raising of livestock. This is a hugely complicated area, governing many parts of the production, distribution and retail process, many of which can often overlap. No matter what part of the food chain your business centres on though, it is essential that you are aware of the benefits that come from following best practice, and the strict penalties that can result from finding yourself on the wrong side of the law, even unwittingly.

Spending just 10 minutes on the Business Companion site is likely to highlight areas in which your business knowledge could do with a brush-up. No matter how informed or experienced you think you are, there is always room for improvement. And it is always better to be surprised by something you find out now - and to act accordingly - than to receive an unpleasant surprise down the line when a trading standards officer comes to visit.