So, you’re a sole trader. Your business or business idea is very simple – you may not even have got around to advertising your services, or taking it online. You probably think that you don’t have any trade secrets, and consequently you don’t really think about protecting them. But this could be a big mistake.
Every business, no matter how big or small and regardless of what stage of development it is at, has trade secrets of one kind or another. Recipes, plans, formulas, ideas…
And every business of any merit has competitors.
Competitors come in many shapes and forms. They could be another freelancer whom you work with, waiting in the wings to steal your core customer base. They could be a dissatisfied employee about to leave your company and start up a rival venture. They could even be a client, seeing a service that you provide as an enhancement to their own business model, and who may plunder your intellectual property in order to expand and push you out of the market.
What can you do about it?
Firstly, let’s examine what a ‘trade secret’ might be. A simple definition is anything that is unique and valuable to your business and not known outside of it. Something that your competitors wouldn’t normally be able to get hold of unless they were using improper means. Accessing your email, for example. Reading documents out of your company filing cabinets. Bribing indiscrete employees.
So, how can you protect yourself?
Well, clearly different levels of protection are available to companies according to their size, type and financial status. However, there are a couple of things that even the smallest of organisations can do to protect themselves.
Restrict physical access to trade secrets: keep confidential documents and sensitive financial information under lock and key and limit access to the key.
Email is just as important – be careful about who can view emails containing anything that might be of interest to a competitor. Ideas, concepts, recipes, roadmaps, blueprints and much more…
Ask close collaborators/mentors/advisors to sign a confidentiality agreement.
Shred or burn confidential information that you want to dispose of.
Wipe computer hard drives – don’t just delete sensitive material.
Last, but not least, be consistent in your approach to minimise the risk of losing unique assets because they are either too easy to poach or have been leaked indiscreetly.
The same could be said for key personnel – but I shall have to leave my deliberations on that subject that to another article, I think!