Writing Terms of Service saves your business a lot of hard-earned money in the long run. If your customers and business associates know the lay of the land, it's a lot harder for anyone to go back on their word.

Read Other People's Terms of Service

The easiest place to start is using what already exists. Don't breach copyright by using someone else's Terms of Service to the letter, but you can certainly draw on it for inspiration.

Keep in mind that these documents aren't a universal fit. Every business has different needs that shape their Terms of Service.

That said, if you have no clue where to start, reading someone else's words is a great place to figure out the basics you need to include in your own Terms of Service.

If you can't find someone else's Terms of Service, don't get discouraged. They're sometimes called by different names, including:

  • Terms and Conditions
  • Terms of Supply
  • Terms of Trade

Open up Google and see what you can find by typing in a different search query.

List What Your Business Does

Once you have an idea of what Terms of Service should include, write down a list of what your business does. Specifically, write a comprehensive list of the goods and services you provide your customers, as well as your current terms of service. This will act as your drawing board and roadmap.

List Everything That Could Go Wrong

Next comes the part that isn't quite as fun: list everything that could possibly go wrong for your business when dealing with a customer. Picture your worst-case scenario and get creative about it.

Lost an order? Customer says their item never arrived? Accidentally charged the wrong amount? Write it all down. This is the other half of your Terms of Service roadmap.

Write Your Terms of Service

Now that you know what Terms of Service include and you know what scenarios you need to prepare for, it's time to take the plunge and write your own.

Among other things, a good policy generally includes:

  • Any goods or services you sell, clearly defined
  • Definitions for any words your customers may not understand
  • Specific payment terms, including what will happen if customers pay late
  • Your refund policy, or an explanation of your lack of refund policy
  • What your business is responsible for
  • What your business is not responsible for
  • Any guarantees your business offers to customers
  • Timetables for delivery
  • How you deal with complaints
  • What happens if a dispute flares up
  • A reference to your privacy policy
  • A disclaimer about the information on your website
  • A limited liability clause
  • Any minimum or maximum terms for contracts
  • How a contract is canceled
  • How much notice is required to cancel a contract
  • Any relevant laws covering those contracts
  • Intellectual property ownership

You should also make it clear to customers that they are agreeing to your Terms of Service by using your website, and that the Terms of Service can be changed at any time as you see fit.

Review

Your customers (in theory, at least) are going to read your Terms of Service. Because of this, if you want them to actually take the time to read it, it should be as easy to read as possible.

This means that the size and font should be large enough to read with ease (i.e. not hiding things in the fine print), and it should be broken up with headers. You should also try to eliminate complex legalese wherever possible.

If you're not sure where to start, check out these five tips for a successful Terms of Service. Read your writing as though you're a customer. If it reads easily, you're ready for the next step.

Get a Lawyer to Review

Finally, before you release your Terms and Conditions into the wild, you need a good contract lawyer to review it.

Think of it this way: if you get your lawyer involved now, it's less likely you'll need to get your lawyer involved later when you've already done something wrong. At a minimum, you should get a contracts lawyer to write a limited liability clause for you.

If you need help with writing terms of service, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.