YOU'VE put it off for too long, but now, full of new year resolve, at last you're going to do it. You're going to buy a business. Or sell it. Or expand.

And why not? After all, it can be a complex business and takes resolve, but there is never a better time for new beginnings powered by enthusiasm for the year to come.

For example, one business goal could be to grow your venture by acquiring a similar company by way of a "bolt-on" to your own.

Yule-powered enthusiasm is great, but for heaven's sake don't go running across the minefield. Prepare yourself by taking expert advice.

To get your investment on the correct footing, you have to be perfectly clear about exactly what it is that you are buying or selling.

At the same time you have to protect your investment, or the proceeds of your sale, against unexpected liabilities. The last thing you want is to be lumbered with unexpected debts or to purchase what you think is goodwill but turns out to be bad blood!

So once you have made that decision either to buy or sell a business, when is the right stage to seek legal advice?

The answer is simple - as early in the process as possible so that you can be advised on every aspect and make informed decisions from the outset.

Remember, prevention is better than cure and when money and livelihoods are at stake, decisions should not be taken lightly - even though friends or relatives have put in their twopenny worth of so called experience and expertise.

After all, there is a lot more than life's logic involved here.

Are you sure that your sage old uncle really knows about how to put in place or approve a form of confidentiality agreement?

Does he really know all the legal wrinkles of heads of agreement or letters of intent? Or the process of due diligence? Or the preparation of acquisition agreements and tax deeds?

No, it takes experts to steer you through these, as well as setting up funding structures, appropriate investigations, searches and the raising of inquiries.

And you will need carefully to draft up an acquisition agreement and a tax deal to guard you against any kind of legal action. Ultimately, you will need to negotiate the documentation to bring the deal to a conclusion.

Good business takes good planning and that means good advice. It is exhilarating all right, but be prepared for huge stress which is fully justified, because however enthusiastic you are, it is risky.

With such knowledge what forgiveness if you began a professional venture like an amateur- and gave yourself an unwelcome present of a disastrous new year.

  • Neil is a partner of Crombie Wilkinson, York.