Why You Need a Contract

If you are operating on any sort of consultant basis, meaning you’re providing your client with information or training based on your knowledge & experience, you should have a contract for ALL of the services you provide. This may seem obvious, but more often than not companies launch into projects, especially smaller ones, with no signed contract and the best of intentions. Sometimes it all works out, but too often working without a contract can lead to misunderstandings and bad blood when the work is complete. A solid contract should include the following information:

1. Exactly what you are being contracted to do, and if necessary, what you ARE NOT being contracted to do for the client.
2. Who the actors in the work will be: what employees from the client’s office and who is the point man from your company.
3. Timeline: How long (sometimes these dates are approximate) will the contract take?
4. What you need from the client: We’ve all been there – waiting on the client for information in order to proceed.
5. Cost: What you get paid. If there’s a flat rate it is essential that you provide precise detail as to what is included, and an hourly or additional rate for any work above and beyond the flat rate prices.

At the end of the day you owe it to yourself AND to your client to provide a detailed, comprehensive contract that helps to manage expectations and communicate what will take place as you embark upon new project. Your client will have a clear understanding as to what is expected of THEM, what you will do, and when it will happen. You won’t work for free or have to do additional work if your client isn’t keeping to the timeline laid out in the contract. Projects will run, and most importantly END more smoothly with more satisfaction for both parties if a solid, detailed contract is developed before it begins.

Walking the Fine Line Between Great Customer Service & Working for Free

Last week I attended a NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) panel discussion on the difference between great customer service and working for free; there is that fine line that almost all of us have to face with our customers. The trick is to ensure that you don’t harm your relationship with a client but still make sure you are getting paid for your services – often a huge issue for small start ups.

What our panel shared from their past experiences, both bad and good, can be summed up as:

1. Always spell out ALL of your services as specifically as possible in your contract.
2. ALWAYS HAVE A CONTRACT.
3. Make sure that you have an hourly or some other rate for work above and beyond the contract – this ensures that the client understands the job is not open ended.
4. If the client has no idea what they want, you’d better have a contract that is crystal clear about how much work you’ll do for an exact dollar amount; if ‘redesigns’ or ‘rewrites’ are necessary, charges will be incurred.
5. Be prepared, especially on design or intellectual projects such as copywriting, where ‘success’ is subjective, to have THE discussion when the client keeps asking for more.

What is clear is that Communication is key, and any essential guidelines must be laid out in the contract. Being prepared to have a difficult conversation as soon as a client steps over the line is as necessary as breathing; eventually this gets easier, but it’s a slippery slope toward making no money and having a disagreement with your client if you don’t both set out your expectations clearly from the beginning.

At the end of the day getting paid what your worth is something you must think through, understand, and be able to communicate. You’ll find that your job, and life in general, are much more pleasant when you do.