Jun 6, 2011 by Lindsay Gower
Talking with a colleague the other day, I was startled to learn that he does not write down the project details when he takes on a new client project. No written contract.
“Spell it out” is my advice, and I guarantee it will save you time, money and headaches.
I have written Agreements with all my customers to spell out at the least what I will do for them, how long it will take, and what it will cost.
My Agreements evolve out of my proposal to the client. Having discussed the essentials with a client, I put together a proposal using my calendar, my calculator, and my review of similar work I’ve done. I fine-tune the proposal by walking myself step-by-step through the project (which also helps me find questions, such as Who’s doing the research; them or me? or Am I delivering Word files, or also PDFs?). From that, I can calculate how many hours the work will take, which determines how much it will cost as well as when I can send it to my client for review.
I then submit the Proposal with my client, which might launch discussion and negotiation. In the end, we have our Agreement.
Types of Agreements
I’ve created written agreements from the virtually instant (5 minutes for me to compose followed by client’s immediate acceptance) to the seemingly unending (an eight page agreement that went through four iterations and six weeks of negotiation). But they boil down to two types:
As an email. Some of my agreements are as simple as an email outlining the specific work I will do (edit web content, prepare training guide, write article, whatever). I include that it will take x hours, include y drafts and revisions, and cost $xx/hour. I’ll also give the schedule: I’ll send them the first draft on [date], expect their feedback in X days, and send final version by [date]. My clients need only email me back an “OK, go ahead.” Everyone knows what’s expected (and, thus, what’s not expected), and I have the email thread to back it up.
As a Signed Document. I prepare a more formal Agreement for any job that is large, long, complex or all of the above. My formal Agreement is a separate document requiring both of our signatures. Consider formal written Agreements if you are working on something:
- Particularly complex, meaning you’re providing several types of services or an especial expertise.
- For which you require a deposit.
- For a company that has rules they “must” follow (which is usually true of large US firms or any firm based outside the US).
How Agreements Have Saved My Bacon
…and have they ever!
Check, please: At the end of a month, I invoiced to a client, who wrote back to say they’d pay me at the end of the project in six months. First, I fell out of my chair, then I grabbed the Agreement we’d both signed. There it was, in comforting, incontestable black and white: BRW will invoice monthly for work completed the previous month, to be paid within 30 days of invoice. Whew! (This was a large firm that had, probably, assumed that the project would follow their usual payment pattern. But they’d signed the Agreement.)
Saved before started: I sat down with a prospective client to review my Proposal for editing the content of her eight-page web site. She balked at my terms of three rounds of drafts. She wanted no limitations on drafts, so that she could have me change a sentence here, a sub-topic there. Updating text at the whim of her Muse is not my approach to Web content. (I believe you should know what your business is about and describe it clearly from the get-go.) We didn’t reach terms. Whew! again. My Proposal helped spare us from getting involved in what would have been a confusing, time-consuming and uncomfortable experience.
Outside of Scope: The dreaded scope creep! My rules, when a client asks for more than we agreed to, are:
- Always say Yes.
- Point out that the request is outside of scope.
- Provide the cost and timing to do the extra work.
True, sometimes I don’t charge for the request. It depends on how easy it is to do and how easy the client has been to work with. (I give all my clients top value for every dollar, but of course I know which ones are difficult and which are agreeable.) The point is, if you spell out the precise scope of the project, you can then justifiably decline to do work for which you haven’t set aside time or included in your price.