Part 1 of a 2-Part Series on Contracts Read Part 2 – “When your contract goes off track” Here
In the excitement of the moment you land new work, it’s tempting to bypass formality and not bother with a contract. Your client may even suggest there’s no need; that your promise or handshake is good enough. Nope. Set yourself up – and your client – for a successful professional working relationship by insisting on a written contract.
And here’s why: As Samuel Goldwyn once said, “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”
The idea of a handshake deal seems great but setting down clear written parameters in advance protects you from issues after you start providing services to your new client. Although it may feel awkward to implement, once both parties sign your contract, it’s considered a legal document that holds weight in a disagreement. It helps manage expectations, guides all your interactions, and protects you if things don’t go as planned. And because it’s a binding document, ensure the person signing on behalf of your client is a company officer with authority to do so.
There are many templates and sample contracts online. Your client may already have a preferred template, which can be a good start, but don’t hesitate to suggest edits to personalize your agreement. Templates are just a generic starting point, and it’s wise to ask for the removal of redundant sections and to add specifics as needed.
Here are our five tips to make sure your contract serves you well.
1. Deliverables – Be clear on what you’ll be doing
Stay clear of vague descriptions! A contract that reads “responsible for writing blog posts” isn’t quantifiable, and you may do much more than you initially anticipated. Don’t forget to include any due dates for information or communication you need from your client to fulfill your obligations to them – deliverables work both ways. A clear description of the scope of the services you’ll provide helps avoid contract creep. That’s when your client asks for a favour or assigns a small one-time-only task which ends up as an ongoing expectation – all covered by the initial vague umbrella phrase. Describe all deliverables in detail and be specific about quality and quantity. For example:
- The Contractor will deliver one original 500 words blog entry on a topic designed to assist entrepreneurs in growing their practical business knowledge. All posts will reflect the values of the Client organization and be well-written, reflecting excellent grammar and spelling.
- To achieve this, the Contractor will research and suggest possible topics to the Client for consideration. The Contractor will forward a well-written draft for approval three business days before the 15th of each month to the primary Client contact; edit if required based on Client input and remit the final version on the 15th day. If no Client input is received before the 15th, the Contractor can consider the blog post approved.
- The Client remains responsible for uploading each post to the company website and monitoring and responding to comments*. Any feedback on Contractor posts will be passed onto the Contractor by the Client for consideration.
- The Contractor will create social media content for one weekly post to be published on three chosen platforms on staggered days within that same week.
- To achieve this, the Contractor will confer with the Client, research and develop topics, arrange relevant graphics when needed, and obtain approval on subject matter. The Contractor will set up posts for automatic online publishing using an appropriate app across the three chosen platforms. The Contractor will issue a schedule at least three days before the first scheduled post. The Contractor will edit posts as necessary, based on client input received at least 24 hours before publishing is scheduled. If no feedback is received, the Contractor can consider the post approved.
- The Client is responsible for monitoring social media accounts and responding to comments. The Client will provide the Contractor with their logo and other preferred graphics in a format acceptable for social media use. The Client is also responsible for posting any other social media content they decide to add**.
- The Contractor can provide additional services on an occasional basis as follows: Tasks not outlined above must be discussed and mutually agreed upon by both parties in advance and are subject to the fee structure outlined in this contract. Additional services may include report writing, editing communications, attending planning meetings, creating web content, etc.
2. Timelines – Be clear on when you’ll be doing it
Indicate the duration of the contract. For example: From August 1st, 2022, until July 31st, 2023, with an option to renew with 60 days’ notice. Always insist on a contract renewal when the time comes. If the terms stay the same, it’s a simple process. Renewing also provides a formal opportunity to discuss price increases, review successes, incorporate new services, or delete others.
3. Add an out clause
Circumstances change, so protect yourself with a clause that enables you or your client to end the contract. Example: Either party may dissolve this contract with 30 days written notice with no reason required. Immediate dissolution may be activated if mutually agreed upon in writing.
4. Who’s who at the zoo
Know who is in charge and establish one point of contact with your client with one backup person. Although the client may want several people to view your blog posts before approving them, strive for them to do that internally and come to a consensus without you having to juggle multiple opinions and input. This prevents you from getting dragged into company politics and bogging down your workday by reviewing multiple opinions. List the person (or title) of whoever will be your primary contact and send all communications to them.
5. Payment expectations
Payment terms can take many forms, but one thing’s certain – it isn’t enough to state your rate for services. Be clear on your payment expectations and stick to them. For example, All payments are due by etransfer within 35 days of the Contractor’s emailed invoice date. Any payment received past this day incurs a 15% per month penalty. No further services can be provided while outstanding fees or penalties are due.
Ensure your invoice provides precise detail on services performed. A general “for services rendered” does not give you or the client enough helpful information for future reference. A better approach:
August 16th, 2022: delivery of 523 words blog post “The three biggest mistakes new entrepreneurs make.”
If you charge to attend meetings initiated by your client, whether virtual or in-person, list the dates, duration, and cost for attending those meetings. Routine communications concerning your services tend to be included in your overall pricing – this comment relates more to in-depth consultations or excessive strains on your time. Remember, you are not an employee and are therefore not required to attend staff meetings or client planning sessions, for example, without being compensated.
Bonus tip: If you are new to contracts, it’s well worth having your lawyer or seasoned professional review your draft contract. Chances are they have a story or two on what can go wrong if you’ve missed a vital detail. Use their experience! Any money you spend up-front will be a lot less than the cost of litigation in the future.
Next time: You think you have a solid contract in place. Yet you’re spending twice the amount of time on one client than any other. What are the signs things are going sideways? Hint: scope creep, not getting what you need from your client by deadlines, constant rescheduling, unreasonable expectations, and more.
Read the next post in our series, where we share practical tactics to turn the relationship around or end your contract. Continue Reading: Part 2 – “When your contract goes off track”
(* and **) These examples detail processes involved over and above your primary services. Your client may prefer that you perform these functions. If so, adjust the contract to list these specific details as billable items.