So you know how you get that client and literally feels like you’re prancing through a field of daffodils that have been sprayed with CK One from the year 1998? (This might sound horrifying unless you wore CK One in 1998 like every other millennial who was alive in 1998, in which case you will immediately be transported back to the time in your life when YOU STILL HAD ABS AND DREAMS.)
The client is in . to . you. and now comes time for the fun part: pay your fucking bill, Barb! Except, just kidding, because first Barb has got to sign your agreement. The agreement that you are so proud to have, now that you’re a legit creator out there making legit adult-y moves!
That’s when it all comes crumbling down around you.
That’s when Barb, who is probably a lawyer or a NASCAR driver from Tennessee, rears her head for the very first time and says: “This all seems like a lot. I don’t feel comfortable signing that.” *pinches nose* And suddenly the music stops, the daffodils shrivel, and you are left there in the middle of a desert wasteland wondering what….the hell….to say….next.
This came up the other day when I was speaking to a group of burgeoning (is that word cool or do we hate it?) copywriters, because occasionally you will get a client who pushes back on your agreement and makes a whole weird thing about it. And suddenly you’re going to doubt yourself and the horse you rode in on, and feel ashamed / nervous / silly for having actually had your shit together.
So, first thing’s first, my ride-or-die dumpling: it’s not you, it’s the client.
This client is, most of the time, a RED FLAG. ??? Three red flags, in fact! And you may do better to spray them with your CK One and run screaming.
Here’s how you can tell if their pushback is appropriate or not:
An inappropriate response to your standard client agreement if there are doubts:
“This is way too complex. I don’t understand why we need to sign all of this. What is this, a contract so you can inherit my future fortunes on my death bed?! How about my tampons, did you want to take those from me, too? WELL, I SAY POPPYCOCK TO YOU AND YOUR MAUSOLEUM OF DOCUMENTS—I BID YOU GOOD DAY!”
An appropriate response to your standard client agreement if there are doubts:
“Happy to execute—can you just walk me through the thinking behind paragraph 3.2 and 6.8 so I can make sure I know what I’m signing? I’ve heard this is a good practice. ?”
As you can see, the latter is a much more professional and appropriate client response if there are any doubts about anything you’ve asked them to sign. And, that’s okay! It’s perfectly normal to discuss an agreement. I redline every agreement that comes across my desk. (Publishers love it when I do that, ha.)
An agreement shouldn’t make your client defensive and weird: it should actually give them peace of mind. That’s what it’s there for: to protect the relationship. It’s not written to be some sort of manipulative stronghold. (Unless you really are a shadester—which you are NOT.)
Secondly, there are a couple of things I like to do to ensure that peace of mind and make sure this part of the onboarding process goes smoothly!
- When you send over your agreement, explain its purpose—specifically as it benefits the client.
I like to say something like this:
”Okay, first order of business: let’s go through our standard client agreement! This is a handy little document that serves to protect and guard your investment in the event of any unforeseen circumstances. For example, if I were to be suddenly hospitalized with COVID and couldn’t see the project through to the finish line, we would want to have a contingency in place for that, i.e. a refund or an alternative arrangement. In addition, we also need a written document in place that transfers all intellectual property I’m creating for you into your company’s name upon project completion. That last one’s important to protect your rights to the final work product, since I’m not an employee, but a contracted work-for-hire.”
See how this helps frame the agreement as the important document that it is actually really, really important for their interests? You’d better believe that they’ll be racing to sign your agreement when you mention that last part! And hint: the agreement should state that the intellectual property rights aren’t transferrable until final payment has been made in full. ?)
- In addition, I might also explain one or two other jargon-ey paragraphs they might not understand, to head off any confusion at the pass and create a friendly, collaborative environment.
For example, I might say:
”In addition, I’ll also go ahead and direct your attention to paragraph 3.2, which is just such a mouthful, I’ve found it helpful to explain in human terms!”
And then you can explain whatever it is you think might be confusing. And don’t hesitate to explain things that do also benefit you, like kill fees, which should be in place in case the client chooses to terminate the project mid-way through. Essentially, you’re giving them an out if they need it, for any reason, and that you’ll be compensated X for your time invested in the project to date. This isn’t weird, this is professional. And good clients not only accept it, but they expect it.
While you don’t want to turn this into a giant, long-winded explanation that IS going to make things seem unnecessarily complex, it’s absolutely super helpful to take a client’s hand and guide them along the way, show confidence and poise in your work and your process, and introduce a collaborative, helpful spirit to the project—which goes a long way no matter what. ?
I guarantee that if you start including helpful language like this when you send over your agreements, you’ll not only receive less pushback, but you’ll also get more respect. And that’s one of the most important ingredients in any client relationship.
BY THE WAY, if you need help with all of this—including taking a peek at what a solid agreement should look like? My Freelancing Course for Writers is available riiiiiight now! ✨
(It’s through my creative writing company, Meat & Hair—hence the fun skeleton branding…hahahahaha!)
Definitely grab it if you’re considering a career in writing and want to make big, sexy money writing fun things you love instead of writing for stale peanuts for some man named Bob who wants you to write content about the mating habits of squirrel monkeys.
HOORAY FOR US.
See you again on Friday for another “Middle Finger Friday,” where we’re taking a look at one creator who’s doing something really, really well online…and seeing how we can help them do it even better—and hit the $250K mark this year in business! ?
With giant fatty forearm hugs,