In: Business 101, Clients, Legal,
So based on yesterday’s post, where I was all like, HEY EMAILS ARE CONTRACTS, and you were like, HOLY SHIT, you’re probably wondering if you need to bother with a formal contract at all.
In fact, you’re probably thrilled at the idea of not having to bother with that formal legalese, because: (a) You don’t want your clients to think that you don’t trust them; (b) You’re not all serious and stuffy and you feel like sending a document like that makes you seem like a VERY INTIMIDATING PERSON; (c) You haven’t hired an attorney to draw you up a contract—soooooo this one’s kind of just slippin’ under the radar; or (d) It’s a pain in the ass to do the extra admin work. (Yes, yes it is.)
But, guess what, I’m here to ruin your day like always and tell you that, jesus mother of vodka, you should absolutely be sending your clients a real contract before you do business with them.
I’m not even saying this as a “would be nice” kind of thing: I’m saying this, like, if you don’t do this, you might as well slap a sign on your forehead that says you’re an amateur and PLEASE TAKE ADVANTAGE OF ME. (And maybe take my retirement savings, too, just in case.)
So here’s something that might make you feel a little bit more at ease: there are lots of things that actual contracts are designed to protect both parties from—note I said both parties, and not just you? For example, your clients probably want the assurance that whatever they tell you is going to remain confidential. They also probably want to know that, if you’re creating something for them, at some point the rights to the intellectual property you’ve created will, in fact, be transferred to them. They ALSO probably want to know what happens if, for example, they hate working with you and want a refund and need to part ways.
All of these things have to do with protecting your client’s interest—and nothing to do with you. And when you think about this way, instead of viewing an agreement as something that’s self-serving and awkward to send, it becomes A WHOLE LOT EASIER to send one guilt-free. Your clients are counting on you to know what you’re doing, and take care of them. By not sending over an agreement, you’re basically saying that you do business willy nilly and you don’t actually care if things aren’t in order.
So what should a contract contain?
That’s a little more than I can get into a blog post. 🙂 My standard service agreement contains twenty sections, and doesn’t include something else that’s called a “Statement of Work” that you append to the back. That said, if you’re interested in downloading the actual contracts I use in my business, you can grab this whiz bang kit.
But in the meantime, I wanted to give you some language that you can use when you *are* saddling up to the table and sending something over to your client. I’ve found that oftentimes, this is the hardest part for people! So here’s what I usually say:
Housekeeping Items Required for Kick Off
Loved our call this morning!
I’ll be sending over a couple of documents today that require your John Hancock in order to get started. We’ve got our standard client services agreement, a statement of work that accompanies that, and finally, your first invoice. (See? I told you this was going to be fun.)
The Master Client Service Agreement is fairly straightforward, and outlines what will happen in a variety of different what if scenarios, like should I get hit by a car mid-project, as well as when and how your intellectual property rights are released, and all sorts of other riveting information that outlines a number of what-if scenarios. The Statement of Work is a supplemental document, governed by the Master Agreement, that lays out the scope of this specific project and is also very handy in the event that we fall in love and you want to hire us again for more work—except next time, we won’t have to do all of this song and dance; we’ll just fill out a separate statement of work! Easy peasy. And finally, the invoice is fairly self-explanatory. 😉 As we discussed, 50% is due upon booking, so I’ll keep my eyes open for that.
Let me know if you have any questions about any of the above. Happy to walk you through it if you’d like!
Once signed off on all three, please do shoot me an email back to confirm.
Notice that instead of “contract,” I do tend to refer to it as an “agreement,” which tends to feel softer.
Furthermore, there seems to be a lot of conflation of proposals and contracts, but when fully fleshed out, I want to make it clear that these are two entirely separate documents. The contract shouldn’t be the first time a client is seeing a price tag—and with twenty sections in an agreement, like mine, you risk scaring away a potential client before they’ve even gotten on board.
More than that, though, the proposal should be a sales tool—not a legal document. This is when you have an opportunity, not just to repeat back to a client what they asked for, but to sell them what you believe they really need. I KNOW, SO MUCH ADMIN. But by only putting in just a few quick items about price and timeline into your proposal, you not only lose an important sales opportunity: you run the risk of not having a very robust agreement in place, which is a breeding ground for ugly later. (Want to learn how to write a killer proposal that sells? I've got a kit for that, too!)
The point of a contract is not to be a stickler, a dick, nor an over-precautious weirdo. The goal is to agree on as many what if scenarios as possible, so that way, if there’s ever any doubt about anything (which, as you know, happens often), you have a neutral document that you can both point to and say, “Oh, here, this is what we agreed to do if THIS happened, so this is what we’re going to do.” It takes the personal out of sometimes difficult scenarios and helps to guide your working relationship.
It’s not just about price tags and timelines. It’s about setting up an expectation of professionalism—and making sure that if anything goes wrong? You don’t have to referee your own fights.
Your contract will.