A lot of times that term ‘contract’ can send chills down people’s spines. When we think about a contract we think of confusing legalese and courtroom showdowns, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
It’s a natural part of doing business and it is somewhat surprising how many stories I hear from clients about how they paid for work that was never completed or they didn’t have a solid agreement in place. Having a written agreement in place is absolutely imperative, and it’s not all that difficult either.
A little backstory about why I was thinking about this topic recently…
A friend of mine is working with a new startup company – they’re in ‘stealth mode’ still, so shhh, I can’t really talk about it. I did some work for them to help out before they launch later in the fall, and recently went back to discuss my work and some future projects.
While I was there my friend mentioned that another person they were working with had said he was ‘burned’ by a WordPress developer – and subsequently by someone else in a similar field as well.
I asked what ‘burned’ actually meant. Was the quality of his work poor? Did he ask for more than the project was worth? What happened exactly?
Well, apparently ‘burned’ meant that this individual paid someone a nice sum of money and didn’t get anything in return. No WordPress website, no nothing.
This got me thinking…how can this happen? How does someone pay money upfront without something in place to protect their investment?
Sadly, this is an all too common occurrence. I actually have experience in this from the opposite side of the spectrum. I once did some logo design work for a potential client and was never paid for the work. Silly me I actually sent them the logos to look at before they paid me, and they actually used them without providing me any compensation. They still do.
Now, I learned a valuable lesson from this. Always have a contract in place. Even if it’s just a few sentences or a statement that says you’ll receive or pay a certain amount of money for a certain amount of work. I didn’t in this case, and even though based on communications I had with this person I could have taken legal action – and probably won – it wasn’t worth the amount of time and money I would spend versus the amount the project was worth.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that other projects aren’t worth that time or effort. Taking some time to put together, at minimum, a Statement of Work or an actual contract that is signed and agreed upon by both parties will save a lot of headaches or heartaches down the road.
In reality, most parties are looking for amicable relationships. You do the work, we pay a sum – or vice versa.
Every time I do work for a client I make sure of two things:
1. They know exactly what they are getting, what their expectations are, and what my expectations are.
2. How much the project will cost and the terms of payment.
In the contracts that I use (you can find some resources below) I put in several different clauses pertaining to project scope, indemnity, cost, timelines, and the like. I try to be as transparent as possible. You see, this helps everyone know exactly what is expected and leaves no doubt about what is to be done and when.
Things don’t always go according to plan and unfortunately not everyone is trustworthy. It’s absolutely imperative that you protect your interests no matter whether you’re the client or the contractor. The simplest way to do that is with a contract or agreement.
It baffles me how many transactions are done based on a handshake or the ‘honor system’. People want to believe that they can inherently trust others but that’s unfortunately not the case – and as uncomfortable as it may seem bringing up an agreement (hey, it’s not a prenup!) it’s worth it in the end. Now, this isn’t to say you should inherently distrust anyone, but you should always, ALWAYS come to some form of written agreement when exchanging money for services rendered, no questions asked. If you propose work to a potential client and they don’t want to sign an agreement don’t do the work.
Here are some tips on performing contract work:
- Always have a contract in place
- If you’re unsure about the client’s willingness, ask for a good faith sum up-front, 25%-50% is a good starting point
- Always create clear expectations and don’t promise anything you cannot deliver on. Hold the client to the same standard.
- If you’re fair and honest with your clients and do solid work, they will refer you to others. I promise you they will.
- It’s ok to say ‘No’ or ‘That’s not in the scope’. Some clients will try to take advantage of your time or will ask for things later that aren’t in the original scope. It’s ok to say that these types of things will cost extra – and you can even say something to this effect in the original contract.
- You don’t have to take every project that comes your way. If a project isn’t a good fit or you are going to have a tough time fitting it in and giving it proper attention it’s ok to let one go. Make friends with other people in your industry to refer people to if you can’t do the project, they will return the favor.
Here are some resources on how to create a contract for website design work or other contracting work. Remember, these are mostly boilerplates – meaning templates – so edit them as you need. You can even use pieces from different ones to create a contract that fits your needs.
This is one of the most well known contract boilerplates out there today. It’s a bit ‘cheeky’ if you will, and less formal than a traditional contract. It gets the job down, however, and can be edited to your liking.
This one is a little more standard as far as legal language and format. If you prefer something that is more formal this is the way to go. Again, it’s designed to be edited to your needs.
This is more of a list of different legal items that you could need when doing work for a client including licensing, SOW’s, etc. This is a good starting place if, well, you don’t know where to start.
Interestingly enough their number one rule is: always have a contract in place!.