Contracts? We Don’t Need No Stinking Contracts…


When I first started my empire…I didn’t use contracts.  “My email is the contract” I would foolishly claim (to no one).

Because I never cared much for “corporate” I wanted to try a different business model.  A model apparently, no one else uses… a business model that would eventually fail miserably.  Please, allow me to explain:

My big thing when talking with clients is to make them feel comfortable.  Help them understand that you’re easily accessible. I would tell clients, there’s no red tape, no lengthy, “login to submit trouble ticket” to deal with, none of that.  “Pay the fee and we’ll build you a website” was pretty much the deal.

But the main reason I never used contracts – it was just another hurdle to go through before getting the job.  You want to close that deal and get your 50% down payment.  Rent and payroll are due in a couple of days.  You don’t have time to wait for your client to print out, sign, scan and email back a signatured copy of a contract.  Let alone for them to read and scrutinize it.  That could take days!  You don’t have that kind of time. You’ll worry about the details later.  Right?!

Later eventually comes around and there you are, 20 hours over scope and no one to blame but yourself.  The client just said, “build us a gallery.”  But they didn’t mention anything about 200 pics, but nor did you.  So now you’re faced with the decison – do you bring it up to the client? You can.  But there’s no contract.  You can make them pay you an extra couple/few hundred bucks, but they’ll hate you for it and they certainly won’t trust you anymore.  They won’t trust you because you never told them when, what or where any extra charges would be.  So now you’re just past the midway point and both sides are already miserable.

So if that ever happens to you, where the client gives you a nice little surprise, you have to eat it.  Tie always goes to the runner.  They didn’t know to tell you about the ergregious amount of pics, because you didn’t ask or make it clear.  Of course there’s a line where you can tell the client extra charges will be incurred…but that can only be done AFTER you have already given them XX hours of free service.  You need to list everything you have done that you feel is outside the scope, and let them know from that point on they will be subject to your hourly rate of XX/hr.  But in the meantime, you’re making yourself sick wondering how to approach the client and how to broach the matter of extra fees.

All this could be avoided if you learn from my foolishness and set yourself up with a nice, simple contract. Clients want to know what they can expect.  And if your client is over 35, they’ll certainly understand the necessity of contracts and perhaps even question why you would work without one.  Waiting the extra day or two for a signed contract is nothing when compared to the headaches you’ll go through after spending weeks fixing or adding components that were never properly discussed or agreed upon.

Putting together a solid contract takes time.  Every error or oversight you encounter with a client, is one more item to add.  Just when you think you have all the items lined up, you soon find out that the client is using a 5 year old version of IE… so now you get to add a browser compatibility clause in your next contract!

So save yourself the years of costly oversights HERE is a good place to start putting one together.

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