I’m not entirely sure what happened. I’m usually pretty pernickety on contract details so I don’t know how it all got past me. Nevertheless, I am now the proud owner of an almost entirely redundant freephone business number, along with a phone and internet bill which will, over the next few years, take a nice hefty chunk out of my children’s university/travel the world/frivolous teenage purchase fund.
(This post is now in a handy PDF checklist. You can get your checklist here!)
It’s more than twice the price of our bill with our previous provider, the contract duration is twice as long, the connection process took half a century and was, it would appear, carried out by a three year old with a plastic spatula. But regardless of how apoplectic with rage I feel when I think of it (I hide it well, no?), I have to admit that my rage should more appropriately be directed at myself. I’m the one who signed the contract, I’m the one who didn’t read the small print (more like minuscule print). And we all know you should always read the small print.
This got me thinking about small print and contracts in general. About how a good contract can set your mind at ease on the details of a project, and ensure your project runs smoothly…and how a bad contract can actually see you lose money, if the terms and conditions aren’t well thought out and expressed. A few years ago I took the time to draft a contract with my solicitor. Ironically, I called it The Not So Small Print.
Shoot me, shoot me now. So for every project undertaken, the contract outlines the following terms – if you’d like your own PDF checklist of these terms, just click here to get your checklist!
The cost: Your proposal will have outlined the cost (sometimes there are various options, but more on that another time) but the contract should state the full contract value.
Payment terms: We offer a period for amendments immediately following each project, but I always want to make clear to clients the timeframe within which they must settle the invoice after this point. Also, how will they pay their invoice? Let them know at this point whether it’s bank transfer, Paypal, etc.
Payment schedule: Not all projects will complete within one month, so sometimes it’s necessary to create a payment schedule. It’s important to let clients know when to expect invoices and which period of time each invoice will cover.
Start date and expected completion: This is one item that’s vital to get right. We’ve all been there – the client contacts you for a quote on a Monday, you ask for some details and come up with a completion date of the following Monday. The client considers the proposal, talks to his boss, who talks to his boss, who…you get the idea. Before you know it, it’s 5:30pm on Friday evening and you get a one line email “Great news! The project’s been signed off! Here’s the brief – looking forward to receiving it on Monday!” Erm, wait – what?! That’s why it’s better to either add an item to this section in your contract along the lines of “The project will commence by the Monday following receipt of the signed contract.” or, instead of giving an actual day, talk in number of days, for example, “The project will take 5 working days from receipt of the signed contract.”
Quote validity: I recently had a prospective client email me with that very line I quote above “Great news!…” I searched through my archives and found they were referring to a quote I had provided in 2009….
Amendments to content: This is an item that not everyone is concerned about and I think it’s good to be flexible on it where possible, but with new clients it can pay off to set some ground rules in place, lest they change a 2 hour job into a 12 month marathon. Or vice versa. Needless to say, confirmation of the following are vital, so reiterate:
Project brief: For example, logo creation / website development / consultation session.
Turnaround or other unit of time: I’m not saying for a project that inclusion of this will mean the end of the “Have you finished yet?” “Are you nearly there yet?” emails, but it might delay them *hopeful voice* Nor will it stop clients trying to tack on other services or consultation calls to their allocation, but at least you’ll have it in writing.
I think of the items I listed above as the basic contract “small print”, and, seeing as I wanted to keep the contract as short and sweet as possible, these seem like the best issues to cover. Of course, there are some extra items that can be added to your contracts as and when you need them. For example, do you have a late payment charge? What’s your policy on weekend work or “next day delivery”? Do you require part payment in advance (perhaps for large projects or first clients)?
You’ll gather from my opening paragraph that page upon page of small print is not my idea of a good time and I have now learned, from bitter, expensive experience, the folly of my ways. Now more than ever I feel that contracts and the way they are written are crucial in protecting us as freelancers, but also the clients we work so hard for.
Don’t forget to get your checklist!
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