When writing your contract, you may be tempted to see it as a form of safety-net.
This means your contract will inevitably focus on what will happen when things go wrong. Is this really a good start to a client relationship? How do you think it makes your client feel?
A good analogy is you slapping down a long pre-nuptial agreement with someone you really like on your first date. Pre-nuptial agreements rarely tell you how you will get along swimmingly, just who gets the dog when you break up!
Your contract does need terms to help you resolve troubles that commonly arise when you are working with someone, especially for the first time. But that is just one small part of what your contract is above.
Your contract should also consider what you are providing (scope), your objectives in working with the other person (aims or outcome), and any significant risks (eg not getting paid). My blog on the STAR contract review explains how these four items should fit together.
My book coach (Robert) says he views his agreement with me is as simple as ‘good quality work, a good relationship with two-way communication and a joint outcome.’ That’s a great start for any contract! This statement focuses on why we have both got involved with the book project (see Answer Your Why).
But how you do you turn that reason into a contract? Robert’s contract (a gem at just 25 words) is:
If at any point in our relationship you don’t think my input has value, then we’ll just walk away and I won’t invoice at all.
Robert gives two reasons for this approach:
- He wants to be his own safety-net, not rely his contract. He said: ‘What I like about that is that it puts pressure on me to operate at a high standard, and I really never want to get into a mess extracting money from an unhappy client.’ That’s what I say to my clients – your contracts, your T&C, your small print cannot prevent disputes. The only way to do that is to do a high-quality professional job that the clients wants.
- He recognises that a 25-word contract is ‘fragile’. By this he means that action is needed at the first signs of any cracks. That’s also a mirror of what I tell clients who want longer contracts – your contract is based on trust and when that fades or is damaged, the LAST thing you should be doing is digging into your T&C for an answer. You need to start talking instead (see Talk Talk hacking).
Not many companies understand trust, value and clients enough to have such a simple contract. Do you?