What’s the problem you solve?

A contract, whether it is a multi-million pound construction project, a structural survey on a house you were buying, or the design of your porch, is there to solve a client’s problem.

Client’s don’t buy drills, they buy a tool to help them create holes. Client’s don’t buy porches, they buy a way to insulate their home, improve its ‘kerb appeal’ and store shoes. Client’s don’t buy surveys, they buy your knowledge to negotiate a better price and appreciate the risks of their house purchase.

Most contracts focus on describing an exchange – your client’s cash for your works, goods or services and expertise.

Meeting expectations

Your contract should not ignore the problem that your client seeks a solution to. Don’t rush headlong into offering your goods, works or services without checking that it is a good match for what she needs.

Your need to demonstrate you have understood what is different about your client, her project, her needs; don’t just focus on demonstrating your credibility to carry out that role. You need to establish what success looks like for your client, to manage her expectations, and to ensure her aims are aligned with your work/services. All of these build her trust in you and your expertise.

Adding this to your proposal or estimate is a powerful way of getting your client’s attention. It is as simple as saying:

Your expectations are <insert >. If our understanding of your project is wrong or incomplete, please let us know immediately.

Even those clients that appear to be insanely rich enough to want to spend money for the sake of it, have expectations that your project needs to meet.

A sad tale of riches

A millionaire businessman dreamed of the construction of an Arts and Craft style house to be called Maison D’Or in St Aubin, Jersey. It took 3 years to build at a cost of £4m and the client was so unhappy, he demolished it.  The court recorded the absence of ‘certain documents and procedures which are generally regarded as critical to a satisfactory outcome’ like contracts and a specification.

One of the features of this case is the absence of any written record of what Mr McGlinn wanted at the outset and, in particular, what standard of finish he required at Maison d’Or … a point he repeatedly made was that it had not been designed or built in accordance with the exceptionally high standards that he had asked for. This, inevitably, led to numerous disputes as to what precisely it was that he had required, given the absence of any written record or clear design brief.

Deficiencies in the contracts were the main reason things went wrong and why the project did not meet his high expectations.

What should you do?

Spend some time to work out why your client is buying from you and make sure your contract includes this aim. Otherwise you may both be barking at the moon!

See also chapters 4 and 11 of  ‘How to Write Simple and Effective Consultant Appointments in Just 500 Words’ (available from Amazon).

Case: McGlinn v Waltham Contractors Ltd [2007] EWHC 149 (TCC), paragraphs 39 and 160

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