Contracts and common sense

Contract blues?

We all love to have new customers, clients or whatever we like to call them. It is good to sign up someone new and begin what we hope will be a great relationship.

Of course we do have to “sign up” our new business in a certain way. Our client (as we will call her) needs to know what we are going to do for her, what the process is and preferably what we will charge. What we might miss if we are not careful is to make it clear what we are not going to do for the price agreed or for the period of the contract. If that sounds a bit odd, let me explain.

Suppose you ask a painter and decorator to give a quote for painting the outside of your house; whitewashing the walls and painting the woodwork. He will give a written quotation and will list out the work you have specified. If you accept that quotation you will not expect the painter to clear out the gutters or replace a roof tile. That wasn’t in the quotation. If you want that extra work done and your painter is capable and willing to do it, you know that will cost extra.

So if you ask someone to host your new website which hasn’t been built yet, you cannot expect the host provider to design and build it for you for the cost of hosting. If that business provides those services, and you want them, you will have to pay a lot more. It will be in your agreement, which should be a written one even if it comes together in the form of an exchange of emails. There should be no ambiguity.

I provide services which involve money matters. I send an agreement to each new client to sign. It says exactly what I (my business) will do for the client, specifies a time frame if appropriate, and generally states the fee I require, and when it is payable. The agreement also says what is not included but could be added on at extra cost if required. That way no one is in any doubt about what work will be done and when. Of course I aim to provide the very best service and that is implicit in the agreement, but the best service does not include “freebies” unless I decide to give them at my discretion. And if I do, I make it clear at the time that it is not part of the agreement.

Only too often I hear of fee disputes across all sorts of trades and professions where businesses and their customers have fallen out and the customer is disputing the bills. This is usually because either the agreement was not clear or it was a verbal contact. Sam Goldwyn was right.  If it ain’t written down…

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