The start of a new working relationship is a lot like the start of a new romantic relationship. It’s all kisses and roses. The work is rewarding, the client is lovely, the meetings are productive and meaningful. It’s your professional honeymoon period, and it’s fantastic.
But just like that initial, intense passion tends to fizzle down to a calmer level with your partner, your working relationships are rarely amazing all the time.
It can happen after a week, a month, a year. But it does tend to happen. And when it does – at least in my experience – it tends to fizzle down real quick. It can be over a deliverable. Over a meeting that didn’t go well. Or a payment that was late.
That incredibly fascinating project description you first fell in love with turns into another thing on your weekly to-do. You get into flow – and you get on with it. Your office romance (pun intended) turns into a standard client-business relationship. It’s both absolutely fine and absolutely natural.
This is also the point at which having a good, clear and official contract comes in real handy.
I used to skip the contracts. Code of honour between businesses and all that. Sometimes it works great. The client understands and appreciates your value, you both abide by that first romance-laden agreement, and while things certainly cool down, they’re by no means unpleasant or unmanageable.
Other times, it doesn’t work at all. Worst case scenario, you don’t get paid for your work or fall out with a client that could have been a good reference. Or at least part of your network for the future.
The thing about a contract or a formal agreement is that it doesn’t just work as a mutual form of protection. It also forces both the client and the service provider to figure out exactly what the collaboration entails.
Many contractors – especially in creative fields – find this scary. It means they have to say their prices out loud, be clear on how much time different work tasks take, or argue their position as an expert. So it’s easy to leave it to the romance, and assume that everything will be fine – and remain fine – for as long as you both shall live.
Take it from someone who started writing contracts far too late: A contract is your best friend in any working relationship you go into. It’s uncomfortable at first, but once you overcome that initial fear of the lead rejecting your suggestions, it becomes a security no amazing Zoom meeting or rewarding work task can even come close to.
Here are the things I always include in my contracts:
The timeframe for the work
How long is this going to take? How long does the client want to engage you for? Contracts work best when there’s a clear understanding of exactly what’s being delivered and exactly when it’ll be delivered by. That does not mean letting your client know what you’re doing every single minute, or waiting till the very end of the working period to hand everything over. It just sets everyone up with, you guessed it: The right expectations.
The compensation for the work
Do you charge by the hour or by the package? Whatever it is, make sure the contract includes a clear statement of the compensation terms you and your client have agreed on. Remember to outline how the client will pay you, as well as the payment term.
The cancellation policy for the work
How many times have you been promised a mountain of work only to have the client retract their initial proposition? You need to protect your income – it’s as simple as that. The contract should have a clear outline for what happens when either party cancels, particularly in terms of compensation.
The ownership of the work
The client is paying, so the client owns the deliverables, absolutely. However, your work is your portfolio – which is your next clients. Make sure to include details on what you’re allowed to use for your own portfolio so you won’t be accused of copyright infringement.
The law the contract follows
Always include information about which law the contract abides by. Generally, this will be the corporate laws of the country your business is registered in, but this varies, and is an important component of your contract.
And that’s it. Take a deep breath, outline the scope of things, and you’re good to ditch romantic dinner meetings and lush email exchanges with peace.
Good luck with your contracts!
Do you have a story about writing contracts or businesses romances that turned sour that you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a comment below – or write me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.