Get It in Writing to Ensure Everything Runs Smoothly
At least once a week, I hear from copywriters and other creative professionals who find themselves in a sticky situation with a client because they don’t have anything in writing.
So I always recommend that before starting a project, have a written agreement in place — even if it’s a simple email exchange confirming the scope of the project — to ensure everyone is on the same page right out of the gate.
I’ll share two stories to illustrate why it’s so important to follow this common-sense rule.
The first one is about a client of mine who got into some hot water because she started a rush job without sending her agreement to the client.
I understand that when the client’s in a hurry, you may imagine the project will fall through if you “force” them to go through the agreement process, even if it’s a very simple one. That’s what happened here.
A week into the project, I got this message from her:
So that job I told you about last week, the rush one. Well the deadline got extended, again and then … again. It changes all the time and I’ve worked more than I thought when I quoted $2,500. I haven’t sent the agreement yet either. Now, I’m on the fourth or fifth round of revisions and who knows how long they will keep coming? I thought we would be finished tonight (again) and just got another change. I think I should say something before I show another revision. Do you have any advice?
I did, of course, have some advice, and even some language to use that would allow her to acknowledge her responsibility for the problem without having to absorb the entire cost. I suggested she send the client this message:
As you have noticed, this is taking longer than we both anticipated. And because it was a rush job, I neglected to send you my agreement, which specifies that 3 revisions are included in the $2,500 price I quoted. So now we’re beyond that number and I take responsibility for not making that clear beforehand. That said, we do need to agree to an additional fee for the extra work. I’ll give that some thought and I hope you will too. Let’s discuss …
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. The client offered to pay her an extra $1,000 because he knew he was asking for more than was fair. He was a good client.
But the lesson is clear: Always confirm what you’ve agreed to in writing, even if there is a rush.
We are fallible humans and our memories become especially foggy when a dispute arises. Luckily, there is nothing clearer than the written word.
This proved true when another client had a situation with a client of hers who didn’t like the work she delivered.
This is inevitable — it happens to all of us at some point. You can’t please everyone, so please don’t try to. Instead, make an effort to choose clients who seem flexible, open, and grateful for your work. They’re usually easier to please.
Fortunately, this client did have a written agreement in place and she had delivered what she promised to this client, who had shown no warning signs or red flags — up until that point, that is.
But then suddenly, her client transformed from Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde. When he got the work, instead of providing feedback, he wanted to end the project.
Not only that. He also wanted his deposit back by the end of the day!
Since there was no possibility of salvaging the project, here is what I advised, and would advise you in a similar situation:
- First and foremost, don’t let yourself be pushed around. I advised her not to agree on principle. "He's not the boss — you are," I reminded her. I also suggested she sleep on it. It’s never advisable to make decisions at the height of emotion or under stress. Plus, they had an agreement that spelled out what to do in this situation; the client conveniently didn’t remember that. So, she responded to him with this message: "Sorry you're not happy but I need some time to think about next steps. In the meantime, here’s our contract stating what we agreed to. You'll see that the deposit is non-refundable."
- From that moment forward, put everything in writing. Document every exchange that follows with the client, just in case you need it later on.
- As a last resort, you may want to talk to a lawyer. In this situation, her lawyer also advised her not to refund the money.
This one had a happy ending too. The message she sent with the contract attached worked — she hasn't heard from them since!
The biggest lesson: Though you can’t please everyone, you can (and should) always protect yourself.
Do you have any questions about using business agreements with your prospective clients? Share with us in the comments below so we can help.
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