Contracts Have Nothing to Do with Being a Hardass

Contracts are not merely for legally enforcing “rules and regulations” on clients.

Their first function is to memorialize (in writing) your promises and understandings to each other.

Memories fail. Things are conveniently “forgotten.” Your contract serves as a written memory of what you both agreed on to each other.

The other role your contract plays is in outlining your standards and helping set proper understandings and expectations for the relationship.

With your contract, you are saying, Here is how I expect to be treated with courtesy and respect. And for my part, here is how I will treat you with courtesy and respect as a client…

So it’s just dumb for anyone to tell you to take anything out of your contract that you may or may not enforce legally.

You might as well not even bother with a contract at all then because if that’s the logic, more than half the standard terms and conditions that need to legally be in a contract to be enforceable would get taken out.

And why stop there. There’s no point then in putting anything in writing if you think the only reason for it is whether you’re really going to sue someone or not if they don’t comply.

Shoot, just let clients do whatever they want and dictate everything to you. Because again, by that logic, anything else would be being a “hardass.”

There’s nothing hardass about informing clients that when you are working on retainer, you expect them to give you 30 days notice if they intend to terminate the relationship. (I actually recommend 20 days, which is what I do in my practice.)

The reasoning is that you have reserved space for that client and dedicated priority to them. If they decide to terminate at a moment’s notice, that leaves you in a lurch without being given a courteous, reasonable amount of time with which to try to refill that slot.

It’s like the policy of requiring 24 or 48 hours notice if someone needs to cancel an appointment. By stating it in your policies, you are telling people how you expect to be treated and respected, that your time is valuable.

And that clause (at least in the ACA contracts) works both ways. You are saying to them, I’m not going to leave you in a lurch either. If I determine that our relationship needs to end, I’m going to give you X number of days notice as well.

It has nothing to do with being a hardass or whether or not you would even take them to court if they didn’t honor the agreements they made to you.

It’s about good business, having and honoring your standards, and informing clients upfront what is expected.

9 Responses

  1. And by the way, just to be clear, you most certainly do have legal right, recourse and authority over a client under those circumstances.

    If you find that a client has not honored their agreements to you and harmed you egregiously enough that you wish to pursue it legally, who is anyone else to judge you as a “hardass” because you choose to stand up for yourself and collect on what is legally owed to you?

    “Good/nice girls don’t speak up or stand up for themselves” is bullshit.

  2. Linda says:

    Great post for today Danielle. I have a question for you. I have a client that has given me a contract to sub-contract for them.

    Do I also need to have them sign my contract? And yes, I am new in all this “online” business stuff.

    Thank you!

  3. Hi Linda 🙂

    Can you elaborate a bit? I’m not sure I understand the situation entirely.

    For example, you are not a subcontractor to your clients. You are a contractor. So you would be having them sign your contract.

    Subcontractors are when YOU hire someone to do some piece of YOUR work for YOUR clients. A lot of times, this entails that subcontractors accept the work at a lower amount or rate than they would normally charge their own clients because they are subbing.

  4. Linda says:

    Hi Danielle,

    Ok, I get it now. I definitely need to have them sign my contract before I do any work for them. You have cleared it up for me!

    Thanks so much!

  5. Oh, good. Glad I could help shed some light. 🙂

    Yeah, you definitely want the have the client sign YOUR contract, not the other way around. It’s your business so you have to lead in that process. This also helps set the tone for the relationship moving forward and proper understandings and expectations.

    I have a feeling this client is not understanding the correct nature of the relationship (which means you may still have some work to do in properly educating her/him).

    I have the sneaking suspicion that the client may be thinking of you as some sort of substitute employee.

    That, or they may be under the mistaken idea that they are going to “resell” you and your work to others so they can profit off you.

    Um, no. Don’t allow that to be going on. That defeats the whole purpose of being in business for yourself.

  6. Anne Camien says:

    I was glad to see someone else agrees with me that 30 days is too long a period for notice. Even though I have 30 days in my contract, I will go back to what I had because an expert agrees with me. LOL.

  7. Well, don’t misunderstand me. My point isn’t about the length of time. There’s nothing inherently wrong with 30 days notice. It’s a perfectly standard, reasonable amount of time to expect. I just find a 20-day notice more practical because it gives both of you a tiny bit of wriggle room into the month.

    For example, let’s say I start working with a new client and despite all my best due diligence efforts in making sure they are an ideal client, they turn out to be a nightmare to work with. But I don’t realize this until the 7th of the month.

    If I had a 30 days notice on our contract, I would be stuck working with that client a whole other month because with it being the 7th, I wouldn’t have enough time to provide the notice I agreed to in ending the relationship.

    However, with a 20-day termination notice, I have a good 10 days into the month to decide if I want to keep working with that client.

  8. cj Madigan says:

    Years ago I added a clause to my contract for book design that I discouraged rush work because it leads to stupid mistakes. If the client wants me to work overtime [outside the normal business hours and days] because of delays on their part, I would charge double my hourly rate. Only once did a client agree that it was necessary and was willing to pay the fee. But it was a useful clause many times when I would ask the client: that would involve me working overtime and charging you $xx an hour. Is it really worth it? Usually they decided it wasn’t. But if I didn’t have that clause, we would have had to negotiate that under pressure, something I don’t like to do.

  9. Excellent example, cj! Thanks for sharing. I especially like the part about avoiding having to negotiate under pressure. That’s never an ideal situation. Which is another thing that contracts alleviate. They give guidelines and parameters that faciliate more ease in the working relationship.

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