That time when Terms and Conditions had my back.
Many of us start out working for friends of friends, and then widen our client base through word-of-mouth. At the start, it may feel awkward, or overkill, to produce Terms and Conditions and ask for a signed contract before proof-reading a friend’s job application – and it is of course. It’s easy to keep working in this casual manner, but it pays to be professional right from the start.
Contracts are a good idea. Full Stop.
Being professional doesn’t mean mean hiding your personality behind Dear Sir and Yours Faithfully, but it does mean it’s a very good idea to have a contract for even simple jobs.
A contract, setting out what you will do, by when, and for how much, plus your Ts & Cs explaining what’s involved, protects you, protects the client’s investment, and reassures them that they are dealing with a professional outfit. I am very grateful for mine. Most of my clients are simply brilliant, but there was one . . . there’s always one!
Let my experience show you why you need Terms and Conditions for your work.
How Terms and Conditions saved my backside.
Whenever I get a new client, I ask them to read the Terms and Conditions on my website, and then confirm to me, in writing, that they have read and accepted them. For small jobs, this is usually enough – though I have not tested the legality of this. For anything more, I write a contract setting out in detail what they want done, to what standard, by when, for what price, and so on, and I paste the Terms and Conditions into the document, which they then sign.
The start of a beautiful relationship.
A few years ago, I was excited to get my first large contract – to rewrite the entire website of a fair sized international legal firm. The site was written by lawyers, so you can imagine how much it made one’s brain bleed to read it. It was a plum job, I enjoyed lopping and cropping thousands of words and replacing those remaining with Plain English.
The client and I got on well, they loved what I was doing, I loved what I was doing. Heaven!
Then, the first payment came due.
See how our love flew out the door.
They were paying for each discrete section of work as I completed it. I sent my first invoice, with payment due immediately, and when the 28 day terms passed, I sent a friendly email reminder. No reply and a few days passed, so another reminder. This time they replied: “Sorry! We’ll action that right now.” OK. Annoying, but OK.
More time passed without payment. Then I received a letter forwarded from my accountant, containing a cheque from the client. With gritted teeth, I sent the cheque on to my bank. The delays and then waiting for the cheque to cash meant I finally got my money 8 weeks after it became due. That’s just not funny for such a small business. I needed to stop being dewey-eyed about being friends with clients.
I pulled up my professional socks.
While this was going on, I carried on with the work, sent the second invoice, and at the same time, told them that there would be interest charges and a penalty on late payments. At 21 days, I sent a reminder that the final date was approaching. Once again, no money by the 28 day deadline. Another email and then straight to the phone to ask for immediate payment, plus the daily interest and penalty, and that payment to be by BACS only.
Nothing arrived, so another phone call, and more promises. Three more days, and then there was another cheque posted to my accountant. This was made out to the wrong name, and didn’t include the extra charges.
We hens can get very pecky when we are annoyed. Clink clank, pick up that phone. Funnily, I couldn’t get hold of anyone, but my voicemail messages were pretty clear. Later that afternoon, I had an email asking me to return the cheque and then they would send me a new one. Another week at least!
Erm. I don’t bloody think so!
My words are my property, sunshines.
So I wrote a very formal email this time, drawing their attention to the contract they had signed, especially these clauses:
- Copyright to the assembled copy is owned by Word Hen Ltd until full payment is received.
- If the client defaults on payment, any copy written by Word Hen Ltd cannot be used until full payment is made.
I owned those words, and I did not give permission for the company to use them. They must take down the entire website immediately, or I would be after them for breach of copyright.
An hour later – there was a beep on my phone. It was my bank’s automated text service. Full payment, invoice owed plus interest and penalty, had arrived in the company account.
That was the end of that. I formally granted them ownership of the copy and the client never spoke to me again. Pfft. Am I bovvered?
Terms and Conditions are vital.
So, if you haven’t got yourself some Terms and Conditions, I suggest you get some right now. I am talking about Ts & Cs for your writing services. You need different ones for your website.
You are welcome to use mine as a basis – several other copywriters have. But, it would be nice to get an acknowledgement in some way: liking and sharing this article on Social Media would be cool – there are links at the bottom, just down there . . . look, scroll down a little . . . fantastic!
(c) 2017 Word Hen Ltd.