What Your Contract Says About You

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As a business owner, we often spend a lot of time thinking about how to brand our businesses.

We think through the details of our website,

We fuss over our logos,

We take a million pictures before we get that perfect Instagram shot…

Yet one piece of brand collateral that often doesn’t get thought of that way – are your contracts.

(Yes, I said contracts.)

You see, beyond just having the right terms and conditions, there’s another element at play with your contract. One that can help you reach and book bigger and better clients.

And I’m sharing it in this episode of the Office Talk podcast.

LISTEN TO THE EPISODE

WHAT YOU’LL LEARN IN THIS EPISODE
  • What is “scope creep”
  • Why you need to know your intended audience before writing the contract
  • The reasons you need to start thinking about your contracts just like a piece of branding
  • How presentation acts as a key component of your contract
REMEMBER…
HERE’S THE TRANSCRIPT OF THIS EPISODE

[Intro Music] This is Office Talk with Annette Stepanian.

Annette

Hey there. And welcome back to another episode of Office Talk. In today’s legal quickie episode, I want to talk about what your contract says about you. 

So here’s a true story about what happened to one of my clients. And I’m not going to go into naming names or giving too much detail. But let’s just call her Jane for purposes of this story. Jane was tell me about what a nightmare her client was. Long story short, they had entered into a contract, and Jane was going to provide services to that client. But the client kept coming back and asking for more and more work. And this was more and more work that Jane was doing and wasn’t getting paid for. Because the clients requests were kind of in this gray area, where it kind of sounded like it might have been in the scope of that original agreement. But Jane really felt like it exceeded the scope. And it wasn’t really her intention to have all of this work be part of that initial agreement . What we call it in the industry is scope creep. Basically, they’re creeping in and expanding the scope beyond what you guys had initially agreed to. Now having a client ask you to do more work for them is great. If they’re paying you for it, right? 

Well, in Jane’s situation, she felt like she couldn’t really say no to the client, but she kind of felt like it was in that gray zone. So she kept taking on the work and taking on the requests from that client. On top of it, Jane was pretty new to business. And she really wanted to impress this client, because after all, she wanted to have a good reputation in the industry. But what ended up happening was this client asked for so much work that she ended up putting in so much time, putting so much even in her own money to pay for certain expenses with this client, that ended up being a total loss for her. So not only did she not make money on the project, but she lost money on the project. Which clearly if you want to run a business, you don’t want to be in that situation. So what we did is we took a look at her contract, and there were some substantive terms that we could have put in there. And we did to address this issue of scope creep. 

But there was something bigger here that I wanted to talk to you about today, I turned to Jane and I told her, your contract makes you look like a complete amateur. It makes you look like you think of yourself as a small fish in a big pond. It looks like it’s something that you just downloaded from the internet, you tweaked it a little bit. And now you’re just passing it along to your clients. Because, you know, you got to send out a contract. But you really haven’t put too much thought about what it needs to say and what it needs to look like. And unfortunately, some clients, they’re going to pick up on that. They’re going to smell that from a mile away, and they’re going to take advantage of you. They’re going to sense that you don’t think of yourself as a professional. And so they’re not going to treat you that way. 

On top of it, Jane really wants to start working with bigger companies. I’m talking about national brands. And I told her that if that is your goal, you cannot be sending your rinky dinky contract to these big clients and expect them to take you seriously. Because these big clients have full blown legal teams. I mean, they at least have a lawyer that they’re going to send these contracts to to review and tear it apart. But more importantly, I said it says something about you and their expectation of the type of services you’re going to be providing them. 

So what we did is we put together this contract and not only had the right terms in there that address some of the issues she was having, for example, things like scopecreep talk through all that together. But what I really wanted for her was thatI wanted her to have confidence about her contracts, and I wanted her to be perceived as a professional. So what I love about this story is now that she’s passing around these contracts to these big clients like candy, and she’s not only able to book them, but she’s able to negotiate them on her own because she has the confidence in her contracts. She actually understands her rights. She knows her terms. And she now knows how to set boundaries for herself. 

And I want you guys to feel the same way. One of the things that I always ask my clients when we’re working on a custom contract together is who is your intended audience for this contract? It’s important for you to know your audience. Is it somebody who is a corporate client? So for example, maybe it’s a lawyer, maybe it’s a VP of some company, those people tend to be familiar with contracts. They’re comfortable with legal language. Or is it just your everyday person who isn’t really used to reading contracts and doesn’t really understand the legal jargon. It’s important to keep that in mind when you’re drafting and preparing your contracts and to tailor it to your audience. 

But I also want you to start thinking about your contracts just like a piece of branding. So just as how you would think about how you present your company and yourself, maybe on your websites, your business cards, or that care and attention that you might take into snapping that perfect Instagram photo, I think that the same is true for your contracts. 

When I say that, I want you to start thinking about your contracts, just like a piece of branding. I’m not talking about making sure you have the perfect font selected or if its in the right size, or it’s printed on beautiful paper. That’s not what I mean. What I mean is you want to think of your contract as an extension of your brand. And I want you to ask yourself, how do you want to be perceived? Do you want to be perceived as a professional who takes her business seriously? Who has her act together? Or do you want to be perceived as someone who’s totally unorganized, maybe not super professional, maybe just a little sloppy? I don’t think that that’s what you want, right? I think you probably prefer to be in the prior camp. 

A good way to think about it is what if you were in the market for hiring somebody?Let’s say you need a social media marketing consultant on your team. So you reach out and you talk to three potential social media marketers that you’d like to hire, and you ask each of them to send you their contract.

Now, let’s say the first person, we’ll call her Kim, Kim doesn’t have a contract to send you. She’s just like: “I’m ready to go, here’s an invoice pay me. Let’s get to work.” 

The second person, let’s call her Courtney, Courtney has a contract. But it kinda looks very basic. It looks like maybe something you’d pull off of the internet for free. It might have a few typos. It might be missing some of the key terms that you’d like to see in there. It’s good, but it’s not great. 

And then you have Chloe. Chloe, on the other hand sends you a contract that looks clean. It’s been formatted properly. It has the terms, some terms that you haven’t even thought about, but has terms in there that maybe you’re like: “wow, this person is really thought through how she’s going to protect me if something goes wrong” or how she’s going to protect herself. It seems very well thought out. Maybe even the way that she sends you, the contract it’s very easy for you to review it, to download it to sign it, all of that stuff. You know, maybe she has a process where if you have questions, you have the opportunity to talk to her about it. Right? The presentation is completely different than from the first two. 

Now just because somebody sends you a beautifully written contract doesn’t mean that the services are going to be A+. But it kind of says something about her right? It starts to give you a taste of what kind of service you can expect from her. And in the example with Chloe, if she’s paying attention to this part of the client experience, chances are that she is going to have the same type of care and attention to the other parts of her client experience. 

Now what I was going to do in this episode was I was actually going to go through and talk about some little formatting things that you could do to make sure that you are looking like a true pro. And then I went back through the episodes, and I realized I’ve already done some amazing episodes on this. And I went back and I listened to them and I thought those were pretty good. So what I’m going to do is I am going to highlight some of the episodes, I want you to go back and listen to to make sure that your contract is falling on the professional side of the spectrum and not the sloppy side of the spectrum. 

Now I’ve put together a playlist of all podcasts episodes that talk about contracts, which you can find over at annettestepanian.com/conquer-contracts. So that’s conquer dash contracts, or just head on to my website and you can navigate your way to the office talk podcast page, and you’ll see all the buttons and all the links there. Other episodes, I’d like you to check out are episode three, which is – do I really need all that legal mumbo jumbo at the end of my contract? Episode nine-  How do I get out of a contract? Episode 15- How do I get a client to pay me? Episode 26- What contracts do I need for my business? And Episode 43 – easy fixes to double check before you send or sign a contract. 

Look, I get it. We all make mistakes. We all make typos. This is a learning process. So it’s not about striving for perfection and worrying about every single detail. But it’s about making the best effort and putting your best foot out into that world and delivering top notch quality service to your clients. Because trust me when I say that these small details really make an impression and they set you apart from your competition. 

If at any point during this episode, you’re like, ooh girl, I sound like a Kim and Courtney or maybe you don’t have a contract or you have a contract but you know is really not cutting it out for you. Then make sure to check out the contract templates on my website. These are fully customizable contract templates that you can use. And what I love about them is that I’ve taken the time to make them super industry specific. I’ve gone ahead I’ve interviewed different professionals within various industries to really understand the issues that you guys come across in your industry and I’ve tailored it accordingly. 

Not only do you get the contract template, but you also get a guide where explained each term of that template in plain English so you can actually understand your contracts. And there are some really cool videos and how-to guides as well as a contract review checklist that you get along with your purchase. 

You can get all of that information and check out the different contract templates over at annettestepanian.com. Okay, you guys that wraps up another episode. I look forward to talking to you next time for a new Office Talk interview. Okay, my friend. I hope you have a fantastic day and I can’t wait to talk to you later.

[Outro Music]