Make Sure Your Contracts Make Sense

Drawing on Parchment by Hilke Kurzke from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

One area where many entrepreneurs struggle is understanding contracts or creating custom contracts to fit their needs. Contracts are essential for every entrepreneur, but there are nothing to be afraid of. The best way I know to describe them is they are relationship management documents. They keep everyone involved in a project on the same page and hopefully are written in a way that lays out and meets everyone’s expectations and needs.

Map Out the Relationship
Before I begin writing a contract for a client, I ask them to explain the lifespan of the contract and the expected interactions between the parties. I want to have a clear mental picture of the relationships between the people involved and the expected timeline they will follow during their working relationship, including how they will address common problems in that type of work or industry. The better I understand the interactions between the parties, the easier it is to draft a contract that fits their needs, whether it’s a custom template or a contract for a specific situation.

I recommend everyone involved in a contract do the same – with a timeline, flow chart, or an outline. This will help you clarify for yourself what your expectations are, and you can use this as a guide to make sure your contract addresses all your needs and concerns.

Compare Your Vision to Reality
Once you have a contract that matches the way you envision the relationship working, compare the terms of the document to reality. If your contract template states that payment must be made within 30 days of sending the invoice but you know you’re working with a company that takes 60 days to pay invoices, no matter who they’re form, change your contract so it matches their process.

Likewise, worst-case scenario situations to make sure your what-if provisions make sense. In many contracts, I write a provision that states that disputes will be resolved in litigation. However, if you’re in a situation where a client didn’t pay for a project and owes you $1,000, it may not be worth it if you have to file a claim in small claims court, get the person served, and then go after them for payment if the court renders a judgment in your favor.

In that type of situation, it may be better to write the contract to state that the client won’t get the final work product until their bill is paid in full. The dispute resolution clause can still mandate litigation, but chances of you having to go to court to get paid drop if the client won’t get what they hired your to do until you get paid.

Contract Disputes – Your State, Your State’s Laws
Every contract needs a provision that states how the parties will resolve problems when they occur. This should include where the parties will resolve problems (e.g., Superior Court of Maricopa County, Arizona) and that the parties consent to this venue (in case you’re dealing with an out-of-state client). It should also include which state’s law governs the contract. Whenever possible, you want your contracts to state that all problems will be resolved on your turf and under your state’s laws.

Ideally, your contracts, especially your templates, will be written or reviewed by a business lawyer to ensure it is valid and complete. If you sign a contract that is legal, but has terms you later realize are not favorable to you, there may be nothing you can do to change them. Your contract should also be written in plain English so the parties involved can easily refer to it throughout their working relationship without needing their lawyers to translate the legalese.

If you want to connect with me and my experiences as a contract writer, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.