Let Your Contract Be the Boss of You

Have you ever felt like a jerk because a client asked for something you hadn’t originally agreed on and you said no? Even though you were totally in the right?

Or because a client, who was over a month late in paying you, got upset about the late fee you charged them?

If you have, or if you feel intimidated when you have to enforce boundaries with a client, here’s a trick you can try: let your contract be the boss of you.

We all know that contracts are great because they clearly capture what each person’s rights and responsibilities are when working together.

By Harsh Patel via Flickr.com

By Harsh Patel via Flickr.com

And that they’re handy when you want to make sure everyone is on the same page about who owns what.

And that they help your clients take you more seriously because you’ve shown them that you are a professional who has professional expectations.

But did you know that your contract is also a very handy crutch?

If a client is pushing to get more than what you bargained for or is demanding a timeline you never agreed on, your contract can be a great way of enforcing boundaries with the client. And you won’t even have to fret over what to say!

Let your contract be the boss of you and follow what the contract says.

If the client wants to do something other than what the contract says, you simply say, “That’s not what we originally agreed to. If you want to discuss amending the contract, we can, but it may impact the cost/timeline/content of the project.”

“No, I’m sorry we agreed you’d pay your invoices in 30 days, not 45.”

“Our contract provided for two rounds of revisions, which we’ve completed. Additional revisions are out of the scope we agreed to.”

This trick is especially helpful if you’re a pleaser who says yes to client demands and then eventually regrets it.

By reminding them of what was agreed to in the contract you reinforce that your time and skills are valuable: if they want more of them, they’ll need to provide you more value in return.

By Savannah Van der Niet via Flickr.com

By Savannah Van der Niet via Flickr.com

If you both decide doing more than what was originally in the contract is a good idea, execute an amendment that captures what you’re doing and why. Don’t let them think they can make changes to the project without having to follow a process. If they think making changes is easy, they’ll try and do it more often.

“Ok, Katie, but I’m an independent spirt who can’t be held down by fussy legal limitations! I need to be free to do what I want to do!”

That’s perfectly fine, friend. You can do that thing. But you should do it intentionally.

Saying yes to a client’s request intentionally means

(1) you seriously consider what you want to do, you don’t just say “yes” in an attempt to please the client

(2) you acknowledge the fact that you are making an exception, you don’t let your client think they’re getting away with anything, and

(3) you don’t make the exception super easy: super easy is doing things the way you originally agreed to do them, doing things differently should require at least some work that the client gets to experience so the client can appreciate what you’re doing.

When you make your contract the boss of you, this stuff happens naturally. To change the contract you’ll need to write up an amendment and sign it: a process that helps both sides appreciate what they’re doing.

If you can do these three things without using the contract as your crutch to help you enforce good boundaries and take care of yourself: bravo!

But if you are avoiding using a contract that will limit you and what you do because you just don’t like how that sounds, I encourage you to seriously rethink whether the approach you’re taking is protecting you and helping your business attract and keep excellent clients. You don’t have to be Businessy Business Person of the Year, but you do have to take your career seriously.

By L via Flickr.com

By L via Flickr.com

Other than contracts, what do you use to remind your clients that you’re in charge and they can’t change the project midstream? What’s your boss?

Categories: Dealing with People

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