Let’s talk (about) contracts or the lack thereof in our field(s).
This post is on a real life lesson with the hope that it may benefit fellow evaluators, freelancers/consultants, small business owners, and others.
Honestly, I am yet to find an evaluator who hasn’t been in this situation before:
My client won’t pay and we didn’t have a formal contract. What do I do?
Simply stated: Don’t begin (evaluation) any work without a fully signed / agreed upon contract. (Repeat after me.)
Starting work with a new client can be a very exciting experience. As a small business owner and/or a freelancer, we often say yes to most of the work that comes our way without having the paperwork in place. We are caught in the web:
“Contract will come. It’s a slow process. Let me begin work anyway and help my client. It’s going to be OK.”
However, what if the relationship goes awry or they change their mind or even company contracting policies (that even they are unaware) over the work they promised after you already put in hours planning, scoping it out, collecting data, analyzing, and even reporting?
You didn’t have a contract in place.
Here are a few tips to either prevent this from happening or help mitigate (Note: these tips are for small projects/contracts and can often be resolved without having to go to (small claims) court or a suit):
1. Keep a standard business terms and conditions document handy to send that to the client if they don’t initiate the paperwork. They can review, sign, and return immediately if they’d want you to begin work. More importantly, at least there will be paperwork.
2. Save ALL emails- pre-post work. I mean it. That will most likely save you and serve as “evidence” and paper trail of a promised contract and/or work.
3. Seek advice but try to manage the issue yourself or within your company. This is mainly because of the time and effort that go into preparing a case, all the legalities involved, the fee — especially, if you intend to go via the small claims court.
4. Be civil. Always.
In sum, don’t begin any (evaluation) work without a fully executed contract.