Y U No Tell me: Who needs contracts?

This is the fourth post in a series called Y U No Tell me; Lessons learned from building a WordPress development business. For a list of all posts in the series, please start here.

I can answer this one in two words; you do!

Over the past 5 years, my company has been extremely fortunate. We have only a very small handful of projects that have gone sideways to the point of needing to argue about billing, and an even smaller amount that have ever resulted in any sort of refund.

In a previous post in this series I was telling you about a project that we built entirely, then had to rebuild because it wasn't what the client needed. You know what would have been really handy to have on that day she said “this isn't what I need?” A contract that stated exactly what was going to be built and how much it was going to cost and how much it would cost if we needed to rebuild it.

Think we had one?

Nope.

I've talked with developers who have told me things like, “my projects aren't big enough to need a contract.” Wrong! If any money is changing hands, you should have a contract.

I've also heard, “contracts are too formal. I like to keep my interactions with clients friendly.” There is nothing wrong with being friendly. Just be friendly while you are sending them a contract.

Yes, Contracts can seem very formal or ‘corporate.' You may be only a one person shop and the idea of flying by the seat of your pants doesn't scare you. But a contract doesn't need to be 20 pages long and written in legalese that nobody understands. But not having a contract at all is asking for trouble.

At 9seeds, Our contract is written in plain english and clearly states things like:

– How much is the project is going to cost
– What is the general timeline & milestones
– When are payments expected
– What happens if the project needs to change
– Who owns what
– And most importantly, what's included as part of this project (statement of work)

So now it's pretty easy. If the client comes back and says “this isn't what I need”, we have documentation to go back to that says “but this is what we both agreed would be built. we're happy to rework what's needed, but that's going to be billable time.”

I am not a lawyer

Most likely, neither are you. There are countless places online to find contract templates. Those are fine as a starting point. Grab one, tweak the language to fit your needs and then have your contract reviewed by an actual lawyer. Yes, an ACTUAL LAWYER.

That may sound like a lot of extra work when everything is going right. Think of a contract as an insurance policy for when things go wrong.

Tomorrow the topic will be Over Communicate!

5 Comments

  1. intangible on October 17, 2014 at 2:35 pm

    Good series, keep it up!

    • John on October 17, 2014 at 2:37 pm

      Thanks so much. Glad you are enjoying it. I’ve got another 10 or so days to go!

  2. Kenny Eliason on October 18, 2014 at 11:27 am

    Yeah good stuff. This has always been a struggling point for me… Good to see what others are doing.

  3. Tim Davis on October 24, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    I have used “Contract Killer” in the past, I like it because it does outline many of the pitfalls we fall into often when doing a project, and it just plain explains everything in plain english. Here’s a link to it https://gist.github.com/malarkey/4031110

    • John on October 24, 2014 at 12:36 pm

      Heck yeah, that’s excellent! Thanks for sharing the link!

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