The limitations of the standard approach to contracts
A standard contract (whether verbal, a written proposal with terms and conditions, or a formal contract) tends to just set out each party’s legal obligations. However, because the law doesn’t require the other party to ‘do the right thing’ in their dealings with you, because people’s expectations of you might not always be realistic, and because some things that are obvious to you (with your experience of your industry) might not be as clear to your customers, I’ve come to realise that many businesses need something more.
Avoiding these issues
Of course, a clear proposal or quote is an absolute ‘must’ and a set of terms and conditions will also help you create and maintain smooth relationships with your customers. However, as well as drafting contracts, I also produce ‘How we work’ guides that you can give your customers to explain how you work, what your services do and don’t include, and what you need from your customers to get the job done.
The idea behind these guides is:
- They’re more likely to be read than terms and conditions,
- Much of the practically important detail can be included in them (meaning that your terms and conditions can usually be very short),
- They can significantly reduce the risk of complaints and disputes,
- And yet your clients won’t feel weighed down by bureaucracy.
About my ‘How we work’ guides
Every business is different and the exact information covered by a ‘How we work’ guide will vary depending on the nature of an individual company and its customer base.
However, a typical guide might include the following:
- A brief overview of your company
- A reminder of your core values, such as commitment to customer satisfaction
- What each of your individual services includes and excludes
- What your customers can do to help the work start and finish on time, e.g. make sure you have access to their property or give you the information you need at the agreed time – and what factors may arise that could delay completion
- What they can expect whilst you’re working, e.g. how you’ll help prevent disruption, when you’ll go back to them for approval to proceed, why additional work that hasn’t been quoted for may be necessary and what will happen if this is the case
- What they can expect after the job’s been completed, e.g. any after-sales service you offer, and reassurance that you’ll tidy up and remove any waste before you leave
- Information about any extra services you offer
- Health, safety and security considerations
- What will happen if either party delays, cancels or reschedules the work.
Until recently, I might have included the above information in the proposals or terms and conditions that I drafted for my clients. However, by keeping the ‘How we work’ guide separate from these documents (but carefully worded so that it forms part of your overall contract), these formal documents can stay as short as possible.
This also means that your ‘How we work’ guide can be drafted in a simple, engaging way that will encourage your customers to read it – something that can’t always be said of terms and conditions, however clearly drafted!
I’ve found that both my clients and their own customers really love this approach – especially where the services my clients are offering are complex, or where their successful and timely delivery depends heavily on matters outside my clients’ control.
The benefits in summary
Having a ‘How we work’ guide in place will help you:
- Make sure your customers understand your business and how you work
- Set and manage your customers’ expectations for each of your services
- Maintain smooth and productive relationships with your customers
- Reduce the risk of complaints, disputes and refusals to pay
- Cross-sell additional services that your customers might not know about.
I’ve produced many ‘How we work’ guides for my clients, who’ve found them to be extremely useful sales documents as well as a helping to manage their customers’ expectations.
Find out more
If you’d like more information about my ‘How we work’ guides, or to see some sample documents, please contact me so we can discuss your requirements.