When you're a freelancer, actually, when you're an organisation of any size, ts and cs (terms and conditions - yes those seemingly boring things that nobody reads), especially custom prepared ones, are absolutely essential.
There's a number of reasons and I could go on at length - but I won't. Not today. I'll boil it down to the fact they provide you three key things:
- You know what the parameters of working with you are
- Your client knows what the parameters of working with you are
- Your client and anyone else, knows that you're not mucking around - you're serious
When I say serious, I'm not saying serious like the ultra boring IBM worker of yesteryear; with their black suits, black ties and starched white shirts. Anything but. It effectively says: I'm a professional, not a kid sitting in his bedroom in his parents house. It says: treat me with respect, because I treat both myself and you with it - and I do the things that people, who are professional, do.
When you have them you're a professional like any other, whether that be a lawyer, doctor, dentist, physiotherapist and so on. You present yourself as someone who has valuable skills that they've brought to market, in a completely professional manner and as a result, demands respect.
Here at Malt Blue, when I'm carrying out technical writing contracts or application development, every work estimate that I send out includes with it my standard terms and conditions.
What's In Them?
They include, amongst other things:
- What a working day is
- Service provisions
- Customer obligations
- Payment terms
- Service charges
In a nutshell, they clearly lay out how you work, what you do and don't do, what the client's options are and so on. They present to the client a complete understanding of the, legal, parameters of working with you. What's more, they set the boundaries on the professional relationship that both sides are entering in to.
Now, I could have grabbed a pre-made pack off the shelf from somewhere and put my name on it. Instead, I chose to go the route of getting a personalised set made up.
The reasons for this are these:
- I'm not a lawyer, I'm a freelance technical writer and software developer
- I want to know that I'm completely, legally, covered
- I want to know that they're targeted, specifically, to the market I'm serving
What I didn't expect however, was to have to think in so much detail about just what I'm offering. During discussions with David at Create Ts and Cs, who created the terms & conditions for me, I had to consider a range of questions and topics that I'd just never expected.
I had to consider topics that I never would have if I'd bought a pre-packaged set off the shelf. This is something that was absolutely invaluable to me, particularly as a business and life lesson.
David asked me questions such as:
- What, exactly, do you offer?
- Who, specifically, is your client?
- How long after a product is delivered do you provide initial support
- What support terms do you and can you offer?
- Who should, by default, own the Intellectual Property (IP)?
- Are you the only one who can make changes to the documents of software?
- How do you want to be paid?
Honest plug here, David did a great job with a really personal, hands-on, service. If you or your business is covered by English law, then get in touch with him today. I'm not paid to say that and am not receiving any remuneration from him for being so positive.
Now maybe it's just a matter of perception in my own mind here; maybe it is. But ever since going through this process, the tone and quality of the interactions with clients has definitely gone up a number of notches. I see myself taken more seriously and remunerated as such.
But maybe it's something else. Maybe, it was just coincidental timing - I don't believe that. Irrespective of what it is, I know two things:
- I've had a good solid look and think about my intent in running a freelance business
- I'm more focused and professional in my conduct
This isn't to say or infer that I wasn't before. But going through this process changed me, because of all the topics that I started considering in such depth; which in turn, led me to consider other aspects of how the world sees my freelance business. Topics such as letterhead, email signatures, they way that I write and communicate with clients and so on.
No Silver Bullet
Custom terms and conditions aren't a silver bullet that will make you win contracts and have money pouring in to your business bank account - there's no such thing. But in my gut, I believe the process will make you more professional. Which can only be a good thing for you, your business and your clients.
I'm not demanding that you drop what you're doing, race out and get a set. But if you don't have a set or if you've grabbed a pre-packaged version, stop. Have a look at them and ask yourself if you're truly covered.
Do they match your needs? Do they represent, specifically, the business that you're in? Do they ensure that you are covered for the work that you do and give you as much of a professional advantage, as possible?
If not, consider the investment in a custom set. You'll be surprised at how little it costs and how rewarding the process is.
Over To You
Do you have a set? Tell me about how they cover your business in the comments.