Disclosure: I am not a lawyer! The following post is a compilation of my own research, experience, and conversations with those who know a lot more about contract law than I do.
There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m not going to be sugar-coating this blog post: you need to cover your ass with a watertight client service agreement. Whether you’re a graphic designer, copywriter, photographer, food stylist or virtual assistant, you need one of these badass boys on your side for when clients start playing bad kitty. We value and respect our clients, because without them, we wouldn’t be in business. But sometimes, people get their wires crossed. We lose track of emails, or we forget what someone said on the phone a month go. And if you give someone an inch, they take a mile. Not everything is always black and white, but a client service agreement is. Thank god.
What is a client service agreement?
When you start working with a client, both you and they need to understand the terms and conditions of your business relationship. A client service agreement tells your client exactly what is expected of you, and what is expected of them.
When you have a client service agreement, you’re able to refer back to a binding, legal document that helps prevent confusion and arguments. By outlining everything in black and white – and of course making sure your client reads it all and signs off on it – you’re establishing a rock-solid business transaction. No wiggle room.
What’s in a client service agreement?
Your client service agreement needs to have all the no-duh information (I told you – I’m no lawyer!), like their name, business name, address, contact details, and all of your information as well.
It also needs to answer questions like:
- How much will your client pay you for your services, and when?
- Will prices include GST?
- What happens if they don’t pay you for your services on schedule?
- What’s the entire scope of the project or service? Does this include revisions?
- When can they expect to have all of the deliverables? When will they need to provide feedback?
- What’s expected of the client? For example, how will they provide all of the necessary information, tools and knowledge required for you to do your job adequately?
- What happens if the client changes their mind?
- How many contact hours, meetings, Skype calls or emails are involved in the total fee?
- What are you terms for client confidentiality?
- What results can they expect for you, if any? What sort of liability is in involved, if any? Hint: don’t take any!
- When does the client have full rights to your work?
- What happens if your client wants to terminate the business relationship? And what happens if you do? How much notice needs to be given? And how does this effect payment?
Most importantly, you need to mention in your client service agreement that it is a binding document under Australian Consumer Law. This information should be at the end, right before the spot where they sign.
A client service agreement is no riveting fire-side read. In fact, there’s an entire website dedicated to the biggest lie online: reading the terms of service.
Here’s a hard truth: your clients might look at your service agreement and put it in the too-hard basket. But if they’re not serious about working with you and agreeing to your terms and conditions, do you really want to work with them anyway?
A client service agreement shows that you mean business: you’re a professional, you know your rights and you have boundaries. Set them in stone – or in PDF form, at least – and rest easy with legal, binding protection.
Check out the following resources for more information about contracts. The links below are more applicable to writers, but any freelancer would receive a benefit from checking them out: