Do you have a Service Agreement (also known as an Independent Contractor Agreement) but don’t know how to breathe it into every part of your business? This blog is for you. 

How you run your business is unique, but finding efficiencies and sharing expectations has never compromised that, right? 

We want to change the way you see your onboarding process by empowering you to take the important clauses from your contract and integrate them into your onboarding process in a way that not only reduces frequently asked questions (win) but also ensures everybody is on the same page (win-win). 

Have you ever sent your contract to a client for signature and your clients open the email and sign it immediately (you can generally see this on your customer relationship management software (like Dubsado or Honeybook). You might wonder, does their eagerness limit the validity of their signature? The answer is NO. However, it does limit their understanding of what it means to work with you. 

For this reason, I want to encourage you to use your contracts as more than just the last step of the onboarding process, but instead the source of the expectations that you can reiterate to gently guide your client as they work with you.  

5 Important Elements In Your Contracts

The following elements should be pulled out of your contract and thoughtfully integrated into your process. 

  1. Disclaimers

Disclaimers can be integrated into many facets of your business from your marketing materials, consultations, onboarding workflow (we love canned emails), website, and much more. The best part – they don’t have to feel formal. In fact, they can be woven into the fabric of your interactions in easy to understand language. Disclaimers are simply context — setting expectations and grounding your clients to understand the nature of your business relationship and how they need to show up. 

  1. Client Information or Materials Required

If you rely on information or materials from your clients before you begin your services then this is a big one. Of course this starts with making sure that you have included a list (and description if necessary) of all the information or materials you will need to get started. You also have to ensure that your client’s delay won’t become your rush. Give yourself clear timelines and inform your clients that you need a certain amount of time to go through particular information and materials to create the magic you’re responsible for creating. Here is a clause that you can use as inspiration in your own contract to set this expectation.  

“Client Materials. Provide copies of or access to Client’s information, documents, credentials, products, content, outlines, photos, project images, or other material (collectively, “Client Materials”) as Contractor may reasonably request in order to carry out the Services in a timely manner and ensure that they are complete and accurate in all material respects. Source material must be clear and legible.

Responsiveness. Due to the virtual nature of the relationship, respond promptly to any Contractor’s requests to provide direction, information, approvals, authorizations, credentials necessary for Contractor to perform Services, or decisions that are reasonably necessary for Contractor to perform the Services in accordance with the requirements of this Agreement.Client understands that Contractor is a business with other clients to serve, and requires fair, realistic notice in order to attend to requests and projects. Poor planning or miscommunications will not constitute an emergency for Contractor. Client understands that Contractor may require detailed clarification of projects in order to meet expectations and provide the best support and highest quality work. If Client consistently fails to respond to questions in a timely manner, does not supply needed Client Information, information, or updated credentials, in a manner that impairs efficient workflow, increases administrative time, or otherwise prevents Contractor from working to optimum standards and servicing other clients in a fair and equal manner, Services will be postponed in proportion to the delay. Contractor reserves the right, with prior written notice, to impose hourly rates for such time at Contractor’s hourly rate of $RATE for such delays. In the event Client’s delay makes any of the Services untimely (including holidays), Contractor’s performance is waived.”

You can reiterate this expectation in a series of canned emails. 

  1. After your client signs your Service Agreement, you may send them an email outlining what you need from them to get started. 
  2. Schedule a follow-up email with a catchy introduction like, “if you haven’t completed this form yet…”
  3. Then, if your client won’t still respond to your follow-up emails and it’s already past your set timeline, you may send this email: “We’re now past the timeline specified in our contract for you to provide {describe}. For this reason our deliverables will be delayed one day for each day we have not received your materials.” 

It’s important for your clients not to assume that your team will work overnight or weekends to crank something out, as it impacts team morale and the quality of the work product that you’ll be able to provide.

  1. Important Deadlines and Milestones

Clarifying important deadlines and milestones from the beginning of your contract is just as important as the requesting materials you need to get started. Your contract should mirror the way you want to work (not the way you’re currently working). Yes, I want to encourage you to dream a little, so you can align your expectations in your contract with your ideal workflow (and day). Your contract should mirror your most aligned process, so that you can set clear expectations and check-in along the way. 

  1. Boundaries

Setting boundaries like your office hours, communication preferences, and response times in your contract is a game changer for small business owners. For example, in our law firm, we emphasize our office hours are Monday through Thursday, 9 AM to 4 PM, we have a no texting policy, and we respond to emails “before the end of the next business day” (because weekends don’t count) – all before they sign their engagement letter with us. The logic is pretty simple: if we don’t align with how you expect to communicate with our team, we’re not your legal team. 

Let’s be honest — setting boundaries can be scary at first (we understand that first hand), but it’s actually liberating. If you respect your boundaries as a business owner, you are giving your clients permission to do the same in their business. Many of my clients have adopted set office hours and no texting policies inspired by those that we set. 

TIP:  You should have tools in place to make enforcing the boundaries easier than breaking them. 

For example, you can use a template text message (using shorthand keyboard) or out of office email thanking the clients who reached out to you and setting the proper expectation. 

My text message template: Hi, thanks for reaching out. Friendly reminder Guide My Business observes a no texting rule with clients. Please send this to me via email.  Email communication better allows our team to respond timely, more fully, and keep records of our conversations. I will be looking forward to your email.

  1. Intellectual Property Limitations

In a business-to-business industry, you need to remind your clients of your rules (intellectual property limitations) and how they can use the content you’ve provided to or created for them, whether they can publish it on Instagram, their website, or how use it inside their business. The intellectual property limitations will depend on your business and the nature of your services. 

Two common intellectual property limitation: 

  1. Use: Does your client own the deliverables (aka own the copyright), or merely have a license? If they only have a limited license to use the deliverables, ensure your clients understand these limitations based on the boundaries you’ve set (usually for personal use only). Personal use is aligned with more educational resources (not “commercial purposes”) meaning clients “shall not modify, copy, reproduce, republish, upload, post, transmit, translate, sell, create derivative works, exploit, resell, share, trade or distribute the deliverables.” Of course, this expectation starts with your contract, but is reinforced with each canned email, casual conversation, and additional reminders. 
  2. Attribution (aka Credit): If they use any of your deliverables for personal or commercial purposes, are your clients required to credit you. “Client will tag the Contractor’s Instagram account (@username), or otherwise provide attribution to Contractor in any deliverables published by Client, including on social media, blog submissions, and articles.”

Key Takeaway

Your contract is a living document, and this blog is all about reiterating important parts of how you and your team should work not only into your contract but throughout your  on-boarding process. Businesses evolve, and so should your contracts.

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