There are two main reasons why people come to me for client service agreement. The first is because they have been burned by a bad experience with an unhappy client or a client who has trampled their boundaries. The other is business owners who are just starting up and who are highly risk averse. They want to make sure that they have all their i’s dotted and their t’s crossed.
In this blog I hope to convince you that every business owner can benefit from a good client service contract (or terms of service for lower priced, one-off consultations). You don’t need to wait for something to go wrong before you give yourself and your clients the gift of well-managed expectations and beautiful boundaries!
Contracts stop you sounding like a broken record
Your contract gives you the freedom to focus on the individual and unique needs of each new client, knowing that all of the mundane repetitive details necessary to a good working relationship are still being communicated with clarity and consistency.
In fact, your contract has the potential to be the ultimate instruction guide for your clients, educating them about how to get the most out of working with you.
All of those annoying questions you find yourself answering over and over again? Add them to your contract.
All of those details that make the difference between someone being a hot mess or a fully engaged participant in your work? Put them in your contract.
Your contract is the ultimate client onboarding tool. Use it to warmly welcome a new client and assuage their anxieties. Give them all the information that they need so that they can make informed decisions about what choices are right for them.
Help unsuitable clients self-select out by ensuring they know if they are in the wrong place – and at the same time, allow your ideal clients to breathe a sigh of relief, knowing they have found the right person to work with and that your contract is holding a fair and caring space for you to build a fantastic working relationship with each other based on mutual respect and understanding.
Contracts stop clients from tromping on your toes
We have all had nightmare clients – the ones who push your buttons, ignore your boundaries and stretch your limits.
Your clients are important to you, so you try to be patient and understanding. If you are an over-giver or a rescuer, you might find yourself continuously sacrificing your own needs over and over again until your service-based business begins to feel more like slavery. This pain plays out in other ways, until you find yourself yelling at your kids or total strangers, with your confidence and self-respect in tatters.
Putting boundaries in your contract is not mean or nasty – it is essential self-preservation.
Tell your clients if you prefer to be contacted by email and that your phone is for emergencies only. Make it clear that messages will be responded to within a reasonable time frame (and that if they message you at 2am on a Friday night, not to expect a response.)
Give your clients the confidence of knowing what your refund policy is, and how much notice you need before they reschedule a session. Ensure they understand how they are entitled to use your intellectual property, and what kinds of use are not allowed.
Your contract also allows you to set clear consequences for situations where clients ignore these boundaries or persist in disrespectful behaviour. When your boundaries are trampled, you don’t need to feel bad – you just refer to the contract that they read and accepted and treat them like an adult by sticking to your agreement with them.
Having a contract that tells clients what you expect from them, and what they can expect from you, makes the difference between taking control of your business and being in a situation that is out of control.
Contracts stop misunderstandings causing mayhem
One of the most common causes of conflict situations faced by small businesses is disappointed expectations.
Your contract is the perfect place to warn clients about potential risks, and clearly explain the limits around the scope of your services.
Because you care about them, you want to prioritise informed consent and help them make the right decisions about what they need in the context of their own unique circumstances.
You want them to know that you cannot guarantee that they will achieve any particular results, because the progress they make will be depend on their own efforts and a wide range of factors specific to them that are beyond your knowledge and control.
You want them to know that you cannot just wave a magic wand and fix whatever their problem is. While you will do your best to support and guide them on their journey, they will need to do their own work and put effort in to achieve their goals. Let them know exactly what this looks like in relation to the services that you provide.
When your contract does a great job of managing the expectations of your client and setting you both up for success, the kinds of conflict situations that end up in court are much less likely to occur. Not only that – a good contract will set out a clear and fair dispute resolution strategy, making good faith negotiation the first step in any dispute, and emphasising that you will both work towards a win win solution without airing your dirty laundry in public.
How I can help
If you are not sure whether you need a client service agreement, or what kind of contract would suit you best, or if you know you need a bespoke solution drafted for you, please book a free 30 minute consultation to discuss your needs.
If you are looking for a DIY solution, I have a basic, simple client service agreement in a DIY Pack. I also have longer, more detailed agreements specifically designed for coaches, and one for healers (which has been used by all sorts of health service providers from naturopaths and nutritionists to reiki therapists and kinesiologists to GPs and psychologists.) I also have client service agreements especially for doulas, and one for web designers! You can find all of these DIY Packs with my Contracts that Care.