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Finally learned about needing a solid contract (the hard way)



4:39 am on Jun 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

I mostly need to vent my frustration here, but maybe it can help anyone who's wondering how much they really need to spell out in their contract....

I got a request for proposal that outlined the details of a site, it also estimated the development would take about 4 months to complete. My proposal estimated less time. Once I was hired for the job I was informed that the person I should discuss the contract with was also the person who would be in charge of billing. He was not a part of the "web committee" who I would be working with to develop the site (none of whom are developers, all from various departments within organization). This concerned me a little because I wanted to be sure the contract addressed things such as the site taking more time than estimated and thought that these issues should be discussed with the actual people working on the site. Because it's a pretty large organization they already had contracts they needed filled out and to approve the use of my contract could have been a lengthy process. Since they had already begun regular meetings (which I was obviously supposed to attend) and were very anxious to start the development process I went against my better judgement and just had a few sections added to their contract so I could get started.

Lesson 1, don't start the site until the contract is signed and the first payment is recieved! 2 months later I recieved my first check, which was supposed to be my initial deposit for starting the site. I had been working the whole time and was told multiple times that the check was sent, even though it hadn't been. Jump ahead 2 months to today, the site is about halfway done.

Lesson 2, limit the number of revisions in the contract! A combination of late content and being revisioned to death has caused the development to grind to a turtles pace. 4 months into it (which was their original estimate and at least a month longer than mine) and the end is not in site.

Lesson 3, when you're paid by the project spell out the maximum time you'll spend before charging more! For some reason which I can't seem to figure out now, I added a section to the contract that specified the maximum number of pages I would create, but not the maximum amount of time the project could consume. I really don't know what I was thinking, I spelled out the maximum size of the site but there's nothing that says it can't take a year to develop!

I called the person who is in charge of the project to see if I could at least get a partial advance on the final payment since it's going to take so much longer than expected, but I must have sounded pretty pathetic because I got a lot of comments about how it is "dealing with committees in the real world". I was really made to feel like a naive, inexperienced businessperson and I actually believed that the problem was with the way I had dealt with the site development until I thought about it a little. I realized that I had done everything the way I should, I was very vocal in the beginning about certain things I saw that were slowing the development. The problem was that I did not have a solid contract to back up the things I was saying. If I had stated in the contract that after 2 revisions (or even 3 or 4 for that matter!) there would be an extra hourly charge I could have ceased the endless revisions. If I had stated that failure to deliver content on time may push the deadline back and require extra compensation, it may have given my words a little more force. These are just a few examples but the list of things I should have spelled out goes on. I had read most of these things a million times, but like everything else I've really learned, I guess I had to experience it for myself.


8:26 pm on Jun 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

Yup... I feel ya!

When we write our proposals with a time of completion, it's accompanied by a timeline of YOU do this in this amount of time, and WE do this amt of time.. then the overall time of completion is based on THAT. If THEY don't get the ifno to you in time.. THEY're in breach, not you :) When dealing with a large organization we also stipulate SPECIFIC POINTS OF CONTACT. Usually 1, but could be more. That way, THEY deal with their own internal bickering and you deal with 1 or 2 representatives.

looks like this
US = you
THEM = customer

1.US - 5 days - demo page
2.THEM - 10 days - review demo page & return comments, company info and brochures, logos
3.US - 15 dyas - revise demo if necessary and begin site work. submit first draft of site.
4. THEM - 15 days - review and comment on 1st draft..


11:38 am on Jun 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

I feel for you too jfred1979! Can't say that I haven't been in similar situation myself :(

jennij, I like that approach but am wondering what do you do if the client does breach for extended delays? What's the consequence?

I have a clause that says I have the right to reschedule a project if the delays are excessive (I've had clients take several months - they come out of the blue and expect you to drop everything) but that still doesn't solve a key problem: delays cost money.


1:16 pm on Jun 13, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

THEIR PROJECT CAN BE MOVED TO THE BACK OF THE LINE if it's delaying our other projects. that's normally enough to light a fire under them.

if they DON'T get materials to us we try initially to find out why and help remedy if possible. maybe they're not sure what to do, how to do it, they're waiting on someone else, etc.


10:36 am on Jun 30, 2003 (gmt 0)

10+ Year Member

We recently introduced a 50% up front deposit, justified in part to maintain cash-flow and part to stop time wasters. It seems to work well. If they argue about the deposit, chances are they either don't have the money or are not serious. In either case you don't need a client like that.

Yes you may lose the odd one this way but it saves a LOT of headaches in the longer term and keeps the money flowing.

In any event, we still have people banging on the door for new work.....:)


10:49 am on Jun 30, 2003 (gmt 0)

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member

My payment system used to work on 'voices in my head' and alarm bells.

If, after talking the client, the voices told me to ask for a deposit I did, and got it.

If alarm bells sounded, I asked for full payment and got it.

Now I don't listen to the voices or alarm bells, I offer a pre payment discount and it works very well.

Any changes to the original agreement are confirmed by email with another question to ensure they reply with acknowledgement.

Anything the client asks for which goes against the grain I email them with my opinion.


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