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Working without a contract is like walking a tightrope without a net.

Many people starting out in business enter into work arrangements without negotiating any type of contract with clients. These situations rarely end well.

A contract protects both parties. It is simply a respectful way of conducting your business. If you are afraid of documenting your business agreements in writing, you must get over it. For both your sakes.

As work progresses, unforeseeable situations can arise that you must address. And, many clients will commonly ask (or worse, expect) you to do any number of things for them along the way that were clearly not part of your original understanding of the work proposed and agreed upon.

Most people have difficulty refusing such client requests and will overextend themselves so as not to rock the boat. Meanwhile, they are silently fuming and feeling taken advantage of (which is often the case). This situation is only made worse when a client’s demand for freebies grows. And a lack of appreciation for and acknowledgement of your generous concessions and accommodations becomes painfully apparent.

You deserve to be paid for all extra work completed at the client’s request! However, clients more than likely expect it to be done at no additional charge, regardless of the hassle-factor and extra time involved. These sticky situations strain relationships. Left unchecked, they ultimately have a negative impact on your physical, mental and emotional health (not to mention your bottom line).

The good news? They are completely avoidable, if you include a supplemental fee clause in the contract before starting the work.

About supplemental fees

A good contract protects you from what you might be asked to do by a client, not just what you agreed to do for money.

Supplemental fees are charges you only bill a client for if the client asks you to do work outside of the scope of work defined in the contract. These fees include additional payment at an hourly rate (noted in your contract) plus any associated costs.

If the additional work required is something you’ve uncovered in the process of doing the client’s job rather than something above-and-beyond the client has specifically asked you to do, you should always discuss it with the client first and obtain approval to proceed. This helps avoid situations where the client believed the work to be part of the original scope of the contract and therefore would not be expecting any additional charges for it.

In such cases, even though there may be only a verbal discussion in person or by phone with your client, you’ll want to follow up with an email or text to ensure there is an audit trail containing the pertinent details. In the rush of the moment, memories often lapse come billing time — a situation you want to avoid.

Further, if significant costs will be incurred, ask the client to initial the request before starting the work to ensure there is no misunderstanding.

Define the scope of work in the contract

The scope of work section of the contract relates to the supplemental fee clause. When your scope of work is clearly defined, confusion over what constitutes additional work subject to a supplemental fee is eliminated.

However, prepare yourself. Despite including the supplemental fee clause, some clients will not be happy to see additional charges on your invoice. (Then again, there are also clients who are not happy to pay the contracted amount either.)

That’s another reason to document any additional services and requests delivered. Talk with your client about any additional work you are doing that is subject to the supplemental fee.

Putting a solid contracting process in place won’t stop clients from trying to take advantage of you. But, it does reduce the risk of your being bullied or guilted into doing it.

More next time. Until then, remember to LOVE YOUR WORK, whatever it may be.

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