45royale September 24, 2007

PMGEP Part 2: With this contract, I thee web…

In the first installment of the Product Manager’s Guide to Extraordinary Projects (PMGEP), we discussed initial client interactions and how to choose the best client for your company. Now that you have found that perfect client, you’re ready to dive headfirst into an exciting new project. But wait, there is one last thing you need in place before you open up Photoshop or write that first line of code. The contract. Unless you are a lawyer, the contract phase is probably the least exciting stop on the road to an extraordinary project. At times I liken the contract stage to waiting on the tarmac at the airport after you’ve boarded the plane and about to take off for a week long vacation. You’re bursting with energy, excited to start living it up when the captain comes on the loud speaker and says your flight will be delayed due to inclement weather. Although at times contracts and contract negotiations can seem tedious and lessen the energy level going into a project, they are crucial to its success and help protect you and your company if things take a turn for the worst during the project.

Are contracts necessary?

Absolutely! The goal of a contract is to protect both parties in the event that someone doesn’t hold up their end of the bargain. We all wish we could take people at their word when they tell you they are going to do something, but the reality is you need to take steps to make sure you’re covered if disaster strikes. Even if you’re doing a seemingly small project for a familiar client or even a friend, a signed contract reminds everyone - including you - that while this may be a minor undertaking in the grand scheme of things, it is still a professional business arrangement.

Here at 45royale, instead of getting bummed out about having to sort through all the contract’s legal jargon, we look at it as another opportunity to strengthen our relationship with our client. First off, taking the time to draw up a contract that outlines terms of your agreement can show a client that you are serious and invested in the project’s success. They know you’ll deliver because if you don’t, the contract says you won’t get paid. Simple as that. Secondly, outlining a project’s scope, requirements, and deliverables in a contract can set everyone’s expectations. The client knows that you’ll be giving them Photoshop comps and a coded four page site. Conversely, you’ll know that they’ll be providing feedback on your work and paying you when they say they will. When both parties are secure in their arrangement and free of worry and doubts, you’d be amazed at the kind of creativity and energy that can be generated at the start of a project.

Where do I get a contract?

Now that you are aware of the importance of a contract, what do you do if you don’t have one? If you’re just starting out doing freelance work or thinking about starting your own company it’s likely you don’t have a standard contract. Many sites on the internet offer standard contracts that you can download and are free to use. Sites like AIGA.org have contracts that you can download in PDF form and can even include helpful tips about customizing a standard contract to fit your needs. However, if you’re going to be negotiating a contract more than just one time, its probably best to invest in a contract drafted by a lawyer or at least have them re-work one of the standard contracts to better apply to your specific situation.

Use my contract, no use mine

Once you are armed with a solid contract you can feel more confident about entering into an arrangement with another person or company. Some companies don’t have consulting agreements already drawn up, so having yours handy can certainly save some time. But what do you do if your client has a standard contract of their own? More often than not established companies will come to the table with a standard contract already in hand. While this is expected, you need to be aware that the terms of your client’s contract could be structured in their favor. As a result you need to review any agreement closely before signing on the dotted line. In particular, contracts with larger corporations are usually very detailed and lengthy. It’s quite likely that they have an entire legal department drawing up contracts for them. If you’re not a lawyer, don’t pretend to be. If you’re unsure what a particular clause or section in a legal document means, don’t sign it until you’ve asked your client for clarification and/or had the document reviewed by a lawyer.

The saga continues…

While contract delays can stall a project, it’s important that you do your best to protect your business and your work. Once you have your agreement in place you can actually start producing and making your client’s vision a reality. You both came up with a plan, signed an agreement to work together, and now its time to execute. Well don’t just stand there, get to work!

In Part 3 of the Product managers Guide to Extraordinary Projects we’ll cover two things that will either make your project or break it. That’s right, we’ll be talking about creating a project schedule and setting project milestones. Stay tuned!

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