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Client contracts

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Anyone use client contracts with regular customers?

I'm thinking about it. One of my regular clients has rolled over ten weeks of work till next year at very short notice. I'm pretty sure it's down to poor organisation and planning on their part and budgetary disagreements between father and son in what is a family run business.

 

I know they want me to continue next year and there's lots of future work there as well so I don't want to ditch them but they are badly organised and poor communicators. I have a meeting with the boss and he takes no notes and immediately forgets most of what we've discussed and what he's agreed to. He asked me to produce a hedgerow survey for the whole farm, which I did, and he didn't read it or show it to anyone so the contractors flailed the wrong hedges. And getting them to confirm work in good time so I can organise other work around them is a constant battle.

 

The boss has asked me for my thoughts on rolling this year's work over so I'm thinking of telling him that if he does that at such short notice (I was due to start next month) and in view of past communication difficulties, future work must be subject to contract.

 

If I go that route, where do I start in drawing one up? Are any of the online contract writers any good? I don't want to pay a lawyer for a simple document but if I do it I want it to be watertight and workable. 

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Lots of reasons to having a client contract. Tree Surgeon Insurance recently put a post on facebook about this....

 

Claims reminder!

In the last 8 weeks, guess what the number one cause of claims has been?

Not having a contract!

Despite this being frequently suggested, it appears very few Arborists and Foresters get a written contract drawn up between themselves and their customer.

Here is an example of a claim that could have been avoided had a contract been in place:

A tree was overhanging a very old fence that was almost falling down. The Arborist was concerned that even the slightest touch would cause the fence to collapse. The client apparently said

‘Don’t worry- I can see that and I won’t blame you - I am going to replace it anyway’.

Well, surprise surprise, during the course of the works the fence collapsed and….guess what? The client denies the conversation ever took place and wants the contractor to pay for a whole new fence.

This could so easily have been avoided had a contract been in place. Our advice is to NEVER do any work without terms being agreed in writing stipulating, amongst other things:

1/ The exact work to be done.

2/ A discharge of liability for named risks - in the above case it would have been the old fence.

3/ That the client has obtained all permissions for the work being undertaken - including from third parties - and as such indemnifies the contractor should a dispute arise.

4/ Payment terms.

5/ Any obstacles that should be avoided.

There are numerous other points you could include in a contract, so you must seek professional advice on the wording.

Without any hesitation I would STRONGLY recommend you never do a job without one - it could literally save your bacon!

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Use email.
I write out a long email defining the work to be done and parameters.
This is sent to client who returns an email saying they agree.
I won't work for anyone who doesn't return the email.
Thinking about a 10% deposit as well now, having people cancel the day before...

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Everyone should have a written contract for the work they are going to do. The AA provide some guidance on terms and conditions of contract for consultants. Whether this could be tweaked for contractors I don't know. But it's not that expensive for a start. Probably cheaper than getting a lawyer to draft you something bespoke. You could always plagerise someone else's terms and conditions.

 

I'd never trust the client to ensure all the necessary permissions were in place, that's a recipe for disaster. But worth including some wording along the lines suggested. It's worth bearing in mind that you still have some responsibility for what you do, or don't do.

 

When meeting with a client make your own notes. Then email them to your client asking them to confirm the accuracy of the notes.

 

I'd do tree applications for free, once the client agreed to the works. But if the client then changed their mind I'd have it in the contract that I'd charge them for the application. I'd also have a clause regards a charge for cancelling nearer the time agreed for the works to be carried out, it's not unreasonable to get something for your time and trouble.

Edited by EdwardC
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Some good advice here. Thanks folks.

I don't have the tree applications process to use as leverage unfortunately. But I do need some sort of penalty clause to ensure commitment and deter last minute cancellations/postponements. That is my real issue. There aren't that many unrelated liabilities to guard against with hedge laying, and there's minimal scope for client mission creep, other than agreements over the disposal of brash.

The problem is being messed about and poor management that leads to clients making decisions at the 11th hour.

I'm definitely putting a deadline clause in place demanding that the contract is agreed to by the 31 of July. Dithering until a fortnight before the season starts over whether you really want a kilometer of hedging done or not isn't good enough. I then need some sort of penalty in place to ensure that agreement is not broken.

 

The 10% deposit is a good idea. I have to supply a lot of coppice material, some of which I buy, some I cut myself. If I am to commit to that expenditure and logistical planning it's surely reasonable to expect similar commitment from the client. Maybe I should insist on a non-returnable deposit to be paid at the time when the contract is agreed. My worry with this client is that the son, who is the company accountant, will want to commit to the hedge laying contract only when the harvest figures are in. That's far to late for me. If I agree to a roll-over for this year the price will be that commitments and deposits are paid in advance in future.

 

It's a tricky balance. I don't want to drive the client away but I've got to protect my interests at the same time.  

 

Edited by Gimlet

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Well I've emailed the client telling him that future works must be contractual.

I await his response. Either things will be better organised from now on or I'll be looking for another client.. 

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2 hours ago, Gimlet said:

Well I've emailed the client telling him that future works must be contractual.

I await his response. Either things will be better organised from now on or I'll be looking for another client.. 

Good clients are hard come by, unfortunately some just need a little 'educating' to continue the relationship. 

Personally I would have tried to have a chat about the problems that they've created and then then say that I was introducing a contract and a more formal approach than previously. (taking the sting out of the equation a bit ;))

 

As an outsider I can see both points of view from what you've written and can see why they might like to hold back before committing themselves. You want them to see your point of view but understand theirs too. I'd really try to work with them if they are that good a client/provide a significant volume of work, maybe work together that any start date can be moved, with enough notice either way that it works for both of you. 

 

Hope you can work something out so that you keep the client and go forward in a mutually beneficial way.

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25 minutes ago, Gary Prentice said:

Good clients are hard come by, unfortunately some just need a little 'educating' to continue the relationship. 

Personally I would have tried to have a chat about the problems that they've created and then then say that I was introducing a contract and a more formal approach than previously. (taking the sting out of the equation a bit ;))

 

As an outsider I can see both points of view from what you've written and can see why they might like to hold back before committing themselves. You want them to see your point of view but understand theirs too. I'd really try to work with them if they are that good a client/provide a significant volume of work, maybe work together that any start date can be moved, with enough notice either way that it works for both of you. 

 

Hope you can work something out so that you keep the client and go forward in a mutually beneficial way.

I am one for an old fashion hand shake but in this day and age paperwork/emails is essential to keep both parties legal of any issues.

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