Recipe for Success: A Well-Written Contract Can Make All the Difference for Your Project

Oct 27, 2020

You know what the most exciting part of any day is? Writing contracts! You may laugh, but it can be a positive step in a relationship with another organization.

To build that relationship, the primary goal is for you and the other organization to agree on how your project should go. We regularly write contracts with our clients, and we’ve learned some useful things along the way.

Setting the Stage

Contracts are legally binding in most cases. Before building a project-specific statement of work, you may want to create an overarching contract such as a master services agreement (MSA). The MSA lasts for several years, and any project-specific statements of work fall under it.

Our MSA contains legal language regarding the following issues and more:

  • Communication
  • Work quality parameters
  • Termination of the contract
  • Cancellation of work
  • General payment terms
  • How any disputes will be arbitrated

Breaking It Down

The statement of work, or SOW, is a contract that delves into the services that will be provided for a particular project, the deliverables that the customer can expect, and any specifications and pricing that go along with those services and deliverables.

To achieve clarity, an SOW should be well organized and straightforward. Our SOWs are effective contracts because they include these key sections:

  • Project duration
  • Services to be rendered (in our case, often writing, editing, copyediting, page composition, art development, and more)
  • Deliverables (for example, student books, online course modules)
  • Specifications and criteria (parameters around all aspects of the project)
  • Charges and fees, including payment terms
  • Milestone and payment schedule
  • Statement of work duration
  • Signature page

Each organization uses a different template for contracts, but the key is to make sure you have the basics covered in a way that makes sense to everyone involved.

Paying Attention to Details—and Avoiding Pitfalls

Once you have your sections established, make sure to edit for clarity and remove extra words. Also, use a lettering or numbering system, which makes it simple to refer to part of the contract rather than dig through a multi-page document. We’ve learned this the hard way while sifting through bulleted items.

Image of someone holding a pen as they sign a contract
Photo by Cytonn Photography from Pexels

If the information in the contract is too high level, there’s too much room for scope creep. Think of scope creep this way: You ask your child if she’d like a hamburger, and she says yes. But then she asks for cheese, pickles, ketchup, mustard, peppers, and an extra meat patty. Your expectation: She wants a plain burger. Her expectation: The works.

In a business situation, the same thing can happen. You may think that your organization will be creating a simple student page, while your customer thinks you’re designing a high-end, customized, interactive student experience.

To avoid scope creep, ensure that all specifications or assumptions are clear, relevant, and correct. In each contract, we include a section of general specifications as well as those relating to art, content development, and so on. Specifications outline how many rounds of revisions our team will do, how long the project will take, and even what “simple” art means as opposed to “complex” art.

Here’s an example of another contract pitfall: We created an SOW that listed a price for very specific line items and had many specifications. But our customer was expecting a collaborative, open-ended working relationship. For our next SOW with that client, we changed to a model that allowed the client to utilize our resources to achieve some broader, more adjustable goals.

Ready to Go

It may seem nicer to shake hands with another organization and make a verbal agreement, but having the agreement in writing can prevent misunderstandings and loss of revenue. Your ultimate goal is to get paid for your products and services, so make your agreement legally binding.

If you don’t feel comfortable editing contracts or don’t understand the legal language involved, hire a lawyer to help until you feel more confident. A lawyer can also be a gatekeeper on any large or unusual contracts.

With your contract in hand and clear expectations to guide you, you can move forward and build the best experience for you and your client.

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