Small Business Owners Need to Get It in Writing

ContractWhy do so many business owners only think about the contract AFTER they have done the work?

Let me set up the typical scenario:

Prospective Client:  Hi Attorney Proia.  My accountant, Joe Schmo, suggested that I contact you.

Me:  Hi!  How can I help you?

Prospective Client:  A customer called me up and needed a custom website with X, Y, and Z functionality.  The website came out great, and other customers are interested in it.  Who owns the website?

Me:  What does your contract say?

Prospective Client:  I don’t have a contract.  They needed the work done in a hurry…there was no time to lose…it was a handshake deal…

Ugh!

Why, oh, why didn’t you think about this stuff BEFORE you did the work?

Written contracts are important.  They define relationships.  They sort out the pesky little details like what happens if you don’t perform, who owns what, and how on earth you’re going to get paid.

When I worked in-house, legal was always blamed for holding up the deal.  If it weren’t for legal, we could have booked that order by now.  (I always liked to think that if it weren’t for legal, the company would be out of business because we’d never get paid, everyone would steal our IP, and general chaos would reign, but I digress.)

I know that negotiating contracts can be frustrating and time-consuming.  Contracts can actually be scary for small business owners.  What if I ask for too much?  Will the customer walk away?

When you think that the worst thing that can happen is the customer walking away, it feels better to just take the money without making waves.  Can’t you hear the list of excuses for not getting an agreement in writing?  They seem like nice people.  They’ll never sue me.  I know they’re good for the money.

But then you end up with uncertainty, and let me tell you, uncertainty is WAY scarier than letting the customer walk away.  In fact, after a few rounds of trying to get your money, you will wish you had let them walk right out the door.

By trying to avoid a little pain in the beginning, you could be dealing with a lot of misery in the end.

Don’t let this happen to you.  Get it in writing BEFORE the $#!+ hits the fan (because you can always use the contract to clean up after the mess.)

3 Little Words

It’s January, the month of resolutions, of planning, of strategizing what we hope to accomplish in the new year ahead.

Personally, I don’t make resolutions.  Although there are a few things I could change about me, I know that making resolutions is a waste of time.  Why?  Because I know I’m probably not going to stop procrastinating, there will still be clutter around my house, and even though I pay for membership to our local YMCA, I’m still going to struggle to get my butt over there.  (That’s just who I am.)

I typically make goals instead.

Every year I make a list of things that I hope to accomplish in the 12 months that lay ahead of me.    Some goals are personal, like find a new kitchen table that better accommodates our family or paint the master bedroom.  I might even unpack the last of the boxes from our move 3.5 years ago.  (This particular item has to do with that procrastination thing I mentioned above.)

I also spend a fair amount of time setting goals for my business.   So, during the last week of 2012, I took out a notebook and started jotting down all of the things I hope to accomplish in 2013, like

  • Conduct a webinar once a month.
  • Write an eBook on IP for Entrepreneurs.
  • Blog every Tuesday and Thursday.
  • Build my “List”.

There were goals related to social media and income, as well as a new blog that I’ll be rolling out this month.  When I finished this year’s list, I felt pretty good about it.  With a little effort, each item is pretty easy to accomplish, and if I accomplished every item on the list, I would certainly move by business forward.

Or so I thought.

I was proud of myself and my list.  That is until I read David Ackert’s blog post, Three Words for 2013.  David doesn’t make resolutions.  Instead, David uses Chris Brogan’s “My 3 Words” concept for New Year’s planning.

The 3 words idea is simple.  You identify 3 words that serve as themes for the upcoming year.  These words are supposed to “sum up what you want to work actionably on changing/improving in the coming year.”  According to Chris Brogan, choosing 3 words to focus on helps you look at the bigger story.

“The big story is that which we want to believe about our life and our goals and our plan…Goals are a way of knowing that you’re headed in the direction of your…story.”

So I took another look at my list.

My list was just a list of individual action items.  It’s not a bad list, but merely a laundry list, a to-do list.  It didn’t say anything about what I want to be true and to believe about my life.  Where was my “big story”?

So I came up with my 3 words.

  1. Dare. 

  2. Communicate. 

  3. Earn. 

If I dare to step out of my comfort zone and communicate my message to those who need to hear it, I will earn respect, an audience, and money.

That’s a pretty powerful story.

I challenge you to try this exercise.  Let me know what your 3 words are in the comments below.