Out of the frying pan, into the fire.
I recommend that small businesses (including sole traders) share their terms and conditions. Publish your minimum terms and conditions (T&C) on your website to help prospective clients understand the requirements and limits of working with you. A link to your full T&C should be referenced in a quote or an estimate. Or, the terms and conditions should be repeated as part of a proposal or contract.
Out of the frying pan, into the fire.
I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice. I’m sharing my opinions based on my business experiences. Please contact a lawyer if you have any concerns or need help protecting your business from risks.
Poorly planned T&Cs can land you in trouble when your under pressure. Personally, I believe terms and conditions should be written in “plain English.” And, be careful! Don’t use template terms and conditions without editing the terms to fit your business. This means, finding a template you understand or rewriting parts of the terms in English you understand. Delete the terms that don’t apply to your business.
Quickly assess your unique business
Take a browse of the sent items in your email. Looking at the replies you sent to clients will give you an idea of the unique issues you addressed in your business. Skim your messages:
- Review the items current, past and potential clients are asking for (more time to pay, specific notifications)
- Notice if your clients mentioned competitor’s offers, terms or services
- What were your responses to a client’s complaints?
- Did your subcontractors, vendors or suppliers need payments or timing whilst you completed your client’s projects?
- Look at the comments your clients made about those supplied services or products
- List the most uncomfortable questions your clients asked
Terms and Conditions prevent problems
Use the answers and notes from the questions to start by writing your terms and conditions. Write your T&C to cover your MVP (Minimum Viable Product). These terms can be an emulation or combination of terms you see in a template or on a larger company’s website. (Seeing an example of a similar T&C may be easier than following detailed instructions.)
Think about writing the T&C that you publish on your website as the template text that you will use in your contracts. Treat your publicly posted T&C like a feeder to your contract.
Start with the end in mind. Your goal is to prevent problems whilst successfully delivering a paid project. Take a look at Freelancer Union’s tips to get a start:
12 tips for contract negotiation
[ https://www.freelancersunion.org/blog/2015/10/06/12-tips-contract-negotiation/ ]
Who, what, when, where and how
Terms and conditions are a little different than marketing. In marketing you start with the why. In terms and conditions, you usually leave the why out. Your terms and conditions should cover:
- Who you are, who they are (example – we are the contractor, you are the client)
- What your service or product is (minimum example – writing services)
- How, when and where (example is a preferred case)
I suggest using your preferred case in steps and actions. Write both the positive and the negative requirements. In other words, ideally you and I do the step. If you or I don’t do the step, the step ends or results in a different situation.
T&C to Work with an Estimate
I use an Estimate as my contract for service. My “how, what and where” statement in my terms and conditions:
She offers full-day services during business hours Monday through Friday, Perth Western Australia Time, excluding public holidays.
When you write your T&C, you may need to specify details or be unable to demand details based on your local governing law. My terms and conditions need to work with Australian business and contract laws when I am working on Australian projects. Here’s a nice summary of the pieces of the Australian law that my T&C need to support.
Four Essential Elements of a Contract
[ https://www.smallbusiness.wa.gov.au/business-topics/money-tax-and-legal/legal-matters/business-contracts/four-essential-elements-of-a-contract/ ]
- Intention of legal consequences
Offer and Contract
My business uses the Estimate for both the Australian Offer and Contract. Once the estimate is accepted, it becomes the contract. The payment and legal consequences are supported by the invoice terms and the conditions of the fees. I use my terms and conditions as an example,
Each job will be estimated by email, and an online bookkeeping system (FreshBooks). The estimate acts as a contract. By accepting the estimate we are agreeing to a contract, and these terms. Open estimates (estimates that have not been accepted) are valid for 30 days from the date of issue.
Invoices for work-to-date and reimbursable costs are issued mid-month and end-of-month during the duration of the jobs. Invoices are due 14 days from the date on the invoice.
Service fees will be stated in writing in the estimate. Fee are estimated per job, on an hourly basis, or as a flat-fee within a limited job duration. Day-rate, hourly, and flat-rate fees are listed on the Fees & Pricing Page. Client-approved estimates are preferred. Time sheets may be used for jobs that cannot be accurately estimated. The job tracking will be agreed to before starting the job.
Where and When Again
Help your online visitors by stating again, where your local business laws come and when you last checked your T&C. Stating the location of your local laws prevents confusion if you have your T&C online (on your website). This can be important if you work interstate. And, be careful — your local terms may not apply if you are working internationally.
These Terms and Conditions shall be binding and shall be governed by and interpreted according to the local, state, national and tax laws. Where applicable (such as copyright law) these Terms and Conditions may also be subject to international law.
Reviewed on 25 November 2015
Reviewing and updating your T&C annual helps you fix terms that don’t work. The date may also help you if your client finds an older version of your terms and conditions. You can show, in plain English that you made your terms readily accessible and kept the terms current.
I can help you prepare easy to read website terms for your potential clients. I’m here to help you convert your Terms & Conditions from legalese to Business English. I’m not an attorney, so I recommend that you run the final copy by an attorney.