6 ways to avoid contract disputes with clients!

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I know it sounds strange, but engaging in a contract with an agency of any type is the smartest thing you can do. And if you’re a client – why you should put contracts in place with your vendors and agencies!

OK stop. Don’t click the close button. I get it. You think I’m crazy and I’m going to try and convince you, a savvy business owner, that contracts are the worst thing about marketing agencies or service providers. But they actual provide protection to both parties!

Also if you’re an agency owner who refuses to issue contracts, you could be leaving yourself wide open to potential payment issues, unknown risks and all sorts of headaches which a simple contract can fix.

Now I’m not a legal expert, and this not a place to get legal advice, and you should always consult a lawyer before engaging in any contract or issuing contracts to clients, but here is some of the learnings I’ve gained from working with legal teams and helping agencies.

  1. Get it in writing

    How many times have you heard this from someone? Someone probably, older, wiser and who has been on the tail end of something which they could have avoided if they just put something down on paper. An agreement between two parties is just that, something to hold the two parties together to ensure they both fulfil what they have agreed upon.

    Without a written agreement – as an agency owner. You have no payment schedule, you have no scope of work, you have no service offering and you are wide open to clients interpreting whatever they want out of the fee’s they are (hopefully) paying you on time every month.

    As a client – what are you paying for? What are the expectations that are set between yourself and the agency? What are your options if you are not happy with the service! You don’t know any of this without a contract.

  2. I’m not happy with this deliverable done 4 months ago

    If you’ve worked in an agency – you will have had this come across your desk on Friday at 3:30pm and you want to run for the hills – grab your favourite drink from the mini bar and get started on wiping out the week that you’ve just had.

    It’s a common tactic when either a new contact comes onboard client side, or if the client is unhappy and just wants to look for excuses on how to get out of their contract.

    If you want to avoid this scenario a really easy way is to have a clause within the contract regarding approval workflows and quality complaint timelines. It is not unfair or unreasonable to put agreements into place on how long it should take a client to approve something, or how long they have to get back to about something which they are unhappy with.

    Common clauses can have specific language around, auto approvals, and time periods for work quality grievances.

  3. What do I pay you for?

    Another banger of an email you will get from clients, you’ve been busting your but to organise everything for success on the campaign, the client has been throwing out terms like ‘Yeah you can do whatever you need’ and 5 months in they are looking at their investment and not understanding what they’ve purchased.

    You will probably argue that a contract doesn’t stop this from happening – which is true, but you will have something to refer back to if things do get a bit messy.

    The actual best remedy for this, is to follow up the contract signing with a full review of what the client has purchased almost immediately after they have signed the contract.

    For example –
    Client signs contract, assigned to account manager/customer success/yourself as a small agency owner.

    Set up an intro call with the client

    Repeat the order ‘You have signed up for the following services at the following price points’

    This step has saved thousands of dollars of wasted resources being spent, customer service teams time, legal costs and the most dreaded of all for an agency owner – the 1 star google review.
  4. Discuss everything upfront

    The contract is not something to be feared, its something to be embraced as it makes things clear on both sides of the fence. There are circumstances where clients will refuse to sign contracts, this can be ok as well if you both agree on some simple terms. I.e. “I will pay each month that I want the service”.

    If you can both agree to the service level agreement, payment terms and other particulars then you can move forward with services.
  5. Refer back to the project plan overtime

    A simple and easy to implement tactic is to keep enforcing the scope of work. If you have a report or presentation to submit to client, include a link to the WIP doc or to the project outline and show what has been completed, what is waiting on client and what is still to be done.

    When people are busy they start to lose focus on what different business units are working on, what goals are to be achieved, and what has actually been agreed upon. Putting this front of mind will help keep everyone on the same page and help projects move forward.
  6. Be Honest

    This is the easiest thing to do, and although you might be concerned about clients reactions, honesty will always make a favourable outcome. If you’ve made a mistake, own up to it. If the results arent as good as you thought they would be – explain why.

    Dont hide behind emails, dont avoid meetings and dont try to ignore things which could be avoided with a simple phone call.

    If you do end up losing the client due to something which is outside of your control, then its probably better to do it quickly before costs are disputed and things then end up taking more time away from running your agency.