Once you’ve been running your business for a while, it’s easy to let your Terms and Conditions just sit there idly, waiting for the next person to come along and half-read them. But a Terms and Conditions document should be a dynamic document which responds to (or hopefully pre-empts) changes in your market or things that your clients might do. My Ts & Cs have developed fairly reactively, based on issues I’ve had with customers, and I’ll admit that freely in order to save people from making the same mistakes!
How to stop overload
Even when you’re an experienced freelancer with a good handle on your workload, things can sometimes get A Bit Much. This happened to me just before our recent holiday (doesn’t it always!). I had promised two standard time turnarounds for two similar and large jobs, months apart. Both had negotiated and checked in through those intervening months, but not recently. Then – oh joy – they came in at the same time. Both of them. Within an hour of each other. And this tipped me into a situation where, although I didn’t miss any deadlines (of course), I was right up against my deadlines a couple of times, working flat-out, slightly too many hours a day, because those two promises had to be fulfilled and then the other work fitted around them.
The reason I couldn’t turn one of those jobs down? Well, I could have if it’d really wanted to, but it wouldn’t have felt professional. The problem was that I didn’t have anything in my Terms and Conditions that expressly covered this situation. So I got the job done, but I wasn’t that happy and had lost the relaxed and flexible lifestyle that I did this all for in the first place, working right up until the night before my holiday (I’m glad I’ve got holiday cover, anyway!).
Now I have a section in my Ts & Cs covering booking me in advance. This states that if a job is delivered to me late, I reserve the right to recommend the client on to another trusted editor (or transcriber or whoever) if I now can’t fit it in. No one likes turning down work, especially if it was booked in, but we have to retain our sanity and a rushed editor is never a good editor.
Interestingly, I read a post by a colleague, Adrienne Montgomery, about what happens if there’s a delay in submitting work to you and you have a gap in your schedule. I probably have a less-than-standard schedule because I tend to do lots of smaller projects rather than a few big ones, so I can always fill in gaps (with blog writing if nothing else, but that’s actually rare) but hit trouble when I get something in in the middle of other projects. But maybe that makes me more typical of freelancers as a whole.
How to firm up payment terms
Another example of learning from experience came when a client neglected to pay me. I had to call in a debt recovery company, and from them I learned that it’s customary to add in a paragraph to your Terms and Conditions that states that non-payers will be liable for your debt recovery company fees. You can’t claim those fees back from them unless you’ve put that in your Ts &Cs first, of course. So that’s gone in there, too.
Can you make people read your Terms and Conditions?
In my original negotiations, I always ask my prospective client to read my Ts & Cs and confirm they accept them. I’ve now tweaked that to say that sending in their document to me constitutes acceptance of my terms – this protects me if they claim they didn’t know they had to pay, etc., and might just lead them to read them. If you have ways of getting people to engage with yours, I’d love to hear them!
Other additions to Terms and Conditions
Your business will vary from mine. Mine are specific to my market and my clients, and the way in which I work. For example, I have a big section on how I work with students, in order to combat the issue of plagiarism – and to be seen to be doing so. This originally arose when a very early client complained that I hadn’t done as much rewriting of their essay as they’d hoped! I also have a section on corrupt files that releases me from having to fight with recalcitrant documents that won’t behave, and bits on plagiarism for writers other than students.
Check your Terms and Conditions now
Do yourself a favour and review your Ts & Cs regularly. I had my colleagues Laura Ripper and Linda Bates look over my additions and changes before I published them. As well as adding the sections on pre-booking and debt recovery companies, I firmed up a few other areas, too. It’s worth keeping on top of things.
Here are my Terms and Conditions – a work in progress, as I said. You may know me as an editor, transcriber, proofreader and localiser, but I also write business books and you can find out all about them here!