There’s often chat in the virtual assistant world regarding contracts versus terms and conditions and whether the formal approach of issuing contracts actually puts off potential clients. Some hold the opinion that published terms and conditions are enough and that displaying these on your web site or issuing them to new clients should be sufficient. To an extent I agree that issuing a 10 page contract to a new client who is only looking to work with you for a few hours on a one-off project can seem a little over doing it. Of course in this instance you should ask for payment up front. But when it comes to long term clients, a word of caution…
Several years ago I had my first non-payer. We had worked together for several months and he had always paid on time. Then, over a period of a few months things slipped and he ended up owing me a couple of thousand pounds. When I had the audacity to ask when my invoices would be paid, his response proved that actually he no longer needed my services and was simply looking to get as much work as possible from me for free before the penny dropped with me that he was actually not intending to pay. The long and short of it was that I eventually got the money but it was after a lengthy court process and a lot of stress.
Lessons learned? I immediately took advice on what should be included in my contract because, although I had one at the time, it was nowhere near watertight enough and I hadn’t included things I could charge for such as penalties for late payment and interest. If at the time I could have produced his signed contract accepting these clauses, I could have been much more effective in collecting the debt before it went through the whole legal process. After all, if you were presented in an option of pay the invoiced amount today, or in 7 days it will cost you 15% more in penalties plus interest, wouldn’t you pay now?
I also now only accept clients on a pay up front basis and have never had any prospect or client comment or complain about this way of working. This in itself won’t cover you completely as there are always the extra hours you may work over and above what has been prepaid, and then of course there are the additional expenses which can mount up. But, in general, it does prevent a similar situation from occurring again.
In summary I would suggest you do both, get a proper, legally binding contract in place AND charge your clients up front for the hours you will work for them. Contracts for both short term ‘Pay As You Go’ clients and those on more long term ’Retainer’ arrangements can be found at the VA Success Group.