When I came up with this series, I knew that I wanted Brigitte Theriault to participate. Brigitte is a 10-year person chef veteran, but she struggles with an issue familiar to many creative service providers: the contract. For many creatives, presenting and negotiating a contract is a roller coaster of emotions. And I knew that Brigitte’s struggles around this issue would resonate with many of you.
Without diving into the nitty gritty, tell us a little about a time you learned the “legal” ropes…
I’d given a client my rates for the full-service cook date. But failed to give her a fee for the “trial” cook date we’d set up. This meant she flipped when she saw my first invoice and the “trial” cook date fee was included. In addition to being upset about the fee, she complained that the food made her son sick.
Yuck, that doesn’t sound fun, how did you feel at that moment?
I’m sure she did it to get out of paying the invoice. But the “threat” that I had made someone in her family sick terrified me. (Even though I know my food was perfectly safe.) And while she probably would not have sued me, the experience scared me. So much that I realized I needed to have my legal ducks in order in case something like this happened again.
Did this impact your creative business? How?
After a week’s worth of stress and sleepless nights, I voided the invoice to appease the client. I also got insurance to cover these kinds of situations. Finally, I updated my contracts so this won’t happen again.
After a week’s worth of stress and sleepless nights, I voided the invoice to appease the client.
What ropes did you learn from going through this experience?
I learned that having clear contracts are invaluable, even for trial dates. To lessen confusion, I also decided to put up my minimum rates on the website. All in all, I hadn’t had complaints in 10 years – but this was enough of a scare to get my systems in order!
How can you avoid this?
As Brigitte learned, sometimes information that seems obvious to you isn’t to your clients. The fact that there is a separate charge for the trial cook date is one of those things. You know that it’s an extra charge, but clients might assume this fee is included in the service charge.
Sometimes information that seems obvious to you isn’t to your clients.
One way to find out where misunderstandings might arise is to call a close friend or family member. You want someone who understands what you do–but isn’t in the same business. And then role-play with them and walk through your client intake process.
Take note of any of the following:
- What questions to they have?
- What do they think is unclear?
- What surprised them?
Then using that data, go through your entire client intake process. Create a list of places where confusion arrived in your role-play scenario. Brainstorm and add to that list any other places where misunderstandings might arise.
Once you have your list create FAQ, policies, and update your contract. These three things will assure that the information you know is shared with your clients.
And remember, your contract doesn’t have to be stuffed with legalese. It just needs to outline what you will be exchanging and the rules around your exchange.
How you can easily apply this today
- Send a friend an email asking if you can take her to coffee. Use this coffee date to talk through your client intake process and note where confusion might arise.
- Create an Evernote note (or other file) that you can jot down client questions and misunderstandings. You can use this data to refine your client intake process.
Have you learned the hard way that contracts are important for your business? What tools do you use to gain confidence in presenting and negotiating contracts? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Want to connect with Brigitte? In addition to her work as personal chef, she is the founder of the Personal Chef Business Academy which trains personal chefs on everything they need to know outside the kitchen to succeed. You can also connect with her on Facebook.