Part of being a consultant is meeting new prospective clients all the time, and in a short period of time proposing a contract for work. These contracts can cover months of work by any number of people. And once we all sign it, it’s binding. So, it’s important that it be understandable, useful and correct.

I’m surprised at how often clients give only cursory attention to contracts before agreeing to sign them. They treat it like it’s just “blah, blah, blah.”

Blah blah gif from Tumblrwhatgiftoday

But without a good plan, you can’t count on a good outcome. The contract needs to have all the right elements in it, and the correct sequence of using them. For example, if your contract doesn’t have these elements, ask your consultant why not:

  • The overarching goal
  • The consultant’s responsibilities
  • The client’s responsibilities (that’s right, what you’re committing to do)
  • A timeline, including key progress points and a projected end date
  • Compensation as well as other costs that will be incurred, and who pays them
  • Standard language clarifying the nature of the relationship

If a contract only spells out what the consultant will do, and not what your nonprofit organization has to do, then it’s incomplete. If we don’t each do our part, we won’t reach the goal of the contract.

It’s like when I first tried to make chocolate chip cookies, using the Tollhouse Cookie recipe, when I was in grade school. My best friend and I were determined to do it, and we read all the instructions, but some of them we didn’t understand. Specifically, the part where you mix the butter and sugar before you add in the egg and then, separately, the flour. Since we didn’t understand the relevance of the setting, we mixed everything in at once.

The resulting process took longer, because of course you can mix all these things together at once, but it’s more difficult. As is the case with some projects, what resulted was still edible–tasty, even, thanks to all the chocolate–but not quite like the cookies we expected.

When you are looking at a consultant’s contract for a communications project, don’t gloss over the parts that you don’t understand. And don’t sign until you understand your role in the successful project. An experienced consultant will appreciate your interest in taking responsibility for your side of the agreement.

Treat the contract as if it’s a recipe, and you want to get the tasty result. Make sure you know what all the ingredients are, what you have to do, and the time and sequence that things will happen. And don’t assume that only the consultant has to do their part for a good outcome.

Image courtesy of What Gif Today