My Client won't sign my contract...now what?
Picture this: You just got off an incredible discovery call with your dream client that left you both feeling inspired and ready to dive into working together. You finalize the last details of your contract and email it over to them, reiterating how excited you are to get to work, still on your post-call high.
Suddenly, you hear the *ping* of a new email dropping into your inbox and see the sender: dream client. Excitedly, you open it up and....your heart sinks...
“...I’m sorry, I can’t sign this contract.”
You immediately think this is a red flag. Why would someone not want to sign a contract? Your contract covers everything you discussed on your call and in your opinion, is fair for each of you….what gives?
While there are certainly circumstances where it is a red flag, before you write them off completely, it’s important to stop and think about why your client might be hesitant and what you may be able to do to alleviate their concerns.
Ask The Question
Whether it be via email (the best way to document things) or by picking up the phone, engage in the conversation and ask them what their concerns are. Perhaps they don’t understand certain terms or aren’t comfortable with them. Maybe they’ve had a horrible contract experience recently that’s left them with a bad taste in their mouth...or they don’t feel like they can or should negotiate. You won’t know any of this unless you ask, so don’t hesitate to reach out to them and find out what’s happening behind the scenes. This will also help you build rapport with your client and start off on the right foot. If you do call, ensure you follow up with an email with everything you discussed so there is a written record of the conversation.
A little give and take can be OK. I’m not saying give everything away, but if there’s room for some flexibility in your contract and you’re comfortable with changes being made, then there’s no reason why you can’t negotiate with the client to see if you can come to some agreement. However, it is important to ensure that the contract is still performing its primary function which is to protect you and your business. If you’re unsure about what the legal consequences of changing certain clauses might mean, chat to a lawyer and get some advice first. You don’t want to get caught down the road by changes you agreed to without realizing the extend and repercussions of what they meant.
After speaking to your potential client, it might become very clear that there is no room for movement. In that case, it becomes a business decision for you. Are you willing to do the work without a contract in place and take on that risk? Generally, I don’t recommend this as I’ve seen it go wrong too many times, and often a client not wanting to sign a contract is a red flag indicating ongoing issues throughout the working relationship... but it is a decision you can make. Weigh out the risks very carefully about moving forward and how you will feel working with someone that doesn’t respect your business policies and practices. If you do decide to go ahead, document everything and I recommend receiving some form of retainer before beginning any work.
Alternatively, you may decide that it’s not worth your risk. In that case, explain your policies are in place for a reason and unfortunately aren’t unable to work with them without a contract in place. My experience is that relationships work a lot better when each party honours and respects the business practices of the other which includes setting out clear guidelines for the working relationship from the start in the form of a contract.
One last tip…
I’ve mentioned this but it’s just so important! Always make sure you document everything throughout the whole process. Having it all in writing may help you out of sticky situations later on if things don’t go according to plan. This is especially important if you decide to go ahead without a contract in place.
While having a client refuse to sign a contract can be a difficult and awkward situation, your number one priority is to protect yourself, your time and your business. Ensure you are comfortable with whatever steps you take and remember, for every client that you decide not to work with because they just aren’t in alignment, the more space you’re opening for the right kind of clients who are.