Seeking Refuge in Company Policy

We used to be pretty flexible about how we did business. Then somebody messed with us. We instituted a retainer. Our clients pretty much understand that they are a person who can run away, but we are a company with a reputation on the line. Traditionally, the benefit of the doubt has always been with the company, so this policy was a good one, and normal for our industry.

We began using a contract fairly early. We refined the contract bit by bit into something that was fairly simplified, but still contained enough legal language to be enforceable. It covers copyrights, delivery of the service, and intellectual property rights. Essential stuff. The language about what we deliver is simplified so that it is as untechnical as possible. But it still has to include technical terms, or it isn’t enforceable.

Many of our clients are confused by it – they call me and say, “What does this mean?” I explain, and I tell them why it is there, and how it protects them, and if there are any risks in it for them. Those who can afford to have their legal counsel take a look. We’ve used it with government entities, non-profits, and small corporations, and a host of tiny companies. No one has complained about the actual terms. They feel they are fair.

Our policies and standards have developed over time, through experience and need. We’ve been careful to make sure that they protect our customers as much as they protect us, often more.

I had a complaint about our contract, and our retainer policy recently. The business owner complained about the contract having legal language! Then they complained about the retainer – even though this same business owner charges a retainer for their own services, of three times as much as we were asking.

Now sometimes, I’ll make an exception. Once in a while, when I know someone, I’ll do work that they pay me for later. On occasion I’ll work without a contract for small bits of work, but never for a website (ok, once, on a bartered one!). And these people do not EXPECT me to make exceptions. They appreciate the contract, and they expect to have to abide by industry norms. Retainers are the norm.

I’ve learned that those who DO expect me to make exceptions, or who try to batter me down, are assuming I am deciding these things on a whim. They do not understand that companies operate by rules because those rules facilitate smooth business. When you move from sole proprietor to corporation, you have to start formulating sustainable policy. And then you, yourself, have to stick to it. To treat someone like they should set aside their policy is to belittle them and their professionalism.

Our company policy is what it is for good reason. I cannot make an exception without good reason. I am rather thankful that I have intelligent policy to fall back on. It helps me not have to wonder so much whether I SHOULD make an exception. When I don’t feel comfortable extending that, I have it to fall back on. “I’m sorry. This is our company policy, and I am not able to make an exception.”

I think there are some people whom I should choose not to do business with. And at times, company policy has helped determine who that is. I think it is a good thing.

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