How to Deal

Signed, Sealed and Delivered

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By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, August 30, 2007; 12:00 AM

I've worked as an independent contractor for several years. Sometimes clients will ask me to start work before presenting a signed contract. They often will say "It's in the works" or "It's with HR." And in some cases, I have been burned.

Because of this, I've started asking clients to postpone beginning any work until there is a signed contract. I also mention that it is better business-wise for all parties involved. They tend to get annoyed when I do this. What's the best approach?

It is reasonable to want to protect yourself by asking for a signed contract up-front. If a client requests your services on short notice, they should also do what's necessary to get your contract signed in a prompt manner.

Think about it: How diligent can you expect a client to be about delivering payment when they're not concerned with delivering a signed agreement?

If the client finds no fault in making you wait for a signed contract, then they should also be able to wait for your services. You aren't asking for anything unusual. And as you have mentioned, it is better to have a contract in place before moving forward for the sake of the working relationship.

I have rarely dealt with a contractor who was willing to start work in advance of a signed agreement. If your clients are annoyed by this request, there may be something off-putting about your approach or you could simply be dealing with individuals who don't grasp the reasonableness of your business philosophy.

Stick to your guns as much as possible. You might lose some clients, but you'll save money and time down the road if a business deal were to go wrong.

However, there are a few exceptions: You may consider going easy on reliable clients or those with attractive assignments that could help get you exposure within a chosen industry.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, September 4 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail lilymgarcia@gmail.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.


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