As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been overseeing a large project for a major ministry and although I’ve been working professionally in television for more than 30 years, this project has brought to light some important things that I do automatically but, it turns out, are not standard operating procedure. Last time I hit on a big communications issue; this time its on business.
Want to save yourself some headaches, keep from looking like an idiot, and reduce the chance of pissing off your client? Read on…
Read the stinkin’ contract. It may disguise itself as a memo of understanding or a letter of agreement, but whatever the piece of paper is that you sign — READ IT. Sorry to shout. But this really ticks me off.
Now to the example at hand – my big project. You understand, to the five producers working on this job, I was the client. I hired them, the contract was with me. Problem: they were all my friends, so some of these well meaning pros were a bit too casual in approaching a contract with me. You need to understand that important stuff is in that document, not just nasty business stuff like deadlines and confidentially but also good stuff like when and how much you’ll be paid. It has become my philosophy that if someone working for me doesn’t meet his obligations under the contract (missing a deadline, spending money without authorization, etc.) then I don’t feel my need to pay him or her the amount that they are expecting on the day they’re expecting it. Actually, now, my contracts include a penalty clause for nonperformance.
I don’t want to turn what could easily be a one line blog post into a rant. So I’ll wrap up with my sage advice: “read the danged contract”. If you don’t understand it, ask questions. If something doesn’t seem fair, ask questions and then negotiate. If you know you cannot meet some requirement then make that clear before you sign – there may be some leeway that the client can give you – but don’t assume it will all work out just fine. Be honest. Go into a job knowing as much as possible, then you minimize the nasty surprises that can (and will) rear their ugly heads later in the production.
Oh, one last thing: when you are working for a friend, he is still your client. At the end of the day, it is easier to get a new client than a new friend.