I'm a firm believer in having a well designed, robust set of business documentation for working with clients or customers. In this article I'll explain the documents I have and how they help me in my business.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer, nor have I had any legal training. It's always best to do your own research and consult a legal expert if in any doubt over any and all legal matters.
My main business documents
Here's the main documents I use when working with my clients:
Statement Of Work (SOW) - alternatively could be called a contract, agreement, letter of agreement, etc. When a client and I agree to work together on a project or engagement, we both sign this document. It clearly sets out exactly what is and is not included in the engagement, the costs, payment terms and a proposed timeline. It also includes a set of terms and conditions detailing who has ownership rights of the work prior to and after completion, and various other small but important details. This binding document clearly sets out what will happen during the project and is there to protect both the client and me, should the worst happen and something go wrong.
Proposal - this is a document that explains the process I will use to execute on a project and the specific recommendations of what I would include for the proposed price. In my case this means things like how many revisions are included. Usually I will present this to a client over a video call so I can talk them through it and explain each step, so that they understand the process we will use to deliver their project.
Rough Estimate - if a potential client is looking for a rough price early on in discussions, I'll often send a rough estimate. Rather than just putting this in an email, to have a more consistent and better looking approach, I have a document that I use and export as a PDF to send via email. This will contain a brief description of the project from what I know up to that point, as well as a rough estimation of a timeline and a price range.
Addendum - also known as a Change Order. If during the course of a project, the scope of work needs to be changed, usually involving a change of costs, then this document details the changes to what was originally specified in the Statement Of Work, and the parts of this document supersede those of the original SOW.
Invoices - each time I'm due payment from clients, whether it's a deposit at the beginning of a project, or any milestone payments during the project, I send them an invoice. Not only does this provide me with documentation for accounting and tax purposes, it will help the client with their accounting records also. My invoices contain my contact details, the clients contact details, the amount and description of the payment as well as my bank details so they can transfer the money.
I have all of these documents set up as templates, where the main structure and content is already laid out, so that all I need to do each time is go in and edit the relevant details for the client and the specifics of the project. Although it took me a lot of time to initially set up and create all of these templates, it saves me time on each project.
You might be thinking that's great, but how do I get templates for my business? In my case, as I use the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite for my design work, I have access to InDesign, which is a desktop publishing and page layout application. I use this to create and edit my documents, which are then exported to PDF format. The only thing I don't use InDesign for is my invoices, as the facility to generate these is built into my accounting software.
However, if you don't have access to InDesign, you could use a word processor, such as Microsoft Word, or Google Docs, or perhaps to allow more creative design options, a presentation software such as Microsoft PowerPoint or Google Slides. Alternatively there are online (usually paid) options to provide you with some templates such as rocketlawyer.com, which has legal templates that you can use and customise, or hellobonsai.com, which can help you manage not only contracts & proposals but also other aspects of your business. I'm not affiliated with any of these companies but they're ones I've found and heard good things about. There are many, many others and the choice could seem overwhelming. I've not tried a lot of these services so I wouldn't like to give you my opinions on things I haven't used myself. I used a template from rocketlawyer to generate the text on the terms page for my website. There's plenty of good options out there, so a bit of research online will show you what's available. Choose what's best for you and your business.
I think as a bare minimum, any type or size of business providing a service to customers or businesses should have a contract or statement of work to protect both parties. I've recently dealt with a few small businesses for some work done on our house, only 1 of which had a contract to sign. I personally found it odd that the other ones didn't have this and it might put me off using their services again in the future, as there was no protection for me as a customer if they didn't provide the service that was agreed. This recent experience is one of the reasons I felt compelled to write this article in the first place.
Having editable templates for business documents allows you to look more professional. You can use whatever software you have available to you to create a template you can use time and again, so that each time you start a new engagement, the documentation doesn't take very long. Not only do these kinds of documents make you look more professional, but also protect both you and your clients/customers by clearly stating the expectations of both parties, helping to further build trust that you will deliver on the job.