Why You Need to Include a Start Date in Your Project Contracts

Managing client expectations is a big part of running a successful business.

The more your clients know what to expect, the more smoothly things will go.

And it’s important to set those expectations at the beginning, from the very moment they sign your fee agreement.

Part of setting those expectations is including a project start date in your fee agreement. Because if you don’t, it can breed a whole host of problems.

Think of Yourself as a Home Improvement Contractor

While most writers are fine committing to a deadline in their fee agreement, many resist the idea of including a start date.

They feel that they can’t. They worry it will turn off prospective clients.

But including a start date in agreements is common in many industries. Think about the construction industry, for example. If you’ve ever undergone home renovations, you know how contractors work.

They give an estimated start date that’s based on what their schedule looks like today. And that schedule can (and will) change based on when you decide to move forward.

So if you take a week or two to decide on a contractor, you know they probably won’t be able to start when they estimated.

Or if you change the scope once the project starts or you delay in making a big decision, this impacts the project timeline. We get it. We accept it.

But for some reason, many writers think they can’t operate the same way when working with clients.

Take a white paper, for example. White papers are complex projects that often require some back-and-forth between you and the client. So if you commit to a deadline without also detailing key project milestones and when those are due, you risk the project going off the rails.

Because if you promise you’ll get started by X date—but you still haven’t received the signed agreement a week after the original start date—you’re not going to make the deadline you quoted.

Or if the client takes ten days to turn around comments and feedback, and you allocated three, you’re now under the gun to complete the draft in record time!

The solution is simple: include a project timeline table with your fee agreement. This table should highlight the project’s key milestones, when each is due to the client, and when each is due back to you.

And the first milestone it needs to list is the start date.

Keep Your Clients Happy While They Wait

Two things will happen when you put that start date in your fee agreement.

First, it will discourage clients from bugging you about the project before you’re able to start. Many clients assume that the moment they send you the signed agreement you’re ready to go. But there’s a good chance you have a backlog of work and will need some time.

Second, it will help you better explain and justify the deadline you’ve committed to for the first draft. If the deadline is 30 days from now, the client might wonder why it’s going to take you so long.

But if you explain that you’ll start on X date—and agree to have the first milestone by Y date—that level of granularity will help to avert questions and further probing about your timeline.

Again, this is a simple thing to do. But it can make a big difference in setting client expectations and keeping them happy.



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