Ink-Dipped Advice: The Ballad of the Necessary Contract

I relate an anecdote so you can learn from a mistake I made about ten years ago, about too much off-the-cuff brainstorming before there was a contract in place. I will not reveal the name, the company, or the location. But learn from my mistake.

I met an extrovert at a networking event. We hit it off. This individual had a big project coming up and was unsure how to proceed; thought I might be a good fit. I explained my general fee structure, and how it would work for a project of this scope. We had a long conversation, basically outlined a project this individual needed done on a tight time frame. I sent the notes the next day, along with a quote, and the written schedule we’d discussed.

Nothing.

For months.

No response to any type of contact.

I took other gigs. At a completely different event, over a year later, I ran into this person again. We were introduced by a third party; the original individual looked puzzled. I reminded this person we’d met over a year earlier and talked about a project that had a tight deadline, that I’d sent requested materials, and never heard back. The person shrugged and said, “Oh, I didn’t feel like putting in the time. But let’s set a schedule and do it soon.”

I said words that were both true and necessary. “Sorry. I’m booked. For the next eighteen months.”

“Oh, my, one would think you were in demand.”

“I am.”

Of course, this meant the individual HAD to have the project done BY ME. AT ONCE.

I was booked. Plus the whole not trusting this person. The person kept bugging me. I gave a high quote (and, yes, if it was met, I’d have worked it into the schedule).

Response: “Oh, I wouldn’t PAY you. You’d be doing this for EXPOSURE.”

I said it before and I’ll say it again: Honey, people die of exposure. Give me the cash.

I reminded the person of the fees we’d discussed. 

“Oh, I’m sure I wouldn’t have agreed to PAY you for any of that.”

My response: “I wouldn’t have brainstormed the outline for nothing.”

Huff, puff, walk away. (On the other party’s part).

Two weeks later, this person asks me to re-send the outline, because the person lost it.

I said I would be happy to, upon receiving a consulting fee. I named the price.

Never heard from this individual again.

Hope I never do.

And no, the project has never shown up. The person truly lost the notes and couldn’t remember what we’d discussed — which means the project would have likely been a nightmare anyway.

I ate the nonpayment for the brainstorming session. It happens sometimes, especially when you’re talking on the fly at a networking event. That’s why, in interviews, I’m now circumspect when the question is, “What specifics would you change/develop/grow if you worked with us?”

Until I’ve spent time in the trenches of the company, there’s no way to know.

What they’re looking for, here, is ideas they can do on their own without paying.

So I formulate marketspeak answers that are full of buzz words and don’t hold actual information. If they are serious about me, they will re-formulate questions into something that is suitable for the interview. If they are trying to get ideas for which they have no intention of paying, they keep going down the same road. The real information comes when the contract is in place, the upfront fee clears, and I’m actually in the environment.

Because if they are actually interested in you doing what you do best for them, as a marketing writer, it’s not “what would you change” it’s “how do you see what you do as enlarging our communication and getting our message out to a broader audience?” They will say things like, “We’re having trouble in the social media aspect of our business. What are your ideas on enlarging our growth there?” Not “what would you change in the company” — it’s a trap question. I’m not here to CHANGE your company. I’m here to effectively communicate your message to a broader audience. It’s YOUR company. I’m expanding your reach.

So learn from my mistakes and don’t over-brainstorm without a contract. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *