Importance Of Written Contracts, Terms Of Service And Good Communication

I’m not sure if a written contract is the equivalent to terms of service but I’m sure of one thing though…

If you’re going to do ANY kind of work for someone (online or offline) please DO PROTECT YOURSELF using a written contract and add a disclosure for terms of service.

For each and every thing you forget to include on your work agreement, you can easily get screwed on that gig.

It all started like this…

My First Offline Client Has Been A Nightmare So Far

A friend of mine (let’s call him M.F. for “My Friend“) found out I was working developing websites locally so he called me on the phone to talk about it.

We got together and after explaining I was using a CMS (wordpress) and templates (wordpress themes) we agreed that we were a good fit and decided to go ahead with the project.

I explained that I was NOT doing custom websites a few more times just to make sure we were on the same frequency and yeah, M.F. agreed once again.

First Contact

So a few days later, I received a PSD mock-up from a graphic designer.

Let’s call him G.D. for “Graphic Designer” (I’m not going to use any names btw to keep it clean for all these guys).

To be honest with you, I wasn’t expecting any mock-ups but information to put on the site instead; I didn’t say anything and proceeded to accept the information received.

It wasn’t anything fancy, just a big header, some navigation links, two big boxes for twitter and facebook to the right and about three boxes on the left that mimicked post excerpts.

My first thought was “Great, this actually looks like a blog“.

And the second thought was… “Hmmm… we have some sort of a communication problem going on in here as well…

The mock-up they sent was clearly not on the budget they initially paid so I called M.F. and explained it all to him.

He wasn’t too happy about it in the beginning but he said he was going to take care of that and as soon as he found out we already spoke to his team and they were happy with us, all went smoothly.

WordPress Theme Design

So I immediately got started working, I chose the Genesis Framework from StudioPress Themes, particularly the Prose Theme which allows you to tweak a lot of stuff without actually having to deal with code.

I have to say I was pretty happy with my final result.

I did the whole site in just one sitting but it took me about two days to fully complete it since I started fine-tuning everything that didn’t look perfect to me.

So I uploaded everything and told M.F. the site was done but I explained it was on maintenance mode so normal visitors wouldn’t see a website without information as they just sent me a mock-up and a header image but no information.

The Theme Design Review

A few days later they called me to do the live training for one person on all the basics about WordPress (logging in, creating a post, editing a post, updating widgets information, etc).

I e-mailed Ronald so he could get ready to go with me (my brother in law and business partner on this) and as soon as we got there some random guy said he didn’t like our design.

Let’s call this dude B.A. for Bad Attitude.

Needless to say, the guy was being a complete asshole to us.

I immediately replied the design was based on the mock-up they sent and his reply was that he didn’t even know the person who sent the mock-up in the first place and that the design was going to be changed no matter what.

Okay” I replied and I was very upset about it but I kept myself under control and didn’t say anything else to him.

I gave the training to W.E. for the WordPress Editor for about two hours and then before actually leaving I called the project manager, let’s call him P.M. (I’m not creative with names, sorry!)

I made sure the asshole, er… I mean the B.A. dude wasn’t around and I told the P.M.

“You know what? Your B.A. dude is saying he’s going to change the theme design, I’m not going to do it. At all. We never agreed on strictly custom-made website design, you can ask M.F. if you want, I just want to make this clear to you.”

I can tell you the P.M. guy was confused as hell and not sure to agree or disagree with me but he said it was okay in the end.

We waved them good bye and spent the rest of the trip back home agreeing that maybe having a verbal agreement with M.F. wasn’t a great idea after all.

The Second Theme Mock-Up

We already had collected the money for the project, gave the consultation and we STILL received an e-mail from M.F. with a link and a short sentence:

“[some link here] <- They want the site to look like this one.”

I received exactly that text (only in Spanish) and it wasn’t a “could you please check this out or can you guys possibly do something else, maybe like this” no, it was that sentence only.

I forwarded the e-mail to Ronald and we both laughed about it but not jokingly, it was that kind of laughter that is in disbelief and anger at the same time.

Ronald was furious and I was so mad that I still wasn’t going to do anything about it but we decided to cool down and get together to see what we were going to do.

After all, it was the first offline gig and we thought it was very important since it is for a political campaign (I hate politics btw).

The site was from their competence but it came from a random state in Mexico.

It had a lot of stuff going on and it didn’t look ANYTHING AT ALL to their first mock-up, which by the way, we had already delivered.

After a little bit of swearing, laughs and some more frustration about the whole situation, we decided to start looking at the code of the suggested site they sent and said “Ok, let’s just do this and let’s get off these guys already.

Give Them What They Want Even If It Is Crap

The client is always right.

Honestly, that’s far from the truth but if some client is telling you they want “X” and not “Y”, you give them “X” no matter what.

So we followed instructions and what we tried to do, was to take the positive things of the suggested site and enhance that on their site.

We got rid of the junk though.

B.A. guy kept sending me e-mails about what we were still missing on the site.

Again, there wasn’t a single “please” or “thanks” ANYWHERE in any of his e-mails.

I have worked with assholes before but I never had the power (like right now) to just decline with a sarcastic smile right to their face if I don’t want to do something.

But I still made the changes and e-mailed the P.M. about it (which I have to say, P.M. dude is actually a cool guy).

I got ANOTHER e-mail from B.A. pointing out I missed a sentence on a graphic I made.

I actually didn’t forget, I just thought they didn’t care about anything at this point so I didn’t included that line.

So there I am, manually re-structuring the whole theme layout so the new graphic would display correctly.

And finally, re-doing the graphic (we never agreed on graphic work either and I ended up doing more than 10+ custom graphics for them) and uploaded that to their site.

They Screwed Up Our Theme Layout

While I was working on that last change on the new graphic, the whole home site disappeared.

I laughed and I immediately though maybe it was just a bug or something with my browser’s cache.

I refreshed my developing tab and… nothing was there.

They had deleted the whole freaking layout.

(That’s what you get when you give too much control to an idiot by the way – they had a wordpress admin role that I later changed to editor)

I’m not even mad at them, I’m mad at myself for not being more strict on our terms of service and that stupid verbal agreement with M.F. was good for nothing.

I ended up doing the whole site from scratch…

For the SECOND time… (The first time was when I migrated from my testing site to the live environment, long story).

I’m currently working on a hard coded solution when they would have the role editor but won’t even see the new theme’s control panel.

I also ended up using Headway Themes for re-doing their site.


If you plan to do some work for somebody, make sure you are in the same frequency before agreeing to do anything or you can end up in a bad situation like I did.

So here are a few pointers for you:

  • Always use a written contract and make them sign it, keep the signed copy for yourself
  • Specifiy every single thing of what your work includes (and what doesn’t) on your terms of agreement/service (make them sign this too)
  • Include in one of your TOS clausules that you’ll be responding to ONE person only (avoid communication noise)
  • Explain what your refunds policy is (since you’re doing a service, you could even say you don’t even do refunds but that’s your call)

I’ll write my own contract and terms of service TODAY to prevent this situation from happening again in the future and like Justin Ledvina says, “let’s turn a negative into a positive one“.

So I think I learned my lesson the hard way.

Your Turn

I believe in over delivering.

I have always lived under that line of thought because that’s how I am but I’m pretty sure there’s a limit somewhere.

Question: Have you ever been in this situation where you offer your services and somehow end up doing a lot of EXTRA work and your clients thinking is part of the deal?

Let me know in the comments area and thank you for reading!


PS. There are some great things coming here as I am starting a new project for offline work again with a twist.

I will let you know all about it before next Monday since that’s when I’m actually going to start promoting this so stay put if you’re interested!

If you want a hint, check out Dan Sumner’s comment on Learn How Offline Consulting Could Easily Lead You To 30K A Month

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    • Daniel Sumner
    • May 10, 2012

    Hey Sergio,

    I feel for you man seriously. I have worked with customers for a long time in IM and I guess in qualified to say I have had them all.

    I stopped designing and creating sites for people a long time ago, simple because some customers are complete A**holes. I have had people who want everything, want a refund weeks after completion, can’t understand, abuse me etc etc.

    I did over deliver.

    If I do it now I always state exactly what they get and how it’s all done. You got it dead right mate. Create contracts and as much FAQ as you can.

    Don’t worry man, some people are much better than others. You will find the balance.

    Great info mate.

    1. Reply

      Awesome comment Dan and thank you for chiming in!

      It really bothers me when people say they understand everything they’ll get in return for their money only to completely pretend they didn’t understand in the first place at a later time.

      And of course, after all the work has been done.

      This little nightmare only lasted for about two weeks and a few days though. I have a client who made me work on a custom PHP site for SEVEN straight months and I got paid about $700 USD for that project…

      Never again!!!

      Thank you for sharing your experience mate I really appreciate it and hope to find that balance soon! ;-)

  1. Reply

    Hi Sergio

    I’m just working with my first client who hired me via my blog, and it’s been so far so good.

    On fiverr I’ve only had one bad client, they wanted me to install the aweber form, but wouldn’t give me access to their aweber account. The great thing about working for $5 is that you can’t string it out for weeks, and the aim is to build up trust to sell higher ticket items.

    Just put this down to experience and make sure you learn from it.


    1. Reply

      Hey Andrew,

      That’s actually a pretty clever move, working for something low-cost first and then after trust starts building up, taking it further with higher priced gigs.

      Actually I think that’s brilliant man, thanks for the idea!

      I’m going to implement this idea really soon for a local directory I’m currently bulding, I’m sure it is going to work but hey, only time will tell.

      Thank you for sharing your fiverr experience Andrew, I know you already have a good reputation there, speak soon! ;-)

    • Adrienne
    • May 10, 2012

    Dang Sergio! And this just had to be your first experience with this. So sorry about that.

    I guess the lesson here is you’re learning what you need to do ahead of time right! I mean I hate learning things like this, the hard way and then dealing with ungrateful pricks. In the end though, Mr. B.A. probably taught you a valuable lesson.

    Do the written contract and set your terms of service and to hell with the rest of them right!

    Thanks for sharing your story though. You’ll definitely help someone else who is heading in this same direction.


    1. Reply

      Haha you’re absolutely right Adrienne!

      No need to go through this again so I really hope that if someone is doing something similar, they should benefit from reading my fails here LOL at least in theory.

      My contract is almost done and same goes for my TOS paper. I might translate these to English and share them here, maybe next week.

      Thank you for stopping by Adrienne, I really appreciate it and take care! ;-)

    • Patrick Griffin
    • May 10, 2012

    Hey Sergio,
    I have actually taken the opposite view to you. In the work I have been doing recently I have never drawn up a contract and was happy with either an exchange of emails or just a verbal contract via a Skype call.

    Now before you say: “Patrick, I have heard that all Europeans are crazy but that is super crazy even by your standards,” I must point out one huge difference.
    All the people I have been doing work for are those that I had already built up working relationships with so, hopefully, I will now be allowed to climb down a couple of points on the Sergio ‘you are crazy’ scale.

    When dealing with strangers then the advice you give here is priceless. I think strictly agreeing the items that the money paid covers and what is not included is a vital issue. Offering additional services with a price list of what this costs is also a good idea (and I think you have covered this issue on a previous blog post.)

    However while reading this post, the one thing which kept sounding an alarm bell for me was the fact that you seemed to be working for multiple bosses. This rarely ever works out well and must be avoided at all costs.
    It is sad that we even need to go down the road where where we have to draw up written contracts and come up with terms and conditions, exclusions and all this other legal stuff but we need to protect ourselves from clients who always want something for nothing.

    Finally the client who communicates in short one line sentences and never says ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ – well I have no time for people like this either.

    Great post as ever Sergio.

    1. Reply

      Fantastic comment Patrick!

      I have been very successful with verbal agreements before: friends, family, neighbors, etc. When this becomes an issue is when the other party starts abusing it.

      A quick scenario is you fix someone’s computer and 5 months later they appear yelling at you that they have a virus and that is your fault and you need to fix it again, I mean… come on!

      Same goes for my answer to Daniel Sumner above, the owner of the site I’m linking there is a cousin of a cousin of mine but we’re not related.

      To make a really long story short, I told them I didn’t feel really comfortable doing a PHP based site yet so I was going to charge them about $500 USD with the only condition that I would take my time doing it.

      They say it was okay, well… that turned out to be about seven months of work.

      The reason for that is because every week or 10 days, the guy would call me to say stuff like “hey, you need to do this graphic for me” or “get this PDF and extract pages 3,6,8 and 9, change the text to this and also create all the tables with no graphics”.

      It was beyond ridiculous, I had to go with the guy and ask him for extra money and that I was going to either stop working for him or just let the site die on its own if he kept calling me to ask for more free updates.

      So far, I haven’t received any other calls and I keep collecting the hosting annual fee.

      Having multiple bosses for one project is the most stupid situation I could be in.

      I had to live with stuff like that for almost two years while I was on an IT corporate job and I have to tell you, my stress levels, anxiety disorders and everything else that can go wrong mentally speaking, went as wrong as it could.

      The only positive thing I earned from that job, is that I know exactly how to deal with assholes in any situation. That’s why I said “I kept myself under control” while I was dealing with the B.A. on the article.

      Well looks like I just wrote another post within a post here LOL thanks for leaving such a great comment Patrick and speak soon man.

      Take care! ;-)

    • Devesh
    • May 10, 2012

    Hey Sergio,

    Sorry to hear about your experience. I have had bad experience a few times but never had an experience that went so crazy with so many bosses ;).

    I have stopped designing & creating WordPress websites few months ago because of these issues. Now I am focusing more on blogging & niche sites.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, sergi. Have a great weekend.


    1. Reply

      Hey Dev,

      Yeah man, you can definitely tell I always pick the worst battles.

      It seems like many people used to do website developing in the past but I’m thinking that quick money is not so worth it if I have to deal with all these bad clients in return.

      I knew this in advance but I’m still going to make it work somehow. At least to a point where I can sustain 100% from online income, then I’ll see if we just outsource our work and let the employees deal with customers.

      Thank you for stopping by, blogging and niche sites… I really like the niche sites idea and thanks for the reminder. The guitar site has nothing on it yet, might start dripping some content there already.

      Take care and have a great weekend as well! ;-)

      PS. Thank you for the offering for guest posting on your sites, that really rocks man!

        • Devesh
        • May 11, 2012

        Hey Sergio,

        That would be awesome. I had the same plan until I started making more money with Affiliate marketing :) lol. I wish you good luck for your (future) web development company.

        Man, you need to start working on the niche sites, they can make you some good money.

        PS. Would love to get an guest post from you, Sergi.


        1. Reply

          Hey Dev,

          Consider that done man, will guest post soon on one of your sites, thank you for thinking about me! ;-)

          PS. Now to work on the niche site! :D

    • Linda
    • May 15, 2012

    WOW!! Sounds like a major big headache – so sorry this happened, Sergio :(

    I always believe in “sticking with your guns” – meaning do what it is you initially said you would and don’t offer to change anything. If they want something else that is more money they have to put out. If they wanted a website to look like someone else’s than that is not what you agreed upon and more money you must ask for. You can’t really just say ok and not get paid for it – hell, that is a ton of work!!

    I do agree about using a contract type of thing – but never really thought about it. Actually, I haven’t had any thinking going on in quite some time as my brain seemed to have fried itself out. With constant banging and getting 4-5 hours sleep a night I am just in a bad spot and unfortunately it will be continuing for the next several weeks. When I do get a day off, have to clean up and catch up on everything I couldn’t do when the workers are here…and then sleep. So, I really look forward to the weekends in a big way

    Got off topic there – sorry, but are you planning on doing more sites in the future and taking what you learned into consideration. Even possibly raising the initial cost to take care of anything else you might have missed?


    1. Reply

      Hey Linda,

      Sorry that you have all that noise and banging around, I’m pretty sure that on the weekend your creativity will just overflow!

      About this first client we had to work with, it was a royal pain in the ass. I can’t even sugar coat it because that’s exactly what it was but like I said in the post, it’s NOT going to happen again or I’ll just drop the deal, that’s it.

      On doing more sites in the future, yes that’s the main idea but it will be only temporary. I need to get some real cash flow going on so I can sustain my marketing expenses and myself, until that doesn’t happens I will stick the local offline clients.

      There has been a change of plans in which I’m actually going to start taking clients online too but that’s still on a very early phase.

      I said I was going to have something ready to publish here on Monday for offline sites, if you want to take a quick look at what comes next, you can check out this:

      It’s still being built as I write this but I think that will be done and ready for clients next week.

      The cost for the sites is remaining the same because it is part of a plan we already gave a lot of thought about, it will rise in a few months but right now, I’m more interested in building a base of customers and testimonials.

      Thanks for stopping by and hope you’re able to fix soon your house Linda! ;-)

      PS. I have a damn parrot that NEVER goes quiet, it is becoming unreal already so I know exactly what it feels to not have an adequate working environment.

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