Monday, 10 December 2007

Beyond Contractual Compliance

I have recently had an issue with a client that helped remind me of a few things that should have been nearer the front of my mind. Without getting into detail (and hopefully without complaining too much), the situation was that a long established client decided to re-organise their roster of consultants and trainers, and put them on standard contracts. This is emminently sensible, but unfortunately the terms offered were below my standard rates, and I declined (without signing the contract). Recently they rang with an urgent request - a tutor had let them down at short notice, and would I be willing to present the course he would have run. Tomorrow. For a very small fee.

Well, they were an old client, and I was not doing anything the next day, and I was told the course material was all there, so I said yes. Of course, it turns out the course material was not written, as I found out at 3:30pm, and so I had to work until the small hours to develop the material. The course the next day went well, and so far so good. However, I then found out that the trainer who let them down was being paid 25% more than my fee, and to write the material. I felt rather aggrieved, and requested that they reconsider their offer to me - at least for the future courses that they wanted me to run.

They held firm to the fact that their standard contract did not include payment for writing material, and had a maximum day rate. The fact that they were already paying someone else under different terms was irrelevant, and they insisted on sticking to the terms of the contract that I had not signed.

At which point we fell out, and bridges were burnt.
There are a few points to come out of this.

One is that suppliers often feel a need for fairness, which is quite over and above any contractual obligation. If a supplier feels hard done by, no matter what is in the Ts & Cs, they will be unhappy. Which could be a problem if you ever want to use them again. My client now has 2 suppliers who will not work with them - the orginal tutor and me. My feeling that they took advantage of my willingness to help them out of a problem. If they had offered me the same fee as the original tutor, I would have seen that as reasonable.

So, forcing your suppliers to comply with the letter of the contract is successful in the short term, but you may need something more in the future - and they will have a long memory. Sometimes both sides want something more than the strict letter of the agreement.

Another point is the battle of the forms. By undertaking the work, I agreed to the conditions applied in the contract. However the client had misrepresented the situation to me, and I would not have agreed if they had explained the true situation. Something that we will never resolve in court because it is no worth it.

So 2 points - one don't take advantage of your suppliers if you might need them again, and secondly - which ever side of the fence you are on, agreeing a full contract is your best protection - though sometimes both sides want good will as well.

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