One of the most common questions we get is about contracts. People want to know, “do I need to have a contract when providing cleaning services?”
The answer is yes-and. Yes, you need a contract. And, it depends on what you mean by the term “contract.”
In business, an oral contract is entered into when two parties agree to something, and each party has an understanding about the arrangement. Translation? This usually means that one person agrees to do something, at a certain time, for a certain amount of money that the other party will pay. That is considered a legal agreement which is, technically, a binding contract.
Sometimes incorrectly referred to as a verbal contract. If you shake hands or give an affirmative to doing a job professionally, you are bound by an oral contract. It may not stand up as strongly as a written one in a court of law, and it is generally wise to “get it in writing.” However, written contracts are not as binding as most people think. Written and oral contracts are on equal footing under the law. But when it comes to providing evidence, a written agreement is useful.
Honor all agreements!
It is best to honor all agreements and avoid any conflict. Usually the cost of the conflict is far worse than the original misunderstanding. Clarify your oral agreements. Importantly, get confirmation that both parties understand them. The best way to do that is to have it written out – hence written contracts. But you will find that in professional residential cleaning, especially regarding small jobs, few people are willing to sign a written agreement. In fact, if you present a contract they are more likely to turn down the offer.
I was a professional cleaner for over ten years, and I had residential clients that lasted for long periods. When you added it up, they paid me well over $10,000. I can guarantee you, if that ten-grand would have been billed to my customers in one lump sum upfront, there would have been a written contract. It was because this amount is paid $120. at a time, and the arrangement could have been terminated at any point. There is no long-term commitment from either side. This is why most people do not expect a contract when you are cleaning their home.
Reasons to not have a contract
Advantages to not having a contract for residential cleaning. One good reason to not have one for residential jobs for $150 and below, is that it gives you some wiggle room. You can get out of the job at any time. That client might prove to be bothersome, and you can simply replace them with a better one. You are not locked into that cleaning service job. Trust me, the customer feels the same way. They want to know they can get out of the agreement. It is not always a lack of trust involved, either. Circumstances in peoples' lives can shift suddenly, such as a death in the family or loss of their job.
Getting the agreement in writing is most common in commercial jobs, where you have physical entrance-access to a facility during non-business or unusual hours, and you will have rotating crews working for you. The client only wants to have to think about this task once a year or so, and a contract is a legal necessity. The business world is all about contracts. I have had small commercial cleaning jobs without a contract, but I knew the employer outside of the professional world. Even then, I would have to admit, it was risky!
Commercial cleaning contracts
When it comes to janitorial services or any commercial cleaning contract, it is best to have a very detailed and customized contract reviewed by an attorney, to make sure it has no weak points. Sometimes the client will insist on using their contract, and you are likely to insist on using yours. You are providing the services, so it is you who should provide the contract. I would be highly suspicious of a client that insists on using theirs! You can offer to modify your contract to accommodate their concerns, but always use your contract. Doing so puts you in the position of power, since they submitted to your terms. Prepare an open-ended contract template that allows for individual details and nuances of particular job requirements.
Document the relationship
Over the course of your working relationship be sure to document any behavior that seems out of the norm. If all goes well, leave it alone and enjoy the easy relationship. If you start to see signs of the relationship fraying, then start documenting the context and the specifics. If you act professionally it is unlikely that you will need the evidence, but if you do you have it. That data can be handy for many other reasons as well.
Don't worry, be happy
It's smart to have a healthy skepticism toward working relationships. However, many service professionals take a hard-line stance and refuse to work for anyone without a contract. That behavior borders on paranoia. The sad fact is that a cleaning pro who behaves that way is missing out on some truly great relationships and work opportunities, the very sort of experiences that would alleviate their suspicions of relationships in general. The risk is in turning healthy skepticism into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Being a polyanna is not wise either. Walk the middle path. The most fluid options are available from the middle.
In ten years as a professional cleaner, and ten years as a consultant, I have never had conflict that resulted in a court action. Always try to resolve a conflict through mediation and compromise, because in the end, conflict hurts everyone involved. If a client turns out to be hell-bent on having a conflict, then take steps in advance to protect yourself. Otherwise, take steps to pre-qualify your potential clients before you even get to the contract phase of the process.