I hate written contracts. I hate the concept — that in order to keep people honest, we need to write down what we agreed to, then muscle and threaten to sue them so they’ll actually do it.
I don’t understand it. I grew up in a military family. My dad was a hard-ass. You did what you said you were going to do, and if you didn’t, don’t come home.
When he left the service and we entered civilian life, this weird thing happened where people would say that they were going to do things, then didn’t. I remember telling my parents about it. They said that’s just how some people are outside of the military. I said those people suck.
McDonald’s serves Coca-Cola based on a handshake made in 1955. I’ve heard old-timers say that, back then, before America became sue-happy, a handshake actually meant something. Jake and I think it still does. We are, however, a remote company. We can’t literally shake all of our clients’ hands, and it is nice to have something written down that can be referenced.
We don’t have contracts, or at least that’s not what we call them. We have agreements, which we consider virtual handshakes. They have gotten longer over time as new issues have arisen, and I asked Jake if he thought we were doing the right thing in addressing issues this way, or if we were slowly becoming bitter, distrustful old men.
When signing the papers for our LLC, my family lawyer gave me some advice. He said that I can (and should!) read through the papers. But as you get older the stacks of papers that you need to sign get taller, and what really matters is whether or not you trust the person giving them to you.
We could continue to write increasing thorough agreements. Odds are nobody would read them all the way through, and the clients who did would only do so because they don’t trust us, which means we probably shouldn’t work together anyway. Why work with someone you don’t trust?
Jake and I are choosing to try short agreements — one page if possible, and no longer than two. They’re written in plain English, not Legalese, so you can actually read and understand them.
They don’t detail every single hypothetical situation, but they do set expectations for the most common ones. If things get weird, we’ll work it out, like reasonable grown-ups do.
It’s possible that some people will take advantage of this. If or when that happens, we will try to consider it an isolated incident instead of the norm. Our hope is that our reputation will eventually precede us, so this won’t be a repeat issue.
I have no doubt that some business owners will accuse us of being idealists, saying this is a nice thought, but unrealistic. I guess we’ll find out.
If all we wanted was to do work and make money, we wouldn’t have started a business. That’s easy enough at a job. But we have beliefs, and we’re ready to fight for them, and we both believe this is one worth fighting for.