For many self-employed consultants, one of the biggest obstacles for winning new prospects and retaining clients is building credibility and trust. So how, as a sole practitioner, can you command the respect you deserve in your field?
For award-winning landscape designer, Marlene Lento, the solution lies in building client relationships on the right foundations:
Designers in general tend to be mostly focused on the creative aspects of the business, but I’ve always been very serious about providing a professional service, having the correct qualifications, and doing everything by the book.
‘I’ve positioned myself at the top of the market, meaning that many of my clients are successful business professionals themselves. Doing business based on a set of tailored terms and conditions has made a noticeable difference as it gives me and my clients confidence from the get-go.
Having previously used ready-made legal contracts from a template website, Marlene realised they may not be as suitable as she’d hoped when a client queried a clause’s validity. After raising the concern with the contract template provider, she was directed to their disclaimer(!) which stated:
As the law differs in each legal jurisdiction and may be interpreted or applied differently depending on your location or situation, the information or use of documents on the Site is not a substitute for the advice of a lawyer.
Recognising that legal advice was needed, Marlene was pleased to find Harper James and one of our senior commercial solicitors, Liz Appleyard. Liz adapted a set of standard terms of business to suit Marlene's requirements, ensuring they worked in conjunction with her proposal documentation and indemnity insurance.
Marlene is aware of her responsibilities operating as a sole trader and says: ‘Contrary to what most people think, landscape projects frequently involve serious construction work and landscape designers are responsible for both construction detailing and contracts administration. If something were to go wrong, not only could there be the potential for financial repercussions, but someone could get hurt.’
To protect her business, we have also drafted a waiver for instances when a client may ask her to deviate from any recommended safety measures in a specific design.
When asked what other sole traders and creatives can learn from her journey so far, Marlene offered this piece of advice:
From my experience, I know that one word in a contract can make all the difference between a project running smoothly and a potential dispute, which is why I believe it’s essential that all the legal documentation I provide clients with is fit for purpose.
‘Having Harper James on hand has given me great peace of mind. I regularly review my terms and conditions and Liz quickly and efficiently helps me adapt the document. I feel Harper James listen, understand my business, and clearly explain any risks, so I have full confidence in their advice and the documents they’ve helped create.
‘If you’re a designer looking to turn your creativity into a business, it doesn’t matter how good you are – if how you handle business doesn’t reflect the same attention to detail and quality as your work, then you’re selling yourself short!
Looking to the future, Marlene is keen to continue growing her practice, but to do so without the responsibility of employees.
I can continue to grow my business while maintaining standards by outsourcing selected tasks. For example, I’m building a network of trusted suppliers who can help with marketing, or overflow CAD work, as and when I need them.
‘This will be the next area I speak to Harper James about. I want to ensure my contracts with suppliers clearly manage everyone’s responsibilities so I can focus on what really matters for my clients, designing and delivering their dream garden.