07/12/2012 10:11 EDT | Updated 09/11/2012 05:12 EDT

The Value of Putting it in Writing


I was reminded of an important business lesson last month, one I have learned before, but clearly need to learn, again: Put arrangements or agreements in writing. An email or phone discussion isn't enough and it leaves too much room for misinterpretation and miscommunication.

Remember that explanation of assume: when we make assumptions, "we make an ass out of you and me." Yup, lots of wrong assumptions, and it can really backfire. Fortunately for me, the other person was receptive and we were able to iron it out so it was a win-win for both of us.

But sometimes it can turn sour. When agreements are not formally in writing, it is all too easy for one party to manipulate the situation, claiming ignorance when you know full well that is not the case. But there is nothing you can do, except fume, or choose whether to continue the relationship and make a note to yourself not to repeat that mistake in the future.

Having an email stating the facts is better than nothing, but again you can leave yourself vulnerable as the other party can say they never received the email. No, the old-fashioned signed letter or document is the way to go, spelling out all that is entailed, including if necessary, a glossary of terms, so there is no risk of confusion.

The same goes for job descriptions. When you spell out what a job entails, then you have something to measure performance by and expectations are clear for all involved.

So what do you need to include in these documents? Obviously much will depend on the type of project or partnership arrangement you are making, but covering off the following would be a good start:

Scope of the project: What do you hope to achieve? What does success look like? Spelling out the outcomes is important so it is clear to all involved what your goals are, both in terms of results and finances.

Areas of responsibility: Who is going to do what, and who is ultimately responsible for the final decisions? In other words, who is in charge?

Timelines: When do you want to start? What deadlines do you want to build into the deliverables? When does the work have to be done by?

Costs: Set a budget, estimating what your expenses and anticipated revenue will be. Who is going to monitor this on an ongoing basis?

Conflict: How are you going to resolve any disagreements? Do you have an out-clause if one party wants to end the relationship before the project is done?

Finances: Spell out who is getting paid what and when. Often payments can be tied into deliverables.

Make sure you celebrate when the work is done and all, well, most of it, has gone according to plan.

As for myself, I guess I am just a life-long learner, but I wish some of these lessons would stick so I don't keep repeating the same-old mistakes.