Skip to main content
wordpress supportwordpress support services

#71 – Nathan Ingram on How To Manage Contracts With Your WordPress Clients

[00:00:00] Nathan Wrigley: Welcome to the Jukebox podcast from WP Tavern. My name is Nathan Wrigley. Jukebox is a podcast which is dedicated to all things WordPress. The people, the events, the plugins, the blocks, the themes, and in this case how to manage your website client contracts.

If you’d like to subscribe to the podcast, you can do that by searching for WP Tavern in your podcast player of choice, or by going to forward slash feed forward slash podcast. And you can copy that URL into most podcast players.

If you have a topic that you’d like us to feature on the show, I’m very keen to hear from you and hopefully get you or your idea on the podcast as soon as possible. Head over to forward slash contact forward slash jukebox, and use the form there.

So on the podcast today, we have Nathan Ingram. Nathan is the host at iThemes Training, where he teaches WordPress and business development topics via live webinar. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, he has been working with clients to build websites since 1995.

He’s also the creator of MonsterContracts, which helps WordPress professionals create contracts for their client work.

If you’ve worked directly with clients, then you’ll know that things don’t always go according to plan. Assets might not be delivered on time. The client does not respond to your emails. The expectations of the client begins to creep away from the original proposal.

Whilst there’s unlikely to be a perfect system to ensure that all projects run according to the plan, you can protect yourself from some of the worst aspects. And for this, you may need a contract.

Nathan is on the podcast today to talk about why he thinks contracts are an essential part of any client facing WordPress work.

We begin by talking about how the contract is designed as a tool to bring clarity to both parties. You, the website builder, can set out the constraints within which you work and the client can understand what they can, and cannot, expect from you. Nathan thinks that setting these expectations before the project begins leads to fewer problems later on.

We talk about the fact that contracts don’t need to contain overly complex legal language, but they do need to be checked by a qualified legal professional before they’re deployed.

Nathan also explains how he’s refined his contract over the years, tweaking the wording and the structure, depending upon the project at hand.

We then get into what you can realistically do should your client breach the contract. Are you able to turn off their website, or withhold work that you’ve completed? Nathan’s not really in favour of sending in the lawyers as soon as something goes wrong. Rather trying to resolve any conflict through better communication.

It’s an interesting conversation, which makes contracts seem less adversarial and more about ensuring that your WordPress website projects run as smoothly as possible.

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can find all of the links in the show notes by heading over to forward slash podcast, where you’ll find all the other episodes as well.

And so without further delay, I bring you Nathan Ingram.

I am joined on the podcast by Nathan Ingram. Hello, Nathan.

[00:04:07] Nathan Ingram: Hey Nathan, how are you?

[00:04:08] Nathan Wrigley: That’s strange. I’ve not had that before. Two Nathan’s on the podcast today. Very different levels of experience in the subject that we’re going to be talking about. Nathan Ingram is here today and he’s going to be talking to us about the legal aspects of hiring clients.

You might describe it in one word as contracts, I guess. And there’s a whole treasure trove of things that we’re going to unpack there. But before we do that, Nathan, if anybody hasn’t heard of you before and hasn’t seen the things that you are doing online, would you just spend a few minutes introducing yourself? You can go back as far as you like but, give us yourself in the WordPress context.

[00:04:44] Nathan Ingram: Yeah, sure. So I’ve been working with WordPress exclusively since right around 2010. I run a small agency down in Birmingham, Alabama. I’ve been working with clients since 1995. So I’ve been around the webspace for quite a while. I also am the host at iThemes Training. So we do live training webinars three days a week through iThemes. And then I also do some business coaching, and I have a product called MonsterContracts.

[00:05:08] Nathan Wrigley: Tell us about the iThemes thing for a minute, because I know you do trainings over there. How did that all come about? Was it like a happy coincidence that you ended up doing that? Were you making content, training content, elsewhere that got you into that position?

[00:05:22] Nathan Ingram: No goodness. So it’s really an interesting story and we could take a whole , a whole episode on how do people find their way in the WordPress community? So for me, iThemes was actually iThemes training at that time. Early on it was called They had leased that really awesome domain name.

And it was where I learned WordPress. At that point I was sort of in a, the Macromedia ecosystem, and I had resisted WordPress for quite a while. Decided this is coming and I’ve got to go with the flow and move into WordPress, because a lot of my clients were looking for WordPress sites. Or sites they could log in and edit themselves. I found iThemes as a theme company, and the training went hand in hand, and that’s where I learned WordPress. And gradually over time, I started presenting one or two webinars and then gradually rolled into the presenter role.

[00:06:08] Nathan Wrigley: That’s nice. And so you do that regularly, three times a week. You go live and give trainings about a whole range of different subjects, right?

[00:06:15] Nathan Ingram: Yeah, like just yesterday we did our monthly news roundup on iThemes training. So look at the news in the WordPress world. Particularly from the perspective of people who build and manage websites. That’s really our audience on iThemes training. What news is important for people who do what I do.

[00:06:29] Nathan Wrigley: Okay, so that’s really excellent. Unfortunately, it’s not the topic that we’re going to be talking about today. We’re talking about one of the areas, I think in web design that really can cause the blue touch paper to be lit, and the firework to go off. This is the whole thing of relationships with clients and the boundaries that you set, and whether you should have contracts, and whether you should be getting involved with lawyers and things like that.

And there are very few parts of the business that I used to run, which would cause me to become upset, irritable, and in some cases quite angry. But relationships with clients could do that. It’s quite unique, isn’t it?.

[00:07:15] Nathan Ingram: Oh, it really is, and I’ll tell you, it is certainly one of the common challenges that people who do WordPress things run into. You go to WordCamps, back when we used to have those things, so we actually just had our WordCamp Birmingham two weeks ago, and it was wonderful to see people in person. But when you get a group of people who work with clients around, you know, a table eating lunch at an event like a WordCamp, inevitably the conversation turns to bad clients and everybody has a story.

[00:07:40] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, it’s just one of those things. I’ve got a whole litany of stories. On the whole I think I was able to manage this scenario fairly well, but there was a lot of things probably that I shouldn’t have done. So I gave way in many cases because I believed that the things that the client was asking for didn’t really push the boundaries too far, although they certainly stepped over the expectations that I had.

But your premise really, the reason why you’ve been getting into this and talking about this is because you want to prepare people and educate people to give them a kind of legal framework. And you describe it in terms of boxing in a client if you like. That’s probably too harsh a word.

You go about it in much more conciliatory language than that. But the point is, you are educating people to get themselves into a position where they’ve got some piece of paperwork, some contract. Something written down somewhere where you can all go back and say, okay, these are the boundaries, these are the constraints. If we step outside of these, one of us is at fault. So tell us a little bit more about your approach there.

[00:08:47] Nathan Ingram: That’s a great question. So years ago I put talk together about dealing with problem clients. And the title of the talk was “dealing with problem clients, building fences around friendly monsters”. And it’s a book, actually now I turned that into a book on Amazon. But, it’s really positioning the client, every client as what I would call a friendly monster.

Meaning they’re friendly, but they still have teeth. The idea is we need to build fences around the clients that we work with, because we never know what kind of person we’re dealing with. And the fences that I talk about are the systems and processes in our business.

Four in particular. We need to establish clarity. We need to have good commitments between us and our clients. We need to have communication and documentation. And those four fences can show up in a lot of different ways depending on your particular business and how you work. And there may be additional fences you’d want to build, but those four at least have to be in place in order to have good ongoing client relationships.

And a lot of those things show up in a contract. But they start as just part of your regular business system, the way you work, the way you deal with clients. Clarity, commitments, communication, documentation. And that’s where it all has to start. Like you’ve got to get your house in order before you can really bring in a good document, like a contract to, make your rules clear.

[00:10:10] Nathan Wrigley: I think the clarity piece coming first is really intriguing. Because that was always the misstep that I felt I’d made. In that I was very often in a position where I felt that I had explained myself clearly, and assuming the clients were being honest when they were explaining their frustration with the way things were going.

I clearly hadn’t done that. I maybe expressed it in a way which I understood, maybe that was too technical. And later down the road it became obvious that there was a complete disconnect between what I was trying to achieve, and what they, in their head, had got designed. And so yeah, the clarity piece, I think is perfect at the beginning, but also quite difficult to achieve. How do you, how do you advise that? What are some of the strategies that you’ve got in place around that?

[00:10:57] Nathan Ingram: Yeah, it really is difficult, and one of the first things I think you have to realize is that agreement on the surface does not equal clarity. So, if there’s no meeting of the minds, like maybe we use technical jargon, or maybe the client doesn’t tell you everything at the beginning.

I can’t tell you how many projects I’ve gotten into where the client, we’ll get three quarters of the way through the project, and they’re like, oh, well where do my clients log in? Well, wait, we haven’t talked about this at all. And in those sorts of situations you ask yourself, well, whose fault is that?

And I would say it’s probably 50 50. And so one of the great skills that we can develop in in way, but specifically in our way of working with people on the web, is learning the skill of asking great questions. If you learn the skill of asking great questions, and continuing to ask until you reach that point of clarity. That skill can really set you apart from other people that are doing client work.

Asking a question, asking why, and following up with additional questions until you really get down to the root of what the client expects. If you don’t do that, then oftentimes you can be saying one thing, the client can be saying another, and you’re both shaking your head up and down, but nobody is really clear on what we’re saying. Assumptions are made.

[00:12:08] Nathan Wrigley: In the work that you do, do you typically do all of that client exploration work prior to beginning the build? And then in a sense, that process is closed off, and you go away and you take six weeks, whatever it takes to complete your initial first offering and then go back to the client? Or do you, do you encourage a more agile approach where you iterate with the client? I mean, I know that they’re completely different ways of doing things. Curious as to know what your process is.

[00:12:36] Nathan Ingram: So it really depends on the complexity of the build. We try to get some understanding of that at the very beginning, when we’re trying to create the scope of work. If it’s a project we’ve done before, if it’s a simple, just a basic identity piece, a brochure site, that’s fairly simple.

When you get into something that is a lot more complicated, maybe there’s lots of different content types, or you’ve got to do some really interesting thing with data. A lot of times what we’ll end up doing, and I picked this up from my friend Beth Livingston, a change budget. So adding a change budget into the original pricing, that as we go forward and the client gets more ideas where things are uncovered, that we didn’t realize, there’s some pre-approved money sitting there, that the client can say, okay, we’ll allocate some of that change budget to build this thing that we hadn’t talked about yet.

[00:13:22] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, we’re in such a curious industry as well, in that there’s not many things that I purchase that morph over time. You know, if I go into a shop and I buy some clothes, I’m just getting what I’m getting. I can see it right off the bat, and there it is, and I can hold it in my hands, and it’s either what I want or it’s not what I want.

I’m not going to purchase that pair of trousers and then turned around a week later and said, actually, you know what? These pockets. I’ve been wearing these trousers for a couple of weeks now, and the pockets are not deep enough. Can we have an amendment to the pockets please? This curious idea of scope creep that creeps into more or less every project that I was ever involved in.

Are you getting your clients, after your initial discussions then, are you getting them to a point where you draw up some contract which in effect puts the four fences around the friendly monster that you were describing?

[00:14:12] Nathan Ingram: In our world we would call that the scope of work, which is part of the proposal. That comes from the original conversation. Or if it’s a complicated project, maybe there’s a discovery phase that happens first to really flesh out, what is the scope of work? What are we trying to accomplish in this project.

And then depending on the complexity of the project, the longer, or the more complex a project is, the greater chance of scope creep. Or honestly, the longer a project takes, because the client delays on content or something else. The longer a project takes also, you tend to have scope creep.

When you talk about scope creep, people’s eyes roll. They hate scope creep. But I’ll tell you what, I love scope creep as long as there’s corresponding price creep, right? If you want more things, that’s great. It’s just we can’t do more for the same price. In your analogy about, we don’t use the word trousers.

[00:15:00] Nathan Wrigley: Oh yeah, you use pants don’t you? I apologize.

[00:15:02] Nathan Ingram: Yeah. When you’re talking about something like that, it’s a little bit different because, well some people sell websites more as a product rather than a custom service. We’re more on the custom build side. Everything we do is bespoke. But you know, if you’re selling websites as a service, that is a good analogy because you’re in package three and this is what it comes with and this is your pair of pants.

But for us it would be more like, I’m hiring a contractor to come in and do a remodel on a kitchen .And this is kind of what we talk about at the beginning, but as we go, maybe we had a problem we didn’t anticipate. Or maybe my wife sees something on television that she wants to add. And so we want to add to it and we change it along the way. That’s really a closer analogy, I would think, to a custom website.

[00:15:44] Nathan Wrigley: It’s pretty clear that the audience for this podcast is pretty broad and deep. In other words, there are all sorts of people listening to this doing all sorts of work around the WordPress space. Some of them very new to WordPress and website building at all. Some of them just doing it for their own hobbies. Other people just getting into building websites for the first time.

So let’s speak to that crowd first. The crowd who really are just embarking on a career. They’re scoping out whether they wish to build websites for other people and charge for that, and make a business out of that. Let’s speak to the importance of a contract, because it may be that when you’re starting out, you’re just doing this with friends and we know that that can turn south quite quickly.

So, and also, you know, you may be encouraging businesses in your local area to come on board and they’re going to be expecting something like a contract. Is this an essential component of the makeup of a web designer? Do you truly need a contract? Or is there any realistic situation where it’s okay to begin work on a website, charging a fee without some legal protection?

[00:16:50] Nathan Ingram: Wow, what a great question. For years I worked without a contract. I just had a proposal with a scope of work and a price, and you pay me, I build the thing and there it goes. Then I started running into problems. Expectations that were never really talked about anywhere. For example, oh wait, this would’ve been like many years ago.

But at that point it was maybe Internet Explorer 6 was the browser of choice for everyone. And the person would say, wait this is not working on my Internet Explorer 4. Well, we don’t design for older browsers, we design for newer browsers. And there was great difference in rendering between those two.

These are the sorts of things that you don’t think about until you have a problem with a client. What I like to say is you don’t need a contract for good clients. You need a contract for bad clients. But my goodness, it’s hard to tell them apart at the beginning. So every client gets a contract. And my contract is mostly plain English, and virtually every paragraph in that contract, aside from the necessary legal constructions, everything in that contract is there because I had a problem one time with a client. That now gets added to the contract for the next time.

[00:17:59] Nathan Wrigley: I was very much like you in that I began way back, and it was long before IE6 in fact. I remember writing that into my contracts at one point. We are not supporting IE6. It was exactly the problem you described. I had happily breezed through multiple websites. No problem at all, everything was fine. I had a client who simply was able to push harder than anybody I’d come across before. In other words everything that I delivered, they would either reject or request it to be entirely different.

So this whole notion to me of scope creep and the client who refused to accept that anything was finished, came along. And it really was at that point that I started to look around and try to protect myself. So, I would imagine that your advice is really, it doesn’t matter on what level you’re doing this. You need some kind of legal protection, right?

[00:18:51] Nathan Ingram: So I would even take a step backwards. You need a consistent process that you use for every client, every project, every time. And that process needs to be documented somewhere in something that you and the client agree to. Call it whatever you want. Call it a contract. Call it, as we do, a master services agreement. You could put it in your proposal, but just have some place where everybody’s agreeing to the process. That’s that piece of clarity at the beginning where we are clear on how this is going to proceed.

Where we get into trouble is where we, we think, well we just sort of do every project differently and there’s not really a consistent process. And so the client is able at that point to dictate how the project goes. Will have at some point, you know, some level of control over your world, as long as you’re building that website. Instead of realizing, okay, this is the best way to build. We’re going to document this process out, and have the client agree to it in a contract.

[00:19:47] Nathan Wrigley: I guess whenever I’ve read legal contracts before, whether they’re for my car insurance or what have you. I’m always confounded by the language used, within moments of beginning the reading of it. I’m coming across, not only words which I haven’t encountered before, but the sentence construction is entirely bizarre.

In other words, it can be read by a lawyer. Sometimes I’m confused as to whether or not it’s written deliberately to be hard read or whether or not it’s the most expedient way of hammering something down perfectly. I can never parse that. Either way, I’m left confounded.

So given that lawyers very often end up with this language, which is impenetrable. And you mentioned that your contracts are in plain English. Is it possible to nail things down, absolutely watertight with plain English? And do you feel yourself equipped to do that? Or is this really the domain of a lawyer? Do we need to get a lawyer to go through your contract and inspect it to make sure that in every scenario it’s having your back?

[00:20:59] Nathan Ingram: So, just first of all, I’ll answer this from my perspective as a person who’s been working with clients, doing web things for over 25 years. I’m not an attorney. This is not legal advice or anything like that. But my experience has been sort of a blend of both.

It’s important to have good, practical experience working with clients and knowing what the problems are. But you also do need the legal language. Because if the worst thing happens and you end up in court with a client, there’s a reason that attorneys write things the way they do. You know, this is language that has been proven out and so forth.

And so if you take a contract that is exclusively plain English, you can get tied up with defining what the meanings of this word and that word and so forth are, and it turns into a mess. So, if you went out today and you did a search for a web design contract on the web, you would find two types of contracts in general.

You would find some that are just absolutely plain English with no legal constructions whatsoever. And those are okay. They do establish clarity, or give you kind of a template to establish some clarity. But they don’t have the legal protections. On the other side, it’s like the total opposite end of the spectrum. Contracts that are a hundred percent legalese, and I don’t understand what some of these things mean. And this is what you were talking about a bit earlier. And I’m not sure if that really gives clarity to the client, because nobody really knows what any of this means unless you’re an attorney.

And so what I found to be the best approach, and this is what I’ve done, is I began years ago explaining our process. Explaining what we do, what we don’t do. Explaining some of the issues like browser compatibility, and what happens if you hire a digital marketing person that comes in and they break your website. Are we responsible for that because we’re managing your website.

All of the bad experiences I’ve had with clients, I started putting those things down in a document and then I gave that to an attorney and said, okay, make this legal. And so they added all the necessary legal constructions, and patched the holes. Over time this has become my agency contract, and that’s what I ultimately turned into MonsterContracts.

[00:23:02] Nathan Wrigley: With your contracts, did you find that the nature of the project at hand, in other words, the one that you’re working on right now. Given that each client website is slightly different and it may have different constraints. It may need, I don’t know, let’s imagine, a WooCommerce store or something like that. We really are getting into a completely different variety of website. Or it may be a simple brochure site. Or it may be that there’s a bespoke plugin, for example, has to be written for that website.

Do you advise taking those contracts that you’ve had written, or rather inspected by lawyers, do you take them back and get them to look, more of a scan through each time and append to it, the bits and pieces that are needed? Or have you settled on a contract which you think is broadly good enough to fit any situation?

[00:23:50] Nathan Ingram: It’s a great question. So this exact situation is why I recommend a two document approach. So we have a proposal of services that deals with the scope of work and the price for every individual project. And those are going to be different every time. But then we have a master services agreement, or a contract, that has the rules of the road for every project. These don’t change. And so we present those documents together.

So the contract that the master services agreement covers the process. All these things that we do and timeframes, and what happens if you don’t pay and, here’s how the website management works, and we don’t guarantee results for SEO.

All these things that need to be in a contract that don’t change from project to project, are there in the contract. But then the scope of work of we’re going to build this plugin, or we’re going to add a store, we’re going to do whatever. Those are in the proposal, which is the scope of work and the price for that individual project.

[00:24:43] Nathan Wrigley: Right, okay, that’s an intriguing separation. Yeah, so two different documents. One which is more bespoke and one which is more generic and you can reuse over and over again.

[00:24:53] Nathan Ingram: Exactly.

[00:24:54] Nathan Wrigley: So, given that we’ve got a contract. Given that it’s been written by a lawyer, and there may be aspects in there that are impenetrable to us. I guess there’s always going to be a need to go back to the lawyers. I can imagine the fees of this starting to tick up quite quickly actually. Because if a client comes back to you and you believe they’re in breach of the contract in some way, but the contract is difficult to read, it’s in that legal language. That’s an important thing to do, isn’t it? You really do have to understand the ins and outs of your contract.

So given any scenario of inverted commas, wrongdoing by the client, you are able to say to them with confidence, look, this is what you signed. This is what this clause in the contract meant. In other words, you have to know what it says in plain English in your head. Otherwise you can’t really enforce it, because you wouldn’t be sure what you were able to enforce.

[00:25:47] Nathan Ingram: Right, and this is why if you were to open my agency contract, or if you were to look at MonsterContracts. You would see things like payment terms, and they’re all in plain English. Again, this is why I said earlier, I want to have my system documented ahead of time.

Like I want to know, internally, this is how we deal with late payments. This is what happens if the client disappears during a project, all these things. We have our policies internally for this. Those are then put into the contract in very plain wording that can be easily pointed to. There have to be legal constructions, but these are, they’re really at the end of the document and they don’t pertain, nearly as much to these practical issues that come up with the client.

[00:26:28] Nathan Wrigley: Do you ever, so this is a question more directed at you personally, given that you’ve got all these contracts and you’ve thought all of this through. Do you ever let things slip, in other words, you’re having a conflict internally. Part of you saying, I know that this client is now in breach of what the, not only the spirit, but the letter of the contract said. But I’ve got a bit of a spidey sense that I can let this one go. It feels like it’s going to be all right. Because there be monsters down there.

And it’s so easy. I did that and probably continue to do that quite a bit, because sometimes I feel that if I push the legal button, I really have transformed everything. I’ve suddenly gone from it being a fairly friendly relationship, albeit fraught at times. To a really adversarial relationship where the lawyers are getting involved and so on. So I’m just wondering whether or you permit yourself to ignore your contracts in some scenarios.

[00:27:24] Nathan Ingram: Oh, what a great question. So the answer to that question, it revolves around emotional intelligence, right? you have to make a judgment call on, is this a situation that is worth really enforcing the contract or not. And honestly, many times, let’s just say, here’s the situation. The client, we’ve been waiting for three months for the client to supply assets that are needed to build the website, and that happens all the time, right? Clients delay, delay, delay for content, and photography and everything.

So, in the contract, it says if we haven’t heard from you in 30 days, then your project is suspended. And there’s some things that happen as a result of that. Now, can we choose to change that? Sure, but oftentimes what will solve that problem is a simple email to the client. Hey, we haven’t heard from you in the last 30 days. At this point your project is about to go into suspended status. And this is what that means.

We explain in the contract. And just having a clarifying email like that can oftentimes shake up the client and get them refocused on the project. If it doesn’t, then you have to make a judgment call on, is this a salvageable project or not?

[00:28:34] Nathan Wrigley: Yeah, I feel like I’ve encountered many different interpretations of this. On the one hand, there’s a lot of people out there in the wild who really are proponents of, look, the minute it goes wrong, start lawyering. Just protect yourself. Get the lawyers involved. You cease communication with the client and start to go through the lawyers.

It’s this idea of, it’s not working out. I need you to do what you’ve agreed right now, otherwise it doesn’t work. We also hear constantly about firing clients and the joy that that can bring.

But on the other hand, I feel that, like you said, you have to judge off your own instincts sometimes whether there is a legitimate reason behind there. And that has happened to me. You know, I’ve had clients that have not delivered things, and then it turns out there’s not only a plausible reason, but a reason, which if it were me in their shoes, I would desperately want the web designer to understand my crisis.

Something personal has happened, some event in their life has meant that they literally have been away from the computer for weeks on end. And so it’s not really their fault. I guess the answer is use your judgment. Invoke the spidey sense, and figure out which is the best way to proceed.

[00:29:42] Nathan Ingram: For sure. I mean, we’re dealing with people here, right? And so my default dealing with people is generally grace. I’m very gracious with people. Understanding about issues that come up. On the other hand, it’s important to have a document that protects you. If you get to the point where you have to fire the client.

That’s a great conversation. And, and you hear a lot, especially on social media and Facebook groups and places like that. Oh, we got to fire the client. This whole discussion, right? But that’s complicated. If you want to fire the client, can you even do that? Do you have a contract that specifies what happens if you want to terminate the relationship?

That’s where having a good document that protects you is critical, because you know at some point, oh, the client didn’t pay me, so I’m going to turn their website off. Well, guess what? If you just turn their website off for non payment, and they haven’t agreed to that stipulation, then you can get sued for that.

Well you didn’t give me due process and whatever. And you can find yourself in a lot of trouble if you don’t have a good document that protects you. So my advice is always have a great contract that is weighted towards you as the service provider, and then you can choose to be gracious when you want.

[00:30:44] Nathan Wrigley: So let’s get into that bit. You were mentioning about switching the website off. So it’s almost like the sanctions piece. What do you have in your arsenal as a web designer, which you can bring to bear should you need to apply a little bit of pressure to make sure that things are moving? So I’m describing a scenario now where things have clearly gone south.

We’re definitely in the territory of miscommunication has been heaped upon miscommunication. We’re at the point of almost falling out. Communication is breaking down, and so we now need to bring out the big guns, if you like. What have we got? You mentioned turning off the website, that’s obviously one thing that we could do, given that that was in a contract.

I’m thinking we could refuse to do any additional work. There’s obviously the refusal to communicate unless you go through lawyers at this point. What are the kind of things that you would put in your contracts that you would allow yourself to have as an option?

[00:31:40] Nathan Ingram: So it would obviously depend on where we are in the process of the project. But if you’re in the middle of building the site, the client is texting you at 2:00 AM, or whatever. This is clearly not going to work, and we’ve tried to communicate and tried to request the client to change their behaviour, and they just simply won’t do it for whatever reason, and you need to pull the plug on the project. Then, you know at that point, at least my contract says, we as an agency get to evaluate the work that’s been done and say, okay, 78% has been completed and so you owe this much more.

Or if we’ve already received full payment, we’ll refund that much or whatever. You need some process by which you can mitigate or decide who gets what at the end of this. So if you’re in the middle of the project, and you want to pull the plug, somebody has to figure that out.

If it’s a client that’s maybe in a management phase and they’re just not paying their bill or they’re asking for too much or whatever, it’s always a conversation. What’s going on here? And is there something we don’t understand about this? But, at some point you have to have an agreement that if you don’t pay your bill within certain time, then we do suspend the website from view.

[00:32:46] Nathan Wrigley: I guess there is also a point where you have to cease communication through anything other than the lawyers. Because at some point any stream of email going left, right, and center has to be mediated by a professional who’s removed from all of this.

[00:33:03] Nathan Ingram: Yeah, you really do. And you know, we first tried to do arbitration, just to try to keep things out of court. That’s just a personal preference. But at some point you have to do that. Now, thankfully I’ve never even gotten close to anything like that, and I’ve heard horror stories of where it’s gotten to that point.

You know, a lot of this is, as you work with clients and you have good client experiences and bad client experiences. You start to develop, like you said earlier, this spidey sense. This radar of early on, like before you even sign a proposal with a client, getting better at filtering out the bad clients at the beginning.

Hopefully over time that becomes part of this, where you don’t have nearly the issues. Early on I had bad clients. They would take advantage of me. they didn’t want to pay. They wanted to pay a just a little bit, not really what the work was worth.

They would constantly second guess and question my professional decisions. It was just terrible. I began to realize there are better clients out there and, not let those difficult clients in our world to begin with.

[00:34:02] Nathan Wrigley: It’s interesting as this podcast has gone on, we’ve concentrated on the negative aspect of contracts, in the, you know, we’re protecting ourselves. This horrible thing could happen, so make sure you’ve got some protection. Oh, and this horrible thing could happen. But really, it’s the opposite, isn’t it? The contract is there to give you peace of mind. It’s to create a sort of positive scenario.

And so hopefully you won’t find yourself in these positions. If the contract is robust enough, everybody signed it, read it, understood it, then those boundaries are in place so that these disasters don’t occur. So there’s a bit of silver lining on this cloud.

[00:34:38] Nathan Ingram: Oh, it absolutely is. There’s this old story about this mother who’d warned her children about playing next to the road because they lived next to this busy highway. And oh, don’t get close to the road because, you know, you could get hit by a car or whatever. And so the kids would not go just a few feet from the house because they were terrified of this road.

And then they realized, well, our kids aren’t even playing in our yard. So they put up a fence between the yard and the road. And the kids then could play within the boundaries of the fence and weren’t afraid of the road anymore. And that’s just a little example of put up a fence, a contract, and it really frees you to work better with clients.

And in my experience, it’s if a client out of the gate, if the client pushes back against some of the things in our contract, it’s a huge red flag that we probably don’t want to work with this client, just right away. Because everything that is in our contract is there for a reason.

I tell the clients that. It’s a rather long document, but everything is there for a purpose. And if you have questions about it, I’m happy to answer those, you know, happy to talk through why we do this. But it’s there for a reason and it really establishes the boundaries of our relationship.

And the remarkable thing about all of this is, people look at a contract, well, I’m afraid to get my clients to sign this, it’s really long or whatever. The good clients have no problem signing contracts like this. They welcome it. It’s a mark of your professionalism that you’ve thought through your business well enough to have a well crafted document that governs this whole process of us working together.

[00:36:03] Nathan Wrigley: You’ve obviously given this a great deal of thought in the past. You live in the United States and you mentioned Alabama. Obviously America’s a tapestry of different states with laws and, honestly I don’t understand that a little bit. But in the UK we have UK law and then there’s EU law, and then obviously there’s law in other jurisdictions.

This, I suppose is something which we might mention right now, towards the end of our recording. You’ve got to have that in mind as well. It really does matter where you are and where the clients are because I guess you’ve got to think about the law. Should it go wrong, are you protected correctly given where the client is and where you are?

[00:36:40] Nathan Ingram: Yeah, for sure. There’s a lot of local laws that govern things that you wouldn’t think about. And that’s why it’s critical to have a local attorney that understands technology and things like intellectual property and these sorts of things, to take a look at whatever document you have.

One of the biggest challenges with MonsterContracts was, okay, I’ve got this document that I have a hundred percent faith in for my work here, and really even state to state. There are very few things that would have to change from state to state, using in the United States.

But then we started getting some people buying the product internationally. And I began to wonder, wow, how is this going to work? I did have some experience. I had a coaching client, somebody that I was working with in business development who lived there in the UK. I provided her a copy of the contract and she had it vetted through a local attorney there.

There were just very few changes. So, the way that at least my contract works is most of it, and I would just, pulling a number out of the air, say 80% of the document is just plain language about processes and things like that. And the legal language is at the end. So the attorney in the area, whether it’s internationally or locally in a different state or whatever, they could just substitute the little bits of standard legal language at the end and make it work wherever you are. And we now have people who’ve bought MonsterContracts all over the world and they’re having that experience where the attorney can review it with maybe one or two hours of time. It works great for their location.

[00:38:05] Nathan Wrigley: So just give us the quick elevator pitch of MonsterContracts. It sounds like that it’s a service that you can essentially log in, pay your subs, and then you can extract from it contracts, which hopefully you can then use.

[00:38:19] Nathan Ingram: That’s basically it. And so again, this is, it’s based on my contract that over 25 years of working with clients, I’ve gradually made better until it’s virtually bulletproof, I think, in my opinion. The MonsterContracts is simply a Word document. You log in, you purchase the document. You take this. You tweak anything that’s there to match your processes or the, you know, if you don’t do things in the same order that the contract specifies, change that around. Plain simple wording. And then the recommendation is always take that to your local attorney to allow them to, you know, run through it and make any changes.

And universally the response has been, one or two hours of time and it’s done. So, for most people they’re going to have one of the two types. So if they’re using a contract, they have the type that’s just plain English and full of holes, or it’s just a bunch of legalese that no one understands.

MonsterContracts it addresses the specific situations that we encounter as web professionals, and it provides the cover that you need to grow your business. It addresses all the things that we deal with in client work.

[00:39:16] Nathan Wrigley: I think you’ve got a system whereby you can submit amendments that you’ve had made. So let’s say for example, in my case, the UK. I could make amendments and then submit them back to MonsterContracts so that other people can benefit from that as well.

[00:39:32] Nathan Ingram: Yeah, exactly. So we have the ability to do that. That’s an area of MonsterContracts that I’m really working on growing this year. We haven’t had as many members do that as I had hoped originally. And so that’s one of our goals this year is to expand those revisions. MonsterContracts is a subscription, just to keep access because we do have the contract vetted by an attorney annually.

And, there are usually at least a few changes to the contract every year to just keep up to date with things that are happening in client work. The subscription gives you access to those changes as well as any revisions that people upload. And if you upload a revision that’s accepted we credit you for that year’s cost.

[00:40:06] Nathan Wrigley: So a scary subject hopefully somewhat tamed by having contracts. Nathan, thanks for chatting to us today and putting our minds at rest and giving us some advice. If the listeners to this would like to get in touch or figure out where you are or begin a chat with you, what are the best, some of the best places to find you online?

[00:40:26] Nathan Ingram: Yeah, sure. So, is, the place to find the MonsterContracts product. There’s a great contact form there if you want to reach out to me about any contract related questions. My coaching website is That is available out there for coaching work or questions around that subject. And I’m online three days a week with iThemes training, at

[00:40:48] Nathan Wrigley: Nathan Ingram, thank you so much for chatting to us on the podcast today. I really appreciate it.

[00:40:52] Nathan Ingram: Thanks, Nathan. I enjoyed it.

On the podcast today, we have Nathan Ingram.

Nathan is the host at iThemes Training where he teaches WordPress and business development topics via live webinar. Based in Birmingham, Alabama, he has been working with clients to build websites since 1995.

He’s also the creator of MonsterContracts, which helps WordPress professionals create contracts for their client work.

If you’ve worked directly with clients, then you’ll know that things don’t always go according to plan. Assets might not be delivered on time. The client does not respond to your emails. The expectations of the client begins to creep away from the original proposal.

Whilst there’s unlikely to be a perfect system to ensure that all projects run according to the plan, you can protect yourself from some of the worst aspects, and for this, you may need a contract.

Nathan is on the podcast today to talk about why he thinks contracts are an essential part of any client facing WordPress work.

We begin by talking about how the contract is designed as a tool to bring clarity to both parties. You, the website builder, can set out the constraints within which you work, and the client can understand what they can, and cannot, expect from you. Nathan thinks that setting these expectations before the project begins leads to fewer problems later on.

We talk about the fact that contracts don’t need to contain overly complex legal language, but they do need to be checked by a qualified legal professional before they’re deployed.

Nathan also explains how he’s refined his contracts over the years, tweaking the wording and the structure, depending upon the project at hand.

We then get into what you can realistically do should your client breach the contract. Are you able to turn off their website or withhold work that you’ve completed? Nathan’s not really in favour of sending in the lawyers as soon as something goes wrong, rather trying to resolve any conflict through better communication.

It’s an interesting conversation which makes contracts seem less adversarial and more about ensuring that your WordPress website projects run as smoothly as possible.

Useful links.

iThemes Training


WordCamp Birmingham

Nathan’s “Dealing with problem clients, building fences around friendly monsters” webinar.

Nathan’s website