The Importance of a Contract

Most businesses today understand that without a contract, there are no clear expectations of your services in writing. When you are entering into an agreement with another party, you must outline all important items to clarify your services, especially when it comes to professional house cleaning:

  1. When will you be cleaning?
  2. What you will be paid?
  3. What services will you be providing?
  4. How long and often will you be providing the service?

Contracts help both parties understand what your services will look like when the contract starts, and when the contract will come to an end – which all good things do.

When that time comes, you want these items outlined in writing so there are no grey areas. You or your customer can give a notice based on the contract terms. This way, both parties can part ways when the time comes with no hard feelings.

When there is no contract, you won’t know when your services are coming to an end – and that unpredictability is just not how you want to do business. When you know in advance and a new client calls you, you have a chance to tell them you will have an opening in two weeks when you know a different contract is ending in two weeks.

It can also create financial hardship when you have no warning you’ll be losing a client when they say, “Goodbye, we no longer need you, effective today!” Although you still may have a financial challenge in this case, you can guarantee a warning in writing and plan accordingly.

I’ve listened to different people on Facebook cleaning groups share how tough it is to lose customers with no warning, mainly because they failed to have contracts in place. I even have one-time contracts for one-time cleaning customers.

I’ve seen that many independent cleaners and small business owners are not taking the time to create contracts with their clients, resulting in gray areas and frustration that comes from having nothing in writing. If your customer decides to add new tasks that aren’t a part of what you originally verbally agreed to and you fail to do them, they may become upset with you. Without a contract, you have no recourse or anything to reference to see who is right.

The contract allows you to go back to the customer and say, based on our contract, that service item was not part of our original agreement. But, if that service is important to you on a regular or as-needed basis, we can change the contract to add it, and adjust the cost to reflect that.

Furthermore, some small cleaning companies are not getting paid by customers and wait an indefinite amount of time to be paid for their services. This is a huge part of why contracts are important because the terms lay out when you must be paid, how you will be paid, and how much. Due to my contracts, I know I’ll be paid every time I clean once my services are rendered.

When it comes to commercial accounts, we write our contracts with the term “to be paid by the 20th of each month.” If our customer doesn’t pay by the 20th of that month, there is a late fee charged because they failed to pay us before or on the agreed date.

As small business owners, we are so busy with the day-to-day operations of our businesses. Because of this, I think the most important part often gets overlooked. Making sure you have a contract before you get into sticky situations provides you with a roadmap to solving any issues or uncomfortable conversations with your customer. 

Contracts are also just as important for your customer because it protects them. When they are clear on which services will be provided, they know exactly what they are paying for, and whether the services outlined are being done.

When I hear cleaners say they’re not being fairly compensated for add-on services, they can respectfully reference the contract and tell customers that there will be an additional charge. When there is no contract, a client can say something like this: “Well, I thought that ‘cleaning’ meant you would pick up all my kids toys in their bedroom every time!” When my company does pick-ups, we charge a specified amount per room. This gives customers the ability to prepare for us to come by picking up rooms themselves if they don’t want to incur a pick-up fee. We’re only being paid to clean, not for pick-ups.

If you are a company who does add-on services like pick-ups, you will need to include in the contract that you are willing to do so. Think about what it would cost you in time, then up-charge so you’re not losing money.

From a business perspective, the contract also helps your staff to clearly understand what they are expected to do each time they go into a specific customer’s home. The contract is like a road map of expectations. When we get new contracts at my company, I sit down with my team and share what services we’ll be expected to do in that home. This helps everything to flow the way it should, and to ensure we’re honoring our contract.

Most often when you don’t have a contract, you’re working in an unorganized manner. You may end up doing a lot of things you probably didn’t have to do, but because you don’t have a contract, you’re doing more than you should do for the amount you’re being paid.

I know people sometimes feel uncomfortable or unfamiliar with constructing a contract. It’s normal to feel this way the first time you do something, but if you push through that short time to be uncomfortable and learn, it’ll give you a lot less frustration on the back end when you do run into situations with your customers.

The contract is your safety net – you can always call out the contract terms. And if you ever need to go to court for any reason, the first question will be, “What does the contract say?” Whatever is in your contract is what legally binds you and your customer.

I’ve been reading on Facebook cleaning groups that cleaning company owners are texting back and forth with customers to ask them for payment. My view on texting with customers from a professional standpoint is that it isn’t professional. I allow my staff to text me sometimes, but to be honest, a phone call to a customer or with an employee is more professional in my opinion. I know we live in a fast-paced world and people like to do things fast, but with texting, it isn’t the most personable way to communicate with clients. It’s a short form of communication where you can’t complete thoughts – it just becomes a thread. Make sure to have contracts outlined in a formal document – not via texting.

Business owners need to have verbal conversations with customers when situations arise, versus texting back and forth. Sending a text to notify your client of your ETA is an appropriate form of communication, but it’s not appropriate when your payment hasn’t been made by your customer. You need to reach out to them by phone or e-mail, that way you have a trail that you have communicated to them that you need to be paid.

At times, talking about money with customers for some businesses owners is uncomfortable. Sometimes non-payment is intentional, but with some customers, it’s just a matter of an oversight and they’ll fix it right away. However, if you must continually reach out to a customer about payment, I think it’s time to part ways with that customer. They are not respecting your company or appreciating your hard work. In the end, it just becomes more frustrating to have to constantly ask for payment when they’ve already received the services. After all, no grocery store would allow you to come in, grab products, leave with them, and pay for them later. A cleaning service needs to be paid when services are rendered. To be paid when services are rendered is commonplace in the residential cleaning industry, so to expect anything different is unacceptable.

Contracts have certainly saved me over the years – they’ve helped me to be more proficient in the services that I provide to my customers, and ensure I have clear communication in writing if I have issues with a client. Contracts also give your company a more professional image.

Customers will take your company seriously when you provide contracts because they know that you’re operating like a real business. At the same time, they know if they’re getting what they’re paying for because it’s in writing. All-in-all, I think it’s a win-win for both the cleaning company and the homeowner.

I’ve had commercial contracts that have been slow to pay us, so I always send a reminder after the first five days that the invoice hasn’t been paid. The second reminder goes with the late fee that will be charged on their next statement. It is important to make sure you hold your clients to whatever terms you create in your contracts. If you ever allow that term to not be upheld, the expectation becomes that you’re not going to enact any consequences you put in writing if they fail to pay when necessary. Remember, that’s the same as making employee policies and then not holding your employees accountable. When they do fail to follow company policy, you’re the one that created the policy, so you’re the one that makes sure consequences are upheld.

Contracts and customer situations can be uncomfortable at times. Sometimes it’s actually very uncomfortable because we hope that everybody would just do what was agreed upon. We know things happen and people don’t always keep their word, which is why having only a verbal agreement is not acceptable. You must have things in writing to protect you, your employees, and your business.

Companies who have contracts spend far less time going back and forth with customers. They have the free time to do the things they want because they put the contract in place from the start. I hope reflecting on my experiences with contracts provided you with some clarity on why it’s best to have a contract.

Now go take a bite out of grime!

Robin Crockett

Founder of Virtual Bid App & Heaven Scent Home Cleaning