How not to get ripped off by a contractor

Ask QuestionsMy ire is up, and it’s time for a ranticle.

The welcome call was over the top, full of promises of timely delivery and stellar work.

Then came the hand-written, new client welcome card.


All of that had you feeling they “got you”, when in fact, you were about to be taken.

Weeks go by and no design or copy is delivered.

Or maybe you get email updates saying things like “it’s taking me a bit longer than I thought.” Fair enough, sometimes projects do. When they don’t include “The new date you can expect to see milestone 1 is X,” it is time to shake the trees for answers.

Outsourcing is critical for small businesses.

Bookkeeping, copywriting, web design, podcast and video editing, virtual assistant services; you name it you can find someone else to do it.

As it should be.

Our time is best spent in our zones of genius, right?

In the past few months I’ve worked with two smart, business savvy women, and spoken to a dozen others who have stories of having been abandoned by contractors or receiving work that was so far off the mark that they had to redo it themselves or hire again, hoping to get what they wanted.

In one of these cases the investment was 5 figures for a 5-page website and some social marketing copy to launch it.

The work was months behind schedule. The site the agency delivered is more like a new coloring book waiting to be filled in. The copy was a list of ideas for the client to take action on. Despite a contract which specified a finished job; they simply walked away. (This client is not difficult by the way, quite the contrary.) “I was so frustrated and frankly, felt dumb, like how did I make this kind of mistake?” K told me.

When anyone can look legit, professional, and polished online, how do you really know what you’re getting?

In a word: Ask.

“How do you know so much smarty pants Greg?” Good question, you’re a natural at this ask thing.

Here’s why: In my 20+ years of entrepreneurship I’ve lost my share of money, time, and good moods because I didn’t do a) enough homework, b) do the right kind of homework.

In short, I didn’t ask the right kinds of questions.

The many horror stories I’ve heard from clients — whether catering, copywriting or coaching — have common pitfalls. Here’s a checklist to give you a running chance of having a good experience.

What to ask yourself.

  • Am I clear on what I want? To be fair to the contractor know yourself, your brand voice, your message and give it to them clearly.
    • Need a new website or a redesign? Start a swipe file of others you like and those you don’t and make notes on why you do or don’t like them. You should also know what you are building the site to do.
  • What am I willing to pay for it?

    • If you don’t know what the price range is for a service like web design or copywriting, do a search. What are you willing to spend? When you have a first call with a contractor you’ll hear their price within a context of market pricing. If you have no idea what this stuff costs you’ll likely get shocked — not a good place to make a decision from.

What to ask the contractor.

You’ll have a raft of things to ask pertinent to your project. In addition, these are the non-negotiable asks before you invest if you want to CYA.

  • (If it’s a substantial investment) Do you have a client or two I can speak to?
  • Have you ever not finished a project? Yes? What were the circumstances?
  • Will you give me dated milestones?
  • What do I do if the due date passes and I haven’t heard from you?
  • (If it’s copywriting or design work) How many revisions do I get and what constitutes a revision?

A couple of things to be wary of.

  • They want the entire payment up front. This should scare you. Once they have their money you have no leverage if things are not going according to plan. Even if they offer you a discount to pay in full, I’d skip it.
  • If they can’t give you the name of a client or two, references, I’d be suspect. How else will you know how they are to work with?
  • They miss your scheduled appointment or cancel your introductory call at the last minute
  • The proposal has a major typo — like your name or the name of your company.
  • The proposal isn’t sent at the time promised and there was no advance warning that it would be late.

We will all fall short of our expectations for the work we do once in a great while. Things get ugly when communication breaks down or stops. And it works both ways. Most contractors need us to give them our pieces of the puzzle they are putting together. Be on time or be in communication.

Yesterday someone sent a 411 email asking for a call today. She needed eyeballs on copy for a landing page. She’s a member of a group I coach for, so I made room.

This morning, there was no copy in my inbox as promised so I might have guessed this wasn’t going to go as planned, but I didn’t expect to be stood up.

I was.

It happens.

It cost me nothing but a bit of time. I’m moving on.

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