Post 489 by Gautam Shah
For a young and fresh professional, a new client is like a girl (or boy) friend. You look for the right occasion and mood to propose. And perhaps discuss the terms and conditions. The client may not run away, but will also not indicate any commitment. A fresh professional is always very eager to secure the job, and may not wish to disturb the budding but fragile relationship with the client. But a client detests any formalization of relationship so early with an age-old excuse, ‘does not fully know the professional yet’. That translates to the reality that client wants to delay the decision. Clients are also shrewd enough to have a free taste of thing to come before formalizing the relationship.
When a professional and client decide to establish a relationship, it usually occurs very gradually. An established professional will not show any haste. Rather, express a desire to know more about the project and perhaps the client, before establishing a relationship. All seasoned professionals expect new clients to be familiar with the design field and their projects. This is quite different from fresh professionals who are required to establish their bonafide.
All design professionals (fresh and established) need to know, if they decide to take on a project —what will be their gain, and if they do not take a project —would there be a loss ? To accommodate (accept) an odd project or unusual client, a professional may not only shed profits, but end-up disturbing the routine work and culture of the practice.
For all professionals, requisition of a formal commitment (consent) from a client, for a job, is a very difficult exercise. Formal commitment binds a professional to deliver the expected services. A professional begins a job, by investing in labour, stationary and intellectual skills. Whereas, a client awaits with uncertainty whether the professional will at all deliver the project with required quality, and in time. When a professional fails to deliver, not only client’s time, but effort expended reaching to this stage are wasted. Clients’ time and efforts both are non-calculable and recoverable entities. And when the client fails to appreciate a professional’s work, all the labour, stationary and intellectual skills are wasted. Few of these can ever be determined.
A variety of problems manifest, till a client formally commits a job to the professional. In case of an individual client (private), only a personal whim can cause a problem in the job. In case of a client representing a formal or informally constituted group, the leader’s relations and position with the group, if changes, it can necessitate recasting of negotiations. In case of group clients or committees, all decisions and actions are necessarily formal, and so job commitment is not a major problem, though there are inevitable delays.
Ideally a client and a professional should enter into a contract as per the law of the land. But a contract is a very formal expression of intent. It is too much to expect a client and a professional to formalize their relationship with a contract, when they hardly know each other, or have not formulated the project. Just the same, even in the absence of a contract, they must nurture the relationship. In a normal course this is not very difficult, as both the parties are willing. However, at a later stage if there is a problem, either of the parties may refuse to recognize the fact that there was a budding relationship between them. In such a situation a professional will lose all that was invested in understanding, preliminary working, planning of the project. This could include not only labour, stationary but patent ideas. On the other hand a client will never recover the time that wasted in searching, identifying, convincing the professional and waiting for solution.
It is very natural that clients and professional are extremely careful about things they say and do. For a professional, (who is operating in the absence of a very formal commitment), it is necessary to create an evidence that, a client did commit the job or at least was aware that the professional is working on it. The evidence in such a case is usually circumstantial. Circumstantial evidences are not generally tenable in court of law, unless corroborated by other circumstantial or real evidences.
Best commitment, next to a legal contract is payment of a Retainer amount. A retainer fee, however small, signifies establishment of a relationship, between a client and a professional. (retainer amount or fee should not be confused with retention money). Ideally a retainer amount should be large enough to cover not only the labour, stationary and skill, but the cost of patent (original or exclusive) ideas required to generate a schematic design (or such other stage when fees again become due). The cost of patent or unique idea is collected at first go, because a unique idea or a concept once exposed to an outsider like a client, loses its originality and so the value.