Bad Hair Lady’s ‘Rules Of The Road’ (Part 1)

Okay, the client is ready to sign off on your contract. Do you bring out your contract and get the business closed? NO. Hold off a second, because if you just bring out the contract, you are missing a MAJOR opportunity for an easier life.  From now on, before the contract, you will also get them to sign and initial your “Rules of the Road.”

Okay, the client is ready to sign off on your contract. Do you bring out your contract and get the business closed? NO. Hold off a second, because if you just bring out the contract, you are missing a MAJOR opportunity for an easier life. 

From now on, before the contract, you will also get them to sign and initial your “Rules of the Road.” This one small step that might take 3 minutes to explain and initial will (if designed well) eliminate 80% of your future client misconceptions, misunderstandings, false expectations, and irritations and ensure your client is well behaved during the entire project.

What a huge promise to make. I don’t call this the BIG IDEA LETTER for nothing.

Part 1. Theory

Last week, I rented a new 4WD Toyota from Avis to drive to Rotorua to run sales training for a government agency. That in itself is funny. However, while renting the car, I discovered a solution to a problem that almost all architects suffer from.

It would be rude not to share, so here goes …

Have you ever had an issue with a client that you knew was covered in your contract, or you had verbally covered, or was just plain common sense? Of course!

Maybe a “change request” where the client asked for extra bells and whistles but was “shocked” when the cost increased? Or maybe payment terms where you want payment upfront and they decide they want to hold some back?

Ye gods, the audacity!

Here's how a rental company solved their frequent client frustrations with one sheet of paper.

Step 1.

The lady behind the counter with a bad hair-do gets me to sign an eight-page rental contract. Which of course I did without reading the fine print because … who does?

So did Bad Hair Lady hand me the car keys? Noooooooooo.

Step 2.

Bad Hair Lady then gets me to initial and sign a one-page summary. My assumption was these were the items that most frequently cause issues between clients and the company. Annoying frustrating issues that nobody likes and that are probably already covered in their contract but people still do them and waste everyone’s time trying to fix them.

Now research tells us that on a factory production line 80% of the faults occur at 20% of the choke points. Well, it’s probably the same with rental cars and architects.

Rental car companies still have “issues” even though their contracts are tighter than a python wrapped around its prey. Legally, I doubt this one page added anything BUT there is something very humbling about trying to argue your point knowing “they” have a piece of paper sitting in the office with your initial right beside the line that says…

“I agree not to drive this car on the beach or into the sea.”

So the lady with the bad hair quickly explained each of the five items and pointed to where I had to initial “RP.” I needed their car, and so duly initialed. Talk about the “Fun Police” ruining a good road trip.

Step 3.

Only now does Bad Hair Lady hand me the large keys, and it was good they were so large because apart from the keys to hide behind, she had stripped me naked of any excuses. She knew it and I knew it.

Imagine this … Me: “Oh, I did not know I was not allowed to drive  into the surf, it must have been hidden in your sneaky fine print.”

Her: “But Mr. Petrie. you initialed this line here!”

Me: “D'oh!”

Bad Hair Lady has me in Houdini's straitjacket. No wriggle room or air for excuses. So what did I do? Well, I was REALLY careful and I drove as if I had no excuses.

Now, I could have rules that remove painful issues I hate dealing with or I could have rules that get my clients better results. So I thought about how I could create rules that generate better performance from my clients.

“Yes, Richard, I agree to email you my action list within 48 hours of our call”  Initial HERE __ 

“Yes, Richard, I agree to pay monthly in advance” Initial HERE __ 

“Yes, Richard, I agree to watch the relevant video or complete the relevant action sheet PRIOR to our meeting” Initial HERE __ 

“Yes, Richard, I agree to set aside 3 hours per week on my calendar for marketing implementation (which I cannot remove)” Initial HERE __ 

By following these rules (and a couple of others), my clients are bullied into getting better results, which makes them happier and leads them to stay longer. That makes me happier. They are accountable because they agreed UPFRONT to the rules. And can I hold them to the rules because they initialed a document saying I could?

Now the word “upfront” is essential. 

I have four rental properties. The tenancy starts with the tenant signing a tenancy agreement. What I have learned is, when they want the property, often because there are others also wanting the property, they will sign any of my “Rules of the Road” –– even the tough ones like ‘You will clean the property thoroughly before leaving and if you don’t I can hire cleaners at $40 per hour to do the job.” 

Upfront, tenants will sign their life away. The cleaning is 12 months away. But if I were to try to add tough clauses later –– FORGET IT. Mild-mannered, wimpy students suddenly become amateur lawyers and point to any shortcomings in our contract. Heaven forbid they should have to clean up as they depart.

Okay, so let's bring this home.

 If you were allowed 5 to 8 points you wanted your clients to initial and sign as part of your “Rules of the Road” what would they be?

  • Paying of fees
  • Changes to the brief
  • Communication between parties
  • Relationship between parties
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Time frames
  • Delays by client

Imagine you had one page where your clients had to initial 5 to 8 things that overtly covered 80% of the issues you now have that cause disputes. Your one page states that they have READ and UNDERSTOOD and AGREE to abide by these rules, so that you all get the best results before you start to work your magic. Think about the sleepless nights you could remove.

Don't thank me, thank Bad Hair Lady. Yes, I see the irony in me talking about hair.

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