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Protect Yourself: How to Structure Your Consulting Contracts

On the importance of contracts to your consulting business and what they should include and why.

Entrepreneur

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Consulting-contracts

Now that you’ve laid the foundation for your new consulting business, it’s time to think about two important tools you’ll need to be an effective consultant: the consulting contract and the client report.

A contract is a legal document between two or more parties that involves what attorneys call “an exchange of value.” That is, if something of value (money, goods, services) is provided in return for something else (in your case, consulting services), then the agreement is considered to be a contract. And it doesn’t matter if the task or service you’re performing is quick and easy, or complex and time-consuming.

Related: Why Your Business Needs Employment Contracts

You must always protect yourself by creating a contract the client will sign. After all, this is your livelihood at stake, and if something goes wrong, you’ll need solid legal documentation to make sure you get paid.

Contracts protect both the contractor and the client. To make sure there are no misunderstandings, you must be sure every contract you write is clear, specific and detailed enough to cover all the important points or clauses.

Your contracts should be written in plain language, which is clear and easily understood prose. This doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t need an attorney to look over your contracts or help you create a template you can reuse.

In addition to spelling out all the terms of your agreement, a contract can help you avoid what’s often referred to as “project creep,” in which you begin with a specific task that morphs into more work than you agreed to as the project proceeds.

Having a signed contract that details exactly what you’ve agreed to do will help you rein in projects before they take on a life of their own.

Contracts can be very simple one-page documents, or they can be 100 pages long, depending on the subject matter and how many complicated issues they cover and in how much depth.

They also can take the form of a letter of agreement, which is shorter and less formal but is just as binding as a formal contract.

Related: Readying Your Business for Big Contracts

Contract-ideas

Here’s a short list of what should be included in every consulting contract:

  1. Full names and titles of the people with whom you’re doing business. Be sure they’re all spelled correctly.
  2. Project objectives. Making a list will help you achieve the project goals and figure out when the job is done and you can stop. (“Project creep” can go both ways.)
  3. Detailed description of the project. Write a global description that specifies every aspect of the task you’ve been asked to do.
  4. List of responsibilities. Record exactly what you’ll be expected to do or the major steps you’ll take to complete the project. It can be helpful to create a list of checkpoints you can refer to as you work. You might also want to have the client sign off on each phase of the project to ensure his/her satisfaction with the work as it progresses. If so, the sign-off process should be included as an item on your list of responsibilities.
  5. Fees. In addition to mentioning the agreed-on fee, you can include a payment structure.
  6. Timeline. Specify the start and end date of the project, and indicate any pertinent dates in between (including those dates on which you wish to have the client sign off on your work in progress and/or payment dates).
  7. Page numbers. This might sound basic, but the idea is to keep the client – or you, for that matter – from adding pages to the contract that not everyone has agreed upon.

This is not an all-inclusive list. Your attorney may recommend including other information, such as legal definitions, legal recourse in the event of nonpayment, nonperformance clause (as in what will happen if either party reneges on his or her obligations), and so on.

This is just one more reason why it’s a good idea to have your legal eagle draw up your contracts or give the ones you write the once-over before they’re presented to clients.

In addition to the details discussed above, every contract has three key elements that must be present for the contract to be valid:

  • The contract must contain an offer. An offer is simply something proposed by a person or business. For example, an offer for one of John Riddle’s fundraising clients may include language like this: “. . . JR will act on behalf of the XYZ nonprofit organisation as a fundraising consultant to raise the necessary funds required for . . .”
  • Each contract must contain acceptance. Acceptance is when one party accepts the terms offered in the contract. It’s usually a good idea to put a time limit on any contract or letter of agreement you offer a client. For example, you might state that the offer will expire in a set number of days unless it is signed and accepted.
  • Each contract must contain consideration. This is the amount you’ll be paid. For example, the contract language could say something like “. . . in exchange for a monthly payment of R50 000.”

Entrepreneur Magazine is South Africa's top read business publication with the highest readership per month according to AMPS. The title has won seven major publishing excellence awards since it's launch in 2006. Entrepreneur Magazine is the "how-to" handbook for growing companies. Find us on Google+ here.

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How to Guides

Is It Time To Consider Renewable Energy To Power Your Business?

Can your business afford the 33% electricity hike that Eskom is proposing? If not, you should look into some of the renewable energy options South Africa has to offer.

Nicole Crampton

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In the past there was load shedding, now there are proposed high price increases, and more potential load shedding due to the strike action. Many businesses previously resorted to generators as alternative energy sources, but with the growing customer demand for more environmentally conscious options, they won’t be satisfied with this alternative energy solution.

Keeping a business operating in South Africa is hard enough without losing funds every time the electricity goes out, and although generators are known as the back-up, with the increase in petrol/diesel prices is this still a feasible long-term solution?

You may want to consider a more permanent renewable energy alternative, to both reduce your electricity bill, regardless of future tariff hikes, and demonstrate that your business cares about the environment.

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How Brigid Prinsloo Made (A Lot Of) Money On Airbnb

With the explosive success of Airbnb, the property investment landscape is changing. An increasing number of property owners are finding that it’s far more lucrative to rent out a property by the night than to install a long-term tenant.

GG van Rooyen

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It is possible to build property riches starting from a small base. This couple shows you how they did it. They’ve also launched a business that makes it easier to rent your property on Airbnb.

Although Brigid Prinsloo is a dyed-in-the-wool Capetonian who absolutely loves the city, she isn’t spending a whole lot of time there right now.

Like many young people, she’s pulled up stakes and hit the road, determined to see the world. When Entrepreneur spoke to her via Skype, she was busy exploring Vietnam with her Fiancée.

But, unlike many people who finance their travels by selling their homes and possessions, Prinsloo hasn’t liquidated her assets.

Related: 10 Weird And Wonderful Airbnb Listings, Including A New York Taxi And An Igloo

Instead, she has done the opposite – she has invested in a couple of properties that she lists on Airbnb.

The income from these rentals is significant enough to not only cover their respective bonds, but to bankroll her travels as well.

How has she managed it? And, more importantly, is it something that others can accomplish as well? Entrepreneur asked her to reveal the secrets to making a killing on Airbnb.

1. Getting Started: Listing Your First Property on Airbnb

How did you start listing on Airbnb?

Brigid Prinsloo

Brigid Prinsloo – Superhost SA

I used Airbnb during a trip to London and Dublin, and the experience was a very positive one. When I got home, I decided to try being a host. My fiancé and I had a spare room in our flat, which had morphed into a dishevelled storage room.

Almost on a whim, we decided to try and rent it out on Airbnb. We had a very ‘Lean Start-up’ approach to the whole exercise. Our small room acted as a minimum viable product (MVP), we listed it simply as a way of gauging interest.

Well, within an hour of listing the room, we received our first inquiry. Within the first day, we had our first booking. We weren’t prepared.

We ended up moving our own comfy bed into the room, just to ensure our guest could enjoy a decent night’s sleep, and slept on a spare bed ourselves.

By the end of that first month, we had earned close to R10 000 by renting out the room. The rent for our entire two-bedroom flat was R10 500 per month. We realised that we could earn a tidy sum by renting out an entire flat.

My fiancée and I purchased a property that we now rent out, and I also purchased a second property with my dad and my sister, which we’ve also listed on Airbnb.

Resource: New Ways SMEs Can Find Funding

2. Return on Investment: Making Money on Airbnb

How much income can you expect to earn on your Airbnb property per month?

There are obviously loads of different kinds of listings on Airbnb – everything from cheap spare rooms to lavish mansions. Based on the investment we’ve made, though, I’m very happy with the return we’ve seen.

If you take the entire amount that my fiancée and I have earned from renting our flat out through Airbnb and divide that by the number of months that it’s been listed, the average monthly earning is about R23 000.

And this is a property that had been rented out to a long-term tenant for about R6 000 by a previous owner. What’s great about this sort of investment, of course, is that the income generated is fairly passive, which is why I can afford be in Vietnam while everything ticks over at home.

Airbnb-accomodation

High quality images are important when listing your property on Airbnb.

3. Birth of Superhost: An Airbnb Management Company

Is there an easy way to manage multiple Airbnb properties?

If you’re renting out one room – or even one flat – managing your rental is fairly easy. However, once you start listing a couple of properties, managing them can become quite a task.

For example, someone needs to welcome guests and hand over the keys, ensure that the flat is clean, and even take care of all the admin that goes with managing a listing on Airbnb.

superhostsouthafrica

Brigid Prinsloo has made far more by listing her property on Airbnb then she could ever earn through long-term rentals.

We started a service called Superhost SA, which assists Airbnb hosts in managing their listings. As the popularity of Airbnb has grown, companies focusing on offer management services have popped up in lots of major cities.

Resource: 10 Businesses You Can Start Part-Time

For around 17% of the revenue earned, a company like Superhost will assist with the nitty gritty of renting out a space on Airbnb.

4. Location, Location, Location? Which is Best for Airbnb Property Owners

How important is location when it comes to listing a property on Airbnb?

Location is important, there is no doubt about it. A lot of travellers will judge a listing by what is within walking distance of the space.

So it is worth trying to get hold of a property in a decent location, even if it means you might have to go for something a tad smaller.

That said, however, you’ll find that the listings on Airbnb in Cape Town are surprisingly spread out. Services such as Uber have made it easier for people to travel in foreign cities. So location is important, but you certainly don’t need to be situated in the very heart of town.

Airbnb-location

Airbnb guests look for listings that are affordable, centrally located and well-equipped.

5. How to Build An Airbnb Property Empire

Can you build real wealth through Airbnb listed properties?

Some people are using Airbnb to build empires, there’s no doubt about it. You find that some people in large cities like New York have massive Airbnb portfolios with 200 listings.

Airbnb is providing an interesting alternative to the traditional strategy of buying properties and renting them out to long-term tenants to pay them off. You can make far more money from Airbnb.

That said, Airbnb isn’t going to turn you into a multi-millionaire overnight. Building up a portfolio will take time.

We might be able to pay off the bond on our flat in four years instead of 20 thanks to Airbnb, for example, but it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. It will still take time.

Another interesting way to potentially make money through Airbnb is to rent a property and list it on Airbnb. But you don’t want to do it illegally.

Related: Watch List: 11 Teen Entrepreneurs Who Have Launched Successful Businesses

Airbnb has had to deal with some backlash overseas because of tenants who were illegally subletting their flats. You need to be honest with the landlord and make sure that he or she is okay with it.

Airbnb-lounge

Want to attract the right kind of guests? Create a listing that is cosy and inviting, and adds some local flavour.

6. How to Make Your Listing Stand Out

How do you achieve and maintain a high occupancy on Airbnb?

A lot of people are noticing the income potential of being an Airbnb host. In fact, Cape Town alone now boasts close to 10 000 listings on the website. So how do you make your listing stand out? Here’s Brigid Prinsloo’s suggestions:

Airbnb-listing

Airbnb boasts millions of listings so it’s crucial to make your listings stand out. High quality images are important.

1. Create a pretty listing

Hide the laundry, flush the toilet and make the bed before you upload an image of your flat on Airbnb.

Not only should the flat you’re listing look clean, modern and inviting, but you should also make sure that you post excellent pictures of it online. It’s even worth making use of a professional photographer.

2. Undercut the competition

You might not be better, but you can certainly be cheaper. Undercutting the competition is a worthwhile strategy.

The more people have visited you, rated your place and commented on your service, the higher your listing will be placed on the website. This means that new hosts can find themselves languishing at the bottom of search results, far from the eyes of potential guests.

Prinsloo suggests listing your space just below the market standard (5 – 10% below). “Most people filter search results by price, so being slightly cheaper than the competition will help you get noticed,” she says.

3. Connectivity is important

Around 70% of South African Airbnb guests are from overseas.

While these people won’t be travelling thousands of kilometres to sit in a room and watch TV, they’ll probably still want access to DStv.

Wi-Fi is another must-have for those looking to share their ‘African experience’ on social media. And it better be fast and uncapped.

4. Be friendly and helpful

As mentioned, reviews are important on Airbnb. And if you want to receive a good review you need to provide a great experience.

“A lot of people are looking for that personal peer-to-peer experience. They don’t want to feel as if they’re living in someone else’s room with their clothes in the cupboard and toiletries in the bathroom, but they do appreciate that personal.

Being friendly and helpful goes a long way. If someone is from out of town, it’s a good idea to provide them with hints on where to go and what to do in the city,” says Prinsloo.   

5. Add personal touches

You’re not a hotel, but you can still try to make your space as cosy and inviting as well. A good way of doing this: Provide those nice-to-haves like soap, shampoo and great coffee.

Related: 10 Tips for Finding Seed Funding

Prinsloo always provides a couple of bottles of local wine as well.

7. The Risks of Listing a Property on Airbnb

What are the risks associated with listing a property on Airbnb?

1. Damages

Whenever you hand over the keys to your house and possessions to complete strangers, there is an element of risk involved. However, Airbnb tries to mitigate this risk by allowing hosts to vet guests (and vice versa) to an impressive degree.

Guests and hosts verify their IDs by connecting to their social networks and scanning their official ID document. Although there are some horror stories out there, listing needn’t be terribly risky.

You just need to try and make sure who you’re dealing with.

Air-bnb-property

Handing your valuable possessions over to strangers can be intimidating. It’s important to do everything you can to mitigate the risks.

2. Liability

What happens when a guest breaks a leg while descending your stairs, chops off a finger with your kitchen knife or shocks himself with your electric fence (foreigners aren’t as familiar with electric fencing as we are).

Related: Luthuli Capital Co-Founder’s Advice On How To Start When You Can’t Get Finance

We live in an increasingly litigious society, and should something go wrong, you could find yourself being threatened with a lawsuit. Because of this, it’s a good idea to ask guests to sign a waiver that absolves your from any culpability.

3. Squatting

It’s great when guests arrive, but what happens when they won’t leave?

Airbnb rental falls into a murky category of property rental that could see you deal with the same legal hassles as someone trying to get rid of squatting long-term tenants. Squatter’s rights can make this very difficult.

It is a good idea to consult a lawyer to help draft a contract that will offer some form of recourse in the event of squatting guests.

4. Regulations

Some body corporates and home-owners’ associations will be less than impressed with the prospect of total strangers coming and going from your property at all hours.

Related: How Kevin Hart Went From Being A Comedian To The Guy Who Owns Comedy

You need to ensure that other home owners don’t have problem with the listing of your property on Airbnb. The last thing you want is for them to take their frustrations out on your guests.


Related: Watch List: 20 SA Tech Entrepreneurs Making It Big In The Industry

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(Podcast) Phone Calls Often Solve Email Problems

Irate customers can become your most ardent supporters, but it’s important to treat your clients like people. People like people, and phone calls are more personal than emails.

Nicholas Haralambous

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Emails solve problems – but they also create them. When a real problem arises in your business, is an email the best way to solve it, or should you pick up the phone and give your customer a more personal experience?

Irate customers can become your most ardent supporters, but it’s important to treat your clients like people. People like people, and phone calls are more personal than emails.

Listening time: 3 minutes

Related: (Podcast) Being An Entrepreneur Is Painful

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