5 Problems Your Contracts Have and How to Fix Them

Tim Sines

What are the most common problems that accounting firms have with their contracts?

Accounting firms face a lot of challenges when drafting client contracts to use with their time and billing software. It’s tough enough to navigate the maze of financial regulations and the constantly shifting tax codes.

Additionally, you must tailor your contracts to individual client requirements while making your that the scope of services and pricing structure are clearly defined. It’s a lot to consider.

In an industry where every single detail counts, any vagueness in your contract can lead to misunderstandings, jeopardize client trust, and even end up in a legal disaster.

It’s not easy to strike a balance between creating a detailed contract and ensuring it remains clear and concise. But we have some ideas. In this guide, we’ll discuss the most common mistakes related to creating accounting contracts, and what you can do to avoid this from happening.

It’s not easy to strike a balance between creating a detailed contract and ensuring it remains clear and concise, but this guide will help: Click To Tweet

Mistake #1: Ambiguous Scope of Work

Every project hinges on a well-defined scope of work (SOW). It’s the backbone of any contract. The SOW outlines the tasks, deliverables, timelines, payment terms, and standards expected of both parties.

Without a clear SOW, you’re inviting trouble. Vague terms can cause misunderstandings, unexpected costs, project delays, and trust issues.

To avoid all of the drama that can come from an ambiguous SOW, do the following:

Be Direct and Specific – Spell out tasks and avoid jargon. Remember, you’re likely entering a contract with someone who has very limited knowledge of accounting, so they may not be familiar with industry jargon. Avoid legalese because it often leads to headaches—for both parties.

Break Tasks Down – Segment complex tasks into smaller phases. This can make it easier for clients to understand what value they’re receiving from your service.

Be Specific with the Timeline – Assign due dates, where applicable. It may also be helpful to define the project’s start and end dates.

Keep Clients Involved – Review the SOW with them and welcome questions. Don’t rush this part. It’s vital your clients understand what they’re getting and what’s expected of each party.

A precise and comprehensive SOW not only minimizes potential disputes but also ensures a smoother project workflow and strengthens your relationships with your clients.

Mistake #1: Ambiguous Scope of Work

Mistake #2: Undefined Deliverables

When you’re setting up a contract, not being specific about your deliverables and how they should be presented might leave you and your client with mismatched expectations. Not being on the same page can also create avoidable delays in your workflow. Be precise about what you will deliver. Here’s how:

Be Explicit – Go into detail about what you will provide. For example, rather than saying you will “provide a report,” get specific. Say that you will “Deliver a 10-page quarterly financial performance report in PDF format.” This way, when you deliver the report, your client will recognize it as one of the promised deliverables.

Describe the Document’s Format – Clearly indicate how you will present the deliverable, whether it will be a physical document, a digital file, or a presentation.

Use Numbers – Make your deliverables quantifiable. For example, “Analyze 5 years of sales data” is clearer than just “Analyze sales data.”

Offer Examples – If you have a specific structure in mind, sharing an example of what you will provide can set clear expectations.

Set Deadlines – Set a time for when you will deliver each item. Either pin your deliverables to specific dates or project milestones.

By defining your deliverables clearly, you’ll align your client’s expectations with your schedule and streamline your work.

Mistake #3: Murky Pricing and Payment Terms

Ever been confused by a restaurant menu with no prices listed? It’s the same feeling your clients have when the pricing structures in your contract are unclear or missing altogether. Misunderstandings about billing can strain what could have been a great business relationship.

Here’s how to avoid the chaos:

Itemize Like a Pro – Clearly spell out every service or product you provide and its associated price. This way, there are no surprises.

Identify Your Pricing Structure – Do you offer a fixed rate? Do you bill by the hour? Do you offer retainer pricing? Or do you charge based on the project’s value? Make it clear.

Extra Fees – How much do you charge for the extras? If there are add-ons like taxes or overtime rates, be clear about what each additional service will cost the client.

Set a Payment Schedule – Set clear milestones for when you expect payment to be due. Also, be explicit on if you charge fees for late payments, and how much you charge.

Refund Policy – Address how you handle refunds.

Mistake #4: Duration and Termination Clauses

A contract without clear start, duration, and end clauses can feel murky and incomplete. Both parties may be unsure of the contract’s lifecycle or how to terminate an agreement when the time comes.

Here’s how to avoid ambiguity:

Set a timeline. Include in your contract a clear beginning and ending for your service. Pin down the exact dates the contract kicks off and wraps up. Whether it’s for a specific duration, a certain date, or once a task is done, clarity is key.

Be explicit with your renewal process, also. Spell out how a contract can be renewed. For example, will it auto-renew? If so, what are the terms? And does it need authorization from both parties?

Include terms of cancelation in your contract as well. Explain what happens if one party breaches the contract. What are the deal-breakers that can allow either side to terminate the contract on the spot? Also, indicate whether the agreement can be called off without any specific reason.

Mistake #4: Duration and Termination Clauses

Mistake #5: Overlooking Liabilities

Skipping the fine print on the potential risks and responsibilities you incur when entering a contract? You’re skating on thin ice. By skipping over risks, you actually put yourself at risk. Here’s how, and also what to do about it:

There are two types of liabilities: Direct and indirect. Direct liabilities come from clear breaches or oversights. Indirect liabilities are trickier scenarios. To mitigate the risks associated with these pitfalls, set firm boundaries. Define the extent of your firm’s responsibility. This could be by establishing a monetary limit or excluding certain scenarios from your liability scope. Use language that leaves no room for ambiguity.

Also, don’t forget about your backup plan: Your professional liability insurance. It’s there to protect you in case the worst happens. For example, if the advice you offer doesn’t pan out financially for a client, you may use your contract to legally protect yourself.

It’s essential to get a legal professional to review your contracts before you ask a client to sign. This ensures that the terms are clear, enforceable, and in line with current laws and regulations. A legal expert can spot potential ambiguities or omissions that might lead to disputes down the road.

Final Thoughts

Constructing contracts can be a challenge, but if you take the time to understand common pitfalls, you can prevent fatal mistakes from happening to you. A clear contract can foster a stronger and more productive partnership with your clients. Use the above tips to create better contracts that protect all parties involved.

Learn more about how Mango Practice Management can benefit your accounting firm. Check out a free demo here.

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