by Cay Moore
If you work as a sole trader, have you considered what would happen if you couldn’t fulfill a contract due to illness or other such eventuality?
Last year my father suddenly took ill and had to be hospitalised on the weekend that I had an order for decoration services for a christening that had been booked many weeks before. Having a sound working knowledge of contract law, I know the importance of providing for substitute workers into consultancy agreements, so I make sure that all my contracts include such a clause.
However, the dilemma for me was that my named substitute worker was unavailable to fill in for me on that occasion. Fortunately for me, I had done most of the preparation earlier in the week. All that was left to do was to finish inflating some balloons and then to actually hang the arrangements in the venue. Needless to say, it was very traumatic, as I had to leave my father in hospital for two hours, in order to fulfill my order. Letting down my customer at such short notice was simply not an option, a decision I knew my father would have supported.
More recently, I suddenly came down with a severe bout of flu and cold which left me debilitated for over two weeks. It was so bad that I had no choice but to impose a strict “no action of any kind” on myself. (O.K., I did spend a lot of that time indoors catching up on some online social networking). But it suddenly dawned on me that if I should fall ill during a busy period, it could be quite disruptive, especially if I didn’t have anyone who could fulfill my contract for me.
So what are some of the likely implications and what can you do to manage this scenario?
Depending on the service that you are providing and the terms of your contract, not being able to deliver a service due to ill health could have catastrophic effects.
The truth is that whilst most clients will sympathise with your situation, they will still expect you to deliver the service you promised or at least make provision for this to happen. Simply apologising will not suffice and could actually result in negative feedback for your business.
Secondly, putting yourself in your client’s shoes, not delivering a service could have serious financial consequences for them, especially where the service that you are providing forms a significant part of a service that they are delivering to a third party. For instance, your non-delivery could lead to loss of profits and severe business interruptions for your client.
There are two simple ways of counteracting the negative effects of not being able to deliver a service due to ill health or other emergencies which render you unavailable:
Including a clause in your contract for services for the provision of a substitute worker of comparable skills to yourself to step in and deliver the service. A simple wording for such a clause could read:
- “If the Consultant is unable to provide the Services due to illness or injury on a certain date he shall advise the Client of that fact as soon as reasonably practicable and shall provide such evidence of his illness or injury as the Client may reasonably require.
- The Consultant reserves the right to appoint a suitably qualified and skilled Substitute to perform the Services on his behalf”. Taking out the appropriate business insurance to cover any possible claims for damages from your client due to non-delivery of your service. O.K. the unexpected does happen at times, but in today’s competitive market, it is not enough to just say sorry I am unable to deliver, clients demand a lot more and it is up to you to go to whatever length necessary to keep your clients happy. After all, a happy client means more referrals for you. And when you are a sole trader, referrals are your single most important and effective marketing tool!
So, if you are not in the habit of providing for substitute worker in your agreement, now is the time to start doing so, it could save you money and your business reputation.
Cay Moore is the owner of Cay Moore Associates, providers of business support to sole traders and small and medium-sized businesses.