I love visiting New York. And I especially love trying new boutique hotels in different areas of the city. I get to discover more about this amazing city while adding to the excitement of my stay. The hotel I recently chose looked great online, (at an equally great price). The phone conversation I had with the front desk clerk before hand reinforced that positive feeling. “Was there anything special I’d like that would help to make sure I had a terrific stay,” he asked? “Anything at all?” I made one small request; then hung up the phone feeling like I’d really lucked out.

The clerk did alert me that the restaurant wasn’t open yet (which no doubt accounted in part for the great price). So the first morning of my stay I figured I could just make coffee in my room. Except, there was one problem: no coffee maker! Oh well, I thought, I’ll just get some boiling water and make tea. One more problem: the hotel could not provide boiling water! It seemed absurd. This lovely boutique hotel was unable to even make a cup of tea for one of its guests. The whole experience reminded me of the expression “caveat emptor,” which means “buyer beware.” It puts ultimate responsibility on the buyer of a product (or a service) rather than the seller of that product or service.

Of course, it’s one thing when caveat emptor means you can’t have your morning caffeine hit. It’s a very different thing when your business suffers because you didn’t think to ask all the right questions — or get details of a business agreement in writing. I’ve had this kind of misunderstanding happen a number of times, typically with providers of Internet and social media-related services, where there is little standardization. Yet, many people claim to know what’s best for my business. I’ve had tasks that a service provider promised to accomplish, go uncompleted. And supposedly professionally written materials, that ended up requiring hours of my editing time. But now, having had experiences of this sort too often, I’m determined to follow these two key guidelines when embarking on any new business relationships in the future:

1. Never Assume
As Jim Heininger says, when it comes to business “never assume, and always confirm.” Ask every question you have in order to gather all the information you can. A candid conversation has a better chance of ensuring that both parties have a clear understanding of the agreement.

2. Never Shake On It
Make sure if you do enter into an agreement that it is in writing, not just a “handshake deal.” You need to have a written agreement. So if down the line, things do not go according to plan, you have something concrete to which you can refer back.

The reality is that any new client/service provider relationship has the potential to go from “perfect” to decidedly imperfect. Just as with the beginning of a romance, when people often don’t take notice of their new partner’s potential flaws, a new business relationship may also have a honeymoon period. Until, naturally, those flaws become too difficult to ignore. But the fact is, the flaws were actually there all along. Although you may not be able to expect a potential love interest to provide you with a detailed summary of what you will get out of the relationship, you can, and should, require that of a service provider.

I think most of us instinctually want to think the best of others. And we want to trust when prospective service providers are friendly and professional, everything will work out just fine. But in business you just can’t leave any stone unturned. You always need to remember “caveat emptor.” It’s true that even with a written agreement you may not cover every single eventuality. But it certainly will formalize expectations, and leave less room for misunderstanding. Who knows? Had I asked the right questions of my New York hotel clerk, I probably would have ended up staying someplace where I could get a cup of coffee, first thing in the day — really not such a difficult thing to accomplish.

Do you need writing coaching or help with a business writing course to create business agreements? Contact me at The Language Lab.


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