Episode 015

Episode 015

Clue: not many!

 

Podcast update:

Happy holidays!

We had such a lovely Christmas (aside from the Santa disaster – did you hear how Freya received two rollerskates for the same foot? Gah!).

BUT in between all that drama and not quite knowing which day of the week it is thanks to Crimbo Limbo, series two of the podcast is now out 🥳 and I need to tell you about a couple of changes to the format.

I won’t lie, editing all of series one myself after being let down by two podcast editors was a LOT of work, and those 5am starts to keep on top of the weekly release schedule as well as all the client work nearly damn broke me.

Hence why I’ve been quiet on the podcast front! 

So you’re going to see me keep it super simple for my solo episodes in series two.

No fancy intros, fewer show notes, and absolutely no editing.

Yup, that’s right – this is the raw and real me in all my geeky glory. 🤓

Here are the shows you can catch up on:

  • 012 – Why you never seem to have enough time…
  • 013 – The four-letter acronym to change your life
  • 014 – Working smarter
  • 015 – My top 10 tools of 2019

Also, you won’t receive an email every time a show is released, so please make sure you subscribe in your platform of choice to watch and listen.

Facebook

YouTube 

Apple Podcast Users

Apple Rebels – just head over to your podcast app of choice and search for “Victoria Tretis”.

 

Episode 014

Episode 014

I was on Brett Trainor’s podcast, Hardwired for Growth, and I spoke about how there are two ways that you can grow your business, you can either leverage somebody else’s time in order to grow it, or you can work smarter. So I just wanted to dig into those two topics a little bit more in today in today’s episode. 

If we think about working smarter, the easiest thing you can do is add some kind of automation to your business. So something that speeds up a process or removes you from it entirely.

I’ve got a few ideas on what you could do in your business that I’d love to share.

 

Episode 013

Episode 013

I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s changed in 2019. And one thing that I’ve really embraced this year is a four-letter acronym which has totally changed my life by stopping my fear in its tracks.

I think it might just help you too.

 

Episode 012

Episode 012

I hope you had a fantastic Christmas. Now I have to admit we did have a bit of drama yesterday because Santa accidentally brought Freya roller skates that were both for the same foot. So you can imagine she was a little bit disappointed, particularly as he had also bought her knee pads and wrist guards, and all of that good stuff as well. So you can imagine what we’re going to be buying on Amazon today, can’t you?

But anyway, we survived and I hope you did as well.

I’ve written a post recently about how many people are too busy to think about hiring a VA. They’re just stuck in that busywork constantly. And the problem with that, and this is particularly true if you’re trading time for money, is that you get stuck in that busy trap. And it means that you literally reach a limit of how many hours you can work based on how many hours you choose to put in. That means that you’re limiting your earning potential as well.

So there becomes a point where you have to think about leveraging somebody else’s time or working smarter and not harder in order to keep scaling and growing your business.

One of the problems that the often clients come to me with is the fact that they feel like they’re so stuck in doing all of that busy work, that they’re slowly falling out of love with their business, because they’re getting frustrated that they can’t scale and grow in the way that they would like.

And it all comes back to time. 

“I’m too busy to hire a VA”, all comes down to time and priorities.

At the end of the day, we always make time for the people or the things that mean something to us. And that’s how we prioritise our life. So if somebody’s saying that they don’t have time to hire a VA it’s because they don’t feel like they’re not going to get that return on investment soon enough to to make that leap.

In my clarity calls, I talk to clients about all of this and I talk about how they can hire quickly and onboard safely and smoothly so that they’re setting their VA up for success. And because it’s all a matter of priorities, until you decide what your top priority is, you’re never going to give it the time that it needs in order to move you forward.

Now, while I was thinking about time in general, it made me realise that I’m not giving my marketing the time and attention it deserves.

I’ve realised that I’m really good at kind of staying in my lane and being really focused. But the only way I can do that is by shutting out all of the external noise.

So that means not being as active on social media. It means like I’ve shut down my Instagram account, I’ve closed down my Twitter, just because for me, I need to kind of stay in my own lane and stay on track by not opening myself up to all of these distractions.

But actually, I’ve realised that I need to give time to those things because the only way I’m going to build credibility with the people who are going to work with me is by getting in front of them more and engaging with them more – ie building relationships and friendships.

I’m really pleased that I’ve managed to stay present with my social media marketing in terms of the posts that I’m putting out. But I think I’m going to get so much more out of doing videos and Little things like this, because it’s going to be a quicker way to build the trust, the like and the know factor – that holy trilogy in terms of sales, with the people who I hope to be working with at some point.

So I guess there’s a couple of things going on here.

But it all relates to time.

Time is just a matter of priorities and working out what your priority is and how you’re going to spend that time.

For me, I’ll be helping business owners who believe that they are too busy to hire a VA and I’m working with them to make sure that they have complete clarity on how to onboard quickly and safely and I set them up for success. But also for my own priority perspective. I’m going to be putting more time thought and consideration into my marketing and showing up with you lovely people on a regular basis so that I’m speaking with you and getting to know you guys as well. So, thank you so much for your time.

Enjoy the rest of your Boxing Day and I’ll catch up with you soon.

 

Resources

If you’re thinking about working with a VA but aren’t too sure where to start… Download my free guide here.

#cheekyask

If you liked the episode, please do give us a review. It will only take a moment of your time and I will be forever in your debt. Thank you so much.

 

Episode 011

Episode 011

I’m Victoria Tretis, and this is the Remote Working podcast.

Today I’m joined by Jen and Mar from Interior Fox. 

These two awesome ladies offer affordable interior design, and I was keen to invite them on the show after they totally transformed areas of my own home thanks to their design services.

In today’s show, Jen and Mar talk about how having an office environment and colour scheme that suits your personality is the key to creating a perfect home working environment, how their own personalities and approaches to social media tuned out to be entirely complementary, and how showing up consistently on Instagram over several years led to building trust clients they have never met, as well as an awesome collaboration with H&M Home (although I say Stores in the show – sorry!).

What I think you’re going to really enjoy hearing, is how much they differ when it comes to work/life balance, and they’ve found their own ways to set themselves up for success when they wake up each day.

All of the social media links are in the show notes, so please do check out Interior Fox on Instagram if you’d like to see some beautiful interior design and to learn more about what we’re talking about today.

More about Jen and Mar:
We are Interior Fox, a synced duo, from different parts of the world, thriving in LONDON. Jenna being from the West (NYC) loves big warehouse conversions, clean lines, and modern materials, while Mariana from the East (Philippines) loves worn wood, antiques, mixed with traditional textiles.

We can both appreciate that a space really needs a balance of everything: old world meets new world, modern space planning and yet comfortable finishing touches, which is why we aim to create the perfect balance for you.

New design service in collaboration with H&M Home offering exclusive prices: £99 mood-boards, £199 in-home appointments!

Twitter: @theinteriorfox

www.interiorfox.co.uk

 

Show Notes:

Victoria
Today I am joined by the Interior Fox. Ladies, thank you so much for joining me. Would you like to introduce yourselves?

Jenna
Hello, I’m Jenna from Interior Fox

Mariana
And I’m Mariana.

Jenna
Jen and Mar. We usually go by those, they’re our little nicknames in our email signatures as well.

Victoria
So, what is the Interior Fox?

Jenna
Our brand is all about affordable interior design. So we do a lot of bespoke, detailed design work, but at an affordable flat fee price.

Mariana
I think our business grew and changed a lot from the beginning when I first started thinking, “Hey, we’re going to be really affordable and it’s going to be a flat fee”. And now we’re doing more bespoke projects, larger projects, even smaller projects and collaborations. So it’s definitely changing.

Victoria
I’ve worked with you girls myself, so for the listeners, the Interior Fox did a fantastic collaboration with H&M home which I jumped on immediately, and they did some work on our living room and our kitchen. When I started thinking about the whole podcast idea, I was so keen to get both of you on the show. Because I know that so many remote workers are based at home, but maybe not making the most of their homeworking space. For instance, some people might be working from the kitchen table or on the sofa.

So I wondered, what are the benefits in having a dedicated office space in terms of productivity and motivation?

Jenna
I think it’s always important because we had an office space that we adored and it was great to have a neutral zone that we could both travel into and work from. But actually in the past month or so, we’ve really enjoyed working from home and creating our own little work environment.

Mariana
I almost enjoy working from home a little bit more and we see each other at least twice a week anyway. And we’re always on the phone together or just FaceTiming and we just know we’re there. But it’s really nice to wake up and you’re like, “Okay, I’m going to take shower, get dressed, I’m going to go to my little office”.

Jenna
And it’s right there. I feel like you can work faster and you cut out travel time, you cut out expenses. So having a home office is beneficial. I think one important thing, maybe it’s my own mental purpose, is having a really clear desk. Whenever I finish, I always make sure my desk is clean and I don’t know if that’s an old fashion thing, maybe it’s something my mum told me.

Victoria
It’s like a self-imposed clear desk policy.

Jenna
Definitely.

Mariana
And I think it’s really good to know how you work as well, because for me, I hate drawers. If I have a drawer, I’m going to stick everything in it.

Victoria
Are you a drawer hoarder?

Mariana
I need to see everything that I have to make sure like, “Okay, I threw away everything and everything’s clean and everything’s clear”.

Jenna

Minimal.

Mariana
Yeah. Minimal. And also, it doesn’t matter how big your office space is, if it is a separate room. So right now we’re in Jenna’s office space.

Victoria
Which is beautiful, by the way listeners. It is absolutely gorgeous.

Jenna
It still has so much to be done. So I’ll share you my after photos when I do the actual space.

Victoria
Please do.

Mariana
And mine’s a little smaller. Mine’s like with a second bedroom. So there’s a bed and my desk. So it’s a little bit smaller, but I think it’s good to establish where you can work and make it an office. Then at least you know that’s where you’re going to work. I find working in the kitchen really hard.

Jenna
And distracting too. So I like to find somewhere that I’m not distracted. So from bed, I would easily feel tempted to put Netflix on or something in the background.

Victoria
I agree. I could not work from the bedroom. And when I did work from home, I did see a huge benefit in having that dedicated office space. And a bit like you Mar, it was a spare room with a bed – half bedroom, half office. But actually, the fact that it was a dedicated office space, and that I could close the door on that room after I’d left for the day really helped me separate that whole work-life time, if you like.

Because otherwise, I feel like when you’re working from home, sometimes you can feel switched on to the world of work all the time, particularly with smartphones and email notifications. So even just having that separate, dedicated space that you can walk away from physically, I think can really help.

The other thing I’d really love your brains on is in terms of working at home, would you recommend any particular colour for that dedicated office space? Because I know nothing about how colour affects moods, but I’ve heard a bit of a rumour that it’s true. What are your thoughts on this?

Jenna
I think it depends on the person because it depends how you work. So if you need somewhere that’s calming, then yes, I would do calming colours. I love white. So I think white is my blank canvas, and then I might layer in textures and other materials. But we do know another designer whose office is leopard, pink, brass. It’s nuts. But that’s what excites her. And I guess it brings her spark. So it depends.

Mariana
It’s kind of different. Because my bedroom is all white. My walls are white. I have one dark wall but then the rest is white and that’s where I just calm down. I sleep and it’s really just relaxing. But my office space has a green wall and more patterned cushions. And I like that it’s different, that it feels different. That I’m going into a different room. So I think having a bit of colour there really separates that mentally for me as well. I think it depends on the person.

Jenna
And I guess the type of work that you’re doing as well. So we’re in creative interior design, a creative field. So we thrive off of interiors that look great. So maybe someone who is more mathematical or something with a type A brain, maybe something really minimal is what works for their head space. So I guess it depends what you’re doing too.

Victoria
So it’s a case of thinking about how you work best as an individual in terms of productivity and motivation, and then finding a style and space that that works for you.

Mariana
Definitely.

Victoria
This podcast is also about building trust with people that you may never meet. And I’ve been following you guys on Instagram for a while and I’ve noticed that you’ve done such a fantastic job of building a following and being really consistent with your message. Also you have such wonderful tone of voice and language that you use in your posts.

So how do you build trust and credibility for your brand with people who sometimes you never meet, because you offer these online services as well as in-person?

Jenna
I think it’s really about being yourself and it shocks me how many people are looking at our posts. Because sometimes we’ll post something and I’ll see my neighbour and they’re like, “Oh my gosh, that was so great, I saw that post” and I was like, “Oh my God, that’s so weird”. They’re reading everything and know so much about me.

Mariana
People are actually taking it in.

Jenna
People are reading it. And it’s really what we’re talking about, it’s who we are. It’s what we’re saying.

We’re not being fake or trying to be somebody else.

So I think that shows through in the posts as well.

Mariana
We try to keep really informal and also true to our personalities. So the language is one thing. And the brand awareness.

It definitely takes time to build your brand. It didn’t happen overnight. It’s been a few years on Instagram and I think the more people that look at your posts, engage, talk to you in your messages, refer a friend and then their family members.

Jenna
You’re also gaining more confidence when people reply to you or they message you. They ask you a question and you’re like, “This is really nice”. People are actually talking to you. And we love getting messages from people and saying, “I love your Instagram, what do you think of this of my room?”. Sometimes we get pictures of people’s houses and we’re like, “Oh yeah, that’s great, do this”. We’ll always help and reply and message, and it’s really nice.

Mariana
Also just an old fashioned phone call. So I think a lot of clients perceived us to be purely online. I think the times that someone felt unsure or wasn’t understanding the process, we’re like, “Well, hey, here’s my phone number. Just give us a call or we’ll call you”. And then once we had that engagement, they’re like, “It’s so nice and refreshing to talk to you, so I feel great. Let’s do this”. So just genuine contact.

Victoria
You mentioned before we came on the show that you were doing some Instagram Lives as well. How have they been going for you?

Jenna
Sometimes we film each other, film ourselves taking a selfie. We’re still starting that and it’s still uncomfortable for me, but I think it’s something we should get used to. So I was thinking, “Oh my God, how many people are going to watch this and what am I saying? Should I practice or should I just go for it?”.

Mariana
I guess you have that little bit of self-doubt like, “Who do I think I am?” or “They’re not going to listen”. But just over time and building your confidence and seeing, even if it’s those five people and maybe they’re just your family, they really love you and support you. They’re watching and listening.

Jenna
But it’s definitely something we’re going to try to do more of.

Victoria
I find that really interesting because from what you’ve said so far and what I know of you as a brand, it sounds like the whole Instagram side of it – the photos, the artistry, the creativity and the captions that you’re adding – that sounds like it’s come really easily to you. So you’re coming up with a little bit more resistance against those because if I compare it to say, my stuff, I couldn’t do it. A live or something like that. That is an absolute no for me.

I found it really hard to find my tone of voice when I started working and doing social media. Because coming from a very corporate background where you were quite formal all the time, I found it really hard to work out what my tone of voice needed to be when I was on social media.

I remember reading something along the lines of how you word things on social media should be a true representation of how you are in person. And of course it should be. That makes so much sense. So why are my social media posts so stiff and corporate? Whereas if you meet me, I’m a lot more normal and human. So it took me quite a lot of work to get those both on the same playing field. I love the way that you were just like, “Yeah, I’ve done it, it’s fine. Yeah, we were really comfortable at that.”

Jenna
I think I personally feel really comfortable writing because I write like I speak, and so I do feel comfortable doing the post, but I actually like it when Mariana does the Stories. I think it’s a good balance. Because it’s free and easy.

Victoria
Just while we’re thinking about Instagram, on one of the other episodes with Amy Purser, I’ve been talking about mental well-being and social media. So how sometimes social media can be such a double-edged sword. Because on one hand, you’re being more connected than ever with people and the world and all of that. But on the other hand, we can get caught up in these vanity metrics and we can feel more alone than ever.

Do you have any experience of this and how do you cope with handling vanity metrics?

Mariana
Do you know what’s really strange? Once we started having Interior Fox on Instagram and we were using that as a business platform as well. I weirdly stopped looking at my normal Instagram. I hardly look at my own Instagram anymore and every time I look at Instagram, I always look at my work and my normal profile. But I try not to look at it as much because I know it’s associated with work.

Whereas for example, my husband or my friends are always like, “I’m going to look on Instagram” or we’re talking and they’re always looking at Instagram, I’m like, “No, no, I’m not going to look at Instagram right now because that’s related to work.”. So on weekends, I’m never on Instagram unless there’s an event or a party. But it’s weird. I really separated that and now it’s towards business.

Jenna
I do the same. Though I am on Instagram a lot. I’m constantly looking at stuff for inspiration.

I would say if there’s anything, it goes back to flying your freak flag. I’m happy to be exactly who I am. So I feel confident in that way.

But as far as going live or saying too much or posting too many photos or selfies, I start to feel self-conscious because I don’t want them to think that I’m this way.

So I guess that isolates your own behaviour or puts you in a weird kind of self-doubt. I think sometimes I’m hesitant to share too much, thinking that they’ll think I’m a weirdo.

Victoria
But we love being a weirdo!

Mar, you said something really interesting about setting yourself a self-imposed boundary. So you’re not checking social media at weekends.

Mariana
Yeah, not much.

Victoria
What other kind of boundaries do you have to have in place to protect your mental well-being or to protect your home balance between social media, online clients, calls out of hours?

Mariana
I’m weirdly really good at this. I don’t know why. I never check my phone when I’m at home and it’s seven o’clock, I’ll charge it and then I’ll leave it on do not disturb and then I won’t check it.

Jen calls my husband and she’s like, “Is she sleeping? It’s 07:30pm”. I just don’t check my phone at night.

Victoria
Have you always been like that?

Mariana
No, it’s only been since Interior Fox. I feel like if I don’t, I’ll always think of work. And I feel like I need to switch off. It’s like my meditation.

Victoria
Is it like, phone goes on charge, do not disturb, in a different room? Can’t see it, completely out of sight. Out of mind.

Mariana
I used to put it in a different room, but now I keep it in my own room. And when I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is NOT check my email.

Victoria
You’re like the poster child for all of this, that’s amazing.

Mariana
I usually wake up really early, so I don’t check my email right away. I have some coffee. I have a good mindset and then I’ll check and have my notebook and see what I have to do. But it used to stress me out, and when I feel a little stressed, I feel like my whole day won’t be so good. I don’t want to stress myself out looking at emails. Like, “Oh my God, I have so many things to do”.

Victoria
You’re saying you don’t check emails first thing in the morning, you get your coffee and do stuff for you. And then in the evening, pop your phone on charge, put it on do not disturb, don’t check emails. And that helps protect your mental well-being.

Mariana
Yeah. Jenna’s the opposite.

Jenna
I’m the complete opposite. I’m unhealthy, I can’t help it. At night, I feel like it’s my own little world of creativity. I’m definitely a night owl. So when everyone else is sleeping, I feel like I can get quiet and really look at stuff and feel creative.

Obviously that goes into the zone of, “Well, I saw this email come through and I guess I feel like if I know what’s going on, I feel less stressed”. So the next day when I wake up, I know I have had those five random emails come in. In a sense I like to control it. Like a constant control, which I know is unhealthy and it’s probably not the right thing. But whatever works.

Victoria
It sounds like you’d rather be prepared for the day ahead by knowing roughly what’s come in and what’s going to be on your schedule for the following day. I think there’s pros and cons of both, I’m sure. With any of this there’s not a one size fits all approach, it really is about finding what’s best for you.

Mariana

Definitely.

Victoria
Talk to me a little bit about H&M. How did you come to collaborate with them quite recently?

Mariana
It’s a funny story. Everyone’s like, “Oh my gosh, how did that happen?”.

We had a client and we wanted to look for a shop that we can buy everything in and then style their whole house. Like a top up service. Because we’d go into people’s homes that we’d already completed their projects. So we wanted to come in and do photos. We needed a really great shop that has accessories and stylish bits. So we were going there and buying loads of stuff, taking it to the client’s house. They would end up saying, “I love all of this. I want to buy everything”. That happened two or three times. And so we were like, “Actually there’s something to this”.

Jenna
I just found emails online. I was like, “Okay, I’m going to look for someone in H&M home and see if they have trade discounts”. That’s all I wanted. I was like, “Maybe they do something for interior designers and then we can get a kick back or help our clients out and give them 10%”. So we emailed random emails in the business. We looked through LinkedIn at who was working there and then we got an email back saying, “We don’t do trade discounts. But we saw your Instagram. It looks really interesting”. And we had some dialogue going on and they were like, “Do you want to meet in our office? We’d love to talk to you more about it”.

Mariana
“We have an idea or pitch for you.” So of course.

Victoria
They ended up pitching you? Because of the solid foundation you’d put into Instagram.

Jenna
We did. We did show them the before and after of a client’s house who spent £700 in H&M products.

Victoria
That wasn’t me, if my other half is listening. It wasn’t me. It was close, but not quite that much.

Mariana
I was thinking it happened serendipitously. It was the right time, the right place, the right time in our career and it all happened really harmoniously. And I think we are a perfect fit for H&M and vice versa only because they have so many great stylish, affordable products. We genuinely love their products, so we’re so happy to be a part of the brand.

Jenna
The pitch was “Actually guys, we’re looking for an interior design service in our store because a lot of other big brands have this in-store design service”. I think we fulfilled a need for them and also they fulfil the huge need for us because we had already been working with affordable design, flat fee. It was a perfect fit.

We agreed to the terms. So we had this nice launch. It was an entire week of a launch event and then an ongoing relationship. So we’ve already had at least 10 or 15 new clients. So it’s been really exciting and hopefully doing some events with H&M later this year.

Mariana
In November.

Jenna
Maybe in November we’ll do some in-store, fun, seasonal events. So look out for that.

Victoria
To close out, if you ladies weren’t doing interior design, what would you be doing?

Jenna
I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and that sounds like a cop out. Because I have a fine art background. I was always an artist in a really pure way, but there wasn’t a hunger for something else. I think all of my paths led me here. If I had to take it away from work, if it was purely pleasure, I would be on a beach in California, surfing, tacos, sunshine. Unemployed on the beach. Unemployed and just living life.

Victoria
What about you, Mar?

Mariana
I think I would do furniture design. Try to apply to different companies that do furniture design. That’s what I originally studied in university and I always want to tap into that, maybe later on in my life. I was just telling Jenna that I still would love to explore that with Interior Fox, so maybe in the future.

Victoria
Really?

Mariana
That’s kind of the dream so far.

Victoria
Did you see that Sarah Akwisombe’s done some lighting designs and stuff? Some lamps. If she can productise her brand, then you girls definitely can as well, for sure.

Mariana
I’ll check it out.

Victoria
Thank you so much for joining me today. It’s been an absolute pleasure. I appreciate you taking the time.

Jenna
Thanks for having us.

Series One of the Remote Working Podcast

This was the last guest episode before our series conclusion next week. I hope have enjoyed it. It would be super useful if you could give me any feedback on how we can look ahead to Series Two. Would you like to be on the show yourself? Is there anything we should cover to help you as a remote worker? As always, if you have any questions, drop me an email. It’s podcast@victoriatretis.co.uk

 

Episode 010

Episode 010

I’m super excited to have Pete Konieczko-Hansom, Director at James Legal with me today.

Pete and I have known each other from primary school, and I think it’s fair to say we bonded over our hatred of choir practice back in the 80s.

As time went on, Pete qualified as a solicitor in 2008 and his company helped me when I was going through a redundancy, and then also when I started my own business and needed guidance on contracts, company structures, and all that legal stuff.

And as he’s a solicitor who specialises in corporate and commercial law, I really wanted to pick his clever brain on contracts – are they absolutely necessary for peace of mind with clients? Or are they just yet another expense when starting out? And for those of us who don’t have a legal background, what wording should we be looking out for if we don’t understand what we’re reading?

There’s even reference to Battle of the Forms which I thought sounded like a Game of Thrones reference, but Pete managed to explain it all in plain English.

All of Pete’s links are in the show notes, so please do connect with him if you’d like to learn more.

More Pete-tastic info:

Originally from Melton Mowbray I moved to East Yorkshire in 2006 and qualified as a solicitor in 2008, specialising in corporate/commercial law. I have worked in a number of firms across Yorkshire and have advised clients ranging from international PLCs to brand new start-ups.

I am married with two children and my hobbies include running, surfing and reading a good sci do/fantasy book.

www.jameslegal.co.uk
LinkedIn.com/James-legal-limited
uk.linkedin.com/in/petekh

Show Notes

Victoria

I’m here today with my old friend Pete. Pete and I have been friends since we were four years old. We were just having a giggle before we came on the show about, how times have changed over the years.

Pete, thank you so much for joining me today. So obviously, you are a legal beagle. Can you tell me a little bit about your background?

Pete

I qualified in 2008, so, 11 years ago now. I trained in Hull for a large firm. I then worked for another firm, which is where I currently am at – James Legal. I went to Leeds for two or three years, where I worked for quite a large firm, dealing with a large number of PLCs and large companies, but also dealing with small businesses. I then came back to James Legal in January of this year, I came back as a director and the head of the corporate commercial team.

I’m currently sat in our Beverley office, which we’ve only just opened. We now have two offices, we’re now in Hull and in Beverley. We’re slowly expanding our little empire.

Victoria

If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing, do you think?

Pete

I don’t know. Probably would have joined the army. Something I always wanted to do, or possibly I would have become a project manager. I’d like to think I’m quite well organised and I’ve got good attention to detail, which obviously helps with when it comes to drafting contracts. I think something like project management probably would’ve been what I ended up in. To be fair, I kind of fell into law, as well. So, it would’ve been something like that.

Victoria

We’re going to be talking about contracts today. For me personally, I feel that, having a contract in place with a client, helps you both manage expectations. So what’s expected of you, both in terms of scope, but also, how much you’re going to be paid and when you’re getting paid.

When I was doing some other research for this interview, I found so many articles out there about how you don’t need a contract, if it’s just a straightforward job, then it’s absolutely fine. What are your thoughts on having a contract in place? Are they really a justifiable investment, when money is tight, when you’re first starting a business?

Pete

I think having a written contract is all about certainty. What we generally find, part of the biggest cause of disagreements, obviously after non-payment, is miscommunication and contracts are really good, are really worth setting up the baseline. It sets out various things like scope of work, payment terms, what you’re actually going to charge. It just avoids issues, or it certainly reduces a number of issues, because you can say, “Well look, the contract clearly says your payment in 30 days. It’s been 60 days, you’re clearly in breach of contract.” Or, “Okay, we’ve agreed we’re going to do five hours of work. We’ve done 10 hours of work. Clearly,” and it’ll say something along the lines of, “Any additional time will be charged at an hourly rate.” You can clearly point to the contract. It’s very hard to wiggle out of it.

Obviously, people will always try and wiggle out of these things and it becomes a personal view on what, commercial view of what you do with it. But, if you have to take any kind of legal action, then you’ve got it in writing. Judges love stuff that’s in writing, quite frankly. It makes life a lot easier, not that you’ll ever get to that stage. But, in a worst case scenario. So in terms of do you need a contract? People always think, “I don’t want a contract. It’s 50 pages long.” And there are contracts that can be 50, 100, 200 pages long. But, for what you’re doing, for this kind of thing, you don’t need a contract really that’s more than maybe about 10 pages long at a maximum. It can be, when you’re starting off as a business, obviously, people don’t want to go to the expense and cost of the contract and I get that, completely understand. We often say to clients, “Look, you’re starting off. Get your feet under the table. There’s no point in spending lots of money getting contracts, if you’re not going to get any work.” So, as a solution, what you can do, you can go the email route. But it’s not just a case of saying, “Yes, I’ll do the work for you”. What I often get with contracts, is a contract summary or front sheet. So things like when you’ll start working for them, when you’ll stop working for them. What you’re actually doing. How much you’re getting paid, whether that’s hourly rate, or a fixed fee for a block of work and then saying what the payment terms are. If you can get those things into the email, and they agree to it, then it’s a legally binding contract. It can be an email. So when people say it can be an email, yes it can be. But for it to be worth the paper it’s written on it, if you like, it’s got to have those key points, really.

So that’s really to start off with, what I would probably say is, have almost like a contract summary sheet, which you can copy and paste into the email. Start dates, end dates, scope of work, payment per hour, or for fixed fee and payment terms and if you’ve got those things in there, you’re probably all right for the first 6 to 12 months, to be honest, until you start building up real traction. At that point, that’s when you have to start thinking, “Okay, I’m taking on some big contracts now, “I’m taking on some bigger clients.” At that point, you might think actually, “Yes, now I’ll go see speak to a solicitor and I’ll get something more formal put in place.”

Victoria

What kind of additions would they add to that initial email agreement then, that would help benefit that business?

Pete

The kind of things you would then be looking at trying not to get too technical, but you’ll want things like limitations of liability. So what happens if you get it wrong. Let’s say you’re tasked to sort out a meeting at a hotel and it’s with a big client and for whatever reason, you get the date wrong and because of that, the meeting doesn’t go ahead and they lose the contract. It might be a contract that’s worth, I don’t know, thousands of pounds. If that’s your fault and you’ve done something wrong, you are liable for it and you could, in theory, be sued by your client. So what you’d generally have in the terms, is you’d have something called limitation liability clause. That would say, “My liability is capped to x amount of money”. It’ll be capped to the price that you paid for our services. So let’s say they’ve paid you £500 for this block of services and you fail, you mess up, then you’ll be trying to limit your liability to that £500, rather then the thousands and thousands of pounds that you’ve lost them the contract. You’d always try to offset that with insurance anyway. So you try and get insurance in place for that, that’s something else to think about.

Victoria

That’s another episode. (See Stuart Pigram – Episode 009)

Pete

That’s kind of outside of the scope of what we’re talking about here. But you’d have termination provisions. So, in plain English, ways that you can end the contract. What often comes along is, you’re starting out the business and you get your first big client and it turns out, actually, 6 months, 12 months, they’re a real time sink. You don’t really want to do anymore work with them and because you were just so happy to get that client, you may be only charging him half of what you’d charge clients nowadays. And I know this is something we’ve talked about in the past, how you re-evaluate actually, “My time, I thought my time was only worth £10 now, but it’s actually worth £50 pounds now”. You do all this work for this client, £10 an hour. You go back to them and you say, “Look, I want to up my fees.” And they say, “No, I’ve signed you up to this two year contract.” You’re probably dealing with someone who’s quite savvy. Knows exactly what they’re doing, taking on a freelancer who’s new to the game, if you like. Knowing full well their value thinking, “If we get them at £10 per hour for two years, this is great.” And you think to yourself, “Well how can I get out of the contract?”

So if you have termination provisions, you can have various things in there. It might be that you’ve got the right to terminate the agreement if they fail to pay you on time three times in a row, for example. Or, if they don’t provide you with instructions. Often, we send out contracts to clients and we expect clients to come back to us with instructions. Sometimes it can be hard, you can’t do your job unless they communicate with you. What we often have is, something in there like, “If we ask you for your instructions and you don’t come back to us within a reasonable period of time to allow us to carry out your instructions, we can terminate a retainer.”

Even though you’re not doing legal work, there’s actually a lot of similarities between what we do. It can get really complex with the termination provisions. But that’s the kind of thing you’re looking at. So, if they fail to pay on time three times in a row, for example, or they fail to give you instructions. Or a common one, if they go bust. Payments are usually one of them. I’ve been doing quite a lot of stuff with suppliers. One of the terms in their contract was that you have to make sure that the goods are ready to be picked up, so our client was supplying these plastic packaging for the food products. And we said, “That’s fine. But you have to make sure the food is basically ready for us to collect, so that we can package it.” And they failed to do that several times in a row and we were like, “That’s material breach of the contract. We can’t fulfil our part of the contract. So we’re terminating the contract.” So it’s applying it to what you do.

Victoria

So it’s protecting both parties.

It sounds like it’s coming back to that managing expectations. So that each side knows exactly what’s expected of them. And then can fall in line accordingly.

Pete

Exactly. And if you build up a good relationship with a client,  you might go, “Actually, I know you’ve not paid me on time, but you’re normally quite good at pay, I’ll let you off.” And that’s fine and you can do that. You don’t have to enforce and that’s the beauty of the contract. You don’t have to enforce a contract, unless you want to. But it’s there as a baseline and it applies to all sorts of contracts. I would say that’s a good baseline. You can always deviate. But if it all goes wrong, you can go, “Well, this is what we’ve agreed. You can’t really argue about it.”

Victoria

I completely understand. I’m so risk averse anyway, that I invested in contracts right from the start. I think I started in the August and by the Christmas, I had a client who had authorised a whole load of extra hours. I had all the email correspondence about it, but they refused to pay the extra hours. Even though it had been authorised. And, yes, I had the security of the contract being in place, but I also felt a little bit timid as a new business owner. And about how strong I should enforce that like, “Hey, we’ve signed a contract. You need to pay.” And also, because they were an ongoing client, or they were supposed to be, I didn’t want to annoy them by going, “I’m not going to do any more work until you pay me.” But in actual fact, if I had stood my ground with that contract, they probably would’ve taken me a lot more seriously.

I know certainly having the contract in place gave me that additional peace of mind. At least it had been agreed in advance, it was just they were being a bit weird about it all.

One thing some people say is, “Is it true that having sight of a contract alone is enough to validate it?”. Let’s say I use an electronic signing system. I make it super easy for the clients to do their part and they can sign it on their phone or whatever. But sometimes you don’t get the contract back. Is the fact that I know that they’ve read it enough?

Pete

Yes and no. It’s for a business to business, you need to be careful with this kind of thing. It’s different with business to consumer.

But what we’re dealing primarily with business to business, and the presumption is, if you’ve seen the terms and conditions and you’ve had the chance to read them, whether or not you read them is almost irrelevant. Because that’s not how the law works. Have you had sight of the terms and conditions? Have you said anything about them? If you disagree with them, you’re kind of under obligation to say, “Actually, I disagree with this. Can we change it?”

The courts generally view businesses and business people, as being sophisticated and by that you assume because you’re in business, you’ve got a general understanding.

Even if that understanding is just, “Actually, I’ve got a contract in front of me. I don’t understand it. I’ll go speak to a solicitor about it.” And if you fail to do that, that’s on your head.

So, is it enough? The problem you’ve got is, they’re going, “Well, I never saw the contract.” But what I often say to clients, because there’s a thing called battle of the forms, which is perhaps getting a little bit deeper.

Victoria

It sounds like a Game of Thrones episode.

Pete

It’s not as exciting as that, unfortunately. A lot of lawyers get very excited about it, but it’s not that exciting. What it means is, let’s say, you send out your terms to your client. Your client goes, “That’s great, thanks Vic. I accept, but subject to my terms”. So then the presumption is, you go, and you don’t say anything. The presumption is then you’ve accepted their terms. So you would have to then go back, “Well that’s great, I’m grateful you’ve accepted, I’m really happy to work for you, but it’s subject to my terms”. Then, if they don’t reply to that, it’s subject to your terms. But then they’ll go, “That’s great, but it’s subject to our terms”.

It comes down to who’s communicated their terms, it’s complicated. But some really do get excited about this. It comes down to which terms were in operation. You have that knowledge so you can say to clients, “Are you sending out your T&Cs?”. You might be sending out T&Cs to their clients on their behalf. So you need to be aware of that, as well. It’s just worth being aware of that. Effectively, it’s whoever’s sent their terms and conditions last.

So, going back to the first question, yes, probably sight is enough. However, I would always try and insist on a signed one. What we do here at James Legal is, we always send out an order form. We always say, “Please send this back signed”. And at the moment, we don’t have an e-signature system in place. That is something that we are looking into and will have in future. But you often find a lot of law firms don’t do that. They’ll have, “Here’s our terms and conditions. Here’s our client care letter. Please sign it and return it to us.” But then, and this is common across a lot of law firms, we have something in there like, “Even if you don’t sign and return the T&Cs, you’re still bound by them”. By instructing us and asking us to continue to act, you are agreeing to these terms. As long as you’ve got something in there along those lines, then that’s the added protection. But in an ideal world, which doesn’t exist, you will always try and get something signed.

Victoria

That makes a lot of sense.

So with this whole battle of the terms. Sometimes the clients will come back, and this is across any industry, they’ll ask us to sign an NDA, a non-disclosure agreement. What are your thoughts with how to respond in that situation and is there anything that we should be looking for in particular, in terms of the NDA, before we sign it?

Pete

What I’ve seen happen quite a lot is, clients will try and put other terms into the NDA. So that’s the first thing to look out for. Stuff that is contradictory to your terms.

So if you sent out your terms and they go, “That’s great, that’s brilliant. Thanks, happy with your terms, but here’s our NDA. Please sign it”. And the way you can potentially get around that is, you can put confidentiality provisions into your basic terms. So you’ll have something in there saying that it’s called a mutual confidentiality clause. You basically say, “Anything you disclose, we agree to keep confidential. Anything you disclose, we agree” and vice versa. It’s all covered there.

NDAs aren’t the most complicated documents, if you know what you’re looking at. And the problem you’ve got there is, do you know what you’re looking at? It’s just being aware of what’s in there. If it’s the first few times, or if you’re unsure about it, it’s always worth speaking to a solicitor.

Personally, I don’t know what other firms charge. We don’t charge a huge amount to look at, if you said to me, “Pete, have a look at this NDA.” And obviously, given our long-standing friendship, I’d probably look at it quickly for free for you. But not necessarily for everyone else.

Victoria

For everyone else it would be £1,000,000.

Pete

But you’re probably looking at maybe an hour of time maximum to look at it and advise on it. So in the grand scheme of things, you’re not looking at a huge amount of money, to have that certainty. With that, once you’ve done a few, you get a feel for what’s in there and it’s looking to see whether it’s a mutual confidentiality provision.

What you want to look at is whether it’s a one way one, or whether it’s mutual and it’s usually obvious in the language. So you’d be looking at the terms and the legal jargon. They can change it, it can be more bespoke than that. But you just look to see who the discloser is and you look to see who the recipient is. If they are the discloser, what you’ll see at the head of the contract. It might be, Bob and Bob Limited and in brackets “discloser”. Then they might have the freelancer in brackets, “recipient”. That way, you think that’s a good clue in one way and they’re only protecting themselves. Whereas, what you want to look at in the terms, if it says “recipient”, it’ll be the person who receives the confidential information. If it says “discloser”, then you probably know that it’s a mutual one. Because at the end of the day, you’re potentially disclosing confidential information to them about your business and vice versa. So you want to make sure that you’re protected as well.

Other things to look at would be, to see if there’s any kind of damages clause in there. You don’t see them an awful lot, but some of the bigger companies will try and sneak something in saying about if you breach for terms of the NDA confidentiality agreement, that you’ll have to pay them x amount of damages. That’s the kind of thing that you maybe want to be looking out for. But, if in doubt, get legal advice. It shouldn’t cost a huge amount. It certainly won’t cost as much as it would to draft a contract. And is it worth it? Yes, for your first couple of NDAs you’re signing, yes, it’s probably worth getting someone to look at it. If you can build up a relationship with a law firm, most law firms will look at stuff like that for very little money. Because they want, same as you’re trying to maintain the relationship with your clients, we’re trying to do the same thing.

Victoria

Like I said, I am particularly risk averse. So I gain huge peace of mind from knowing that I have somebody like you, who I can turn to, should I need some kind of expert advice. Because I’d rather turn to somebody like you and pay you an hour’s worth of time, rather than bumble my way through Google and not really understand what it is I’m searching for, let alone reading and then hoping that I’ve got it right.

For me, I believe that having a contract and having good legal advice, is a sound investment and that it shouldn’t be considered as just an expense. It is a genuine business investment, because I feel like a business benefits from it.

Pete

The best clients are the ones that understand the value of legal advice and they don’t see it as, “I’ve got to pay my lawyer”. It means I can get on with my business and you can get on with doing your job, whatever that is.

What I often say to people when they talk to us. The contract is £1,000, for example. And they say, “That’s a lot of money”. I’m like, “Well, yeah, but think about how often you’re going to use that contract”. If that’s your contract and you’re going to use that for the next 5 or 10 years. It’s like paying for over 10 years, that’s £100 a year.

How much do you pay for your insurance? How much do you pay for your car insurance? It’s having that peace of mind. It’s the same kind of thing, really. It’s understanding the value of it, because if you don’t have it, quite frankly. I know how expensive it can be, when you get into a dispute it can spiral out of control and you can save a lot of time and effort, not just money, but time management.

If you’re running a business, you don’t want to be dealing with a dispute. Because it is really time intensive and a well drafted contract can help stop that from happening. No guarantees, obviously.

Victoria

Slip that disclaimer in there.

Pete

Flash a disclaimer across the screen.

Victoria

Thank you so much for your time, Pete. I will add your contact details into today’s show notes, so people can find you and contact you directly, should they wish to work with you. So thank you so much for the time.

Pete

My pleasure. Thanks very much and thanks for the opportunity.

 

Series One of the Remote Working Podcast

So over the next few episodes, I’m going to be having some fantastic guests coming in to speak with me about all of the issues relating to building a remote working business and all of the tech issues and the tech challenges that building a team and building a trust along the way as well. So I hope you enjoy it. If you have any questions, drop me an email. It’s podcast@victoriatretis.co.uk.

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