Want Clarity? Put Agreements in Writing!

Small businesses and nonprofits sometimes need a professional with specialized skills to help them out, like a human resources or financial consultant. Most organizations need to purchase materials or inventory items. Getting services or goods from a third party, or outsourcing, can add significant value to an organization, as long as it’s managed right. Outsourcing management starts with a clear, written agreement that both parties understand and follow.

A written agreement should address key components of both parties – the vendor’s responsibilities, as well as the organization’s. These four components should be addressed in all vendor agreements to clarify expectations and hold all parties accountable:

Objective and Scope

Clearly describe the results or accomplishments that the vendor should achieve on the organization’s behalf, as well as any requirements for the organization. Specifically describe what the organization expects to get when the vendor’s work is completed. For example, an agreement for an IT vendor to install and maintain a new system would describe, among other things, the end state after the system is installed, performance requirements and any ongoing maintenance.

Time Frame and Frequency

Specify delivery dates and how often your organization needs the goods or services provided. Clarify any unusual needs you have, such as nights or weekends, to avoid misunderstandings   that will prevent the organization from meeting its customers’ expectations. How would it look if a 24/7 café couldn’t get fresh food delivered on a Sunday? Highlight timing and frequency to make sure the vendor knows when she or he is needed.

Delivery and Acceptance

Describe the expected condition, appearance, format, or other requirements that are essential for the goods or services to achieve the organization’s objective. Do the flyers need to be blue with your logo? Does the training class need to be two-hours long and meet specific learning objectives? Should goods be delivered in a certain way? Don’t presume that the vendor will understand all specific needs. Put them in writing.

Cost and Payment

Last, but certainly not least, be clear about the vendor’s total cost and when payment will be made. Specify what is included in the total cost and how that cost is calculated. For example, is the cost for paper per box or per carton? Does the consultant cost an hourly rate plus expenses, or will she or he absorb those expenses? Hold vendors accountable by stipulating that payment will only be made after goods or services have been accepted, or when a specified objective is met.

All organizations need help with professional services or purchase from an outside source. That help can be great, but not if it doesn’t meet the organization’s needs. Having a written agreement that clarifies expectations and holds all parties accountable is the best way for organizations to successfully manage outsourced needs.