Thank you and here is your time machine – The importance of small print.

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I was idly flicking through the channels on my TV the other day when I came across an episode of the sitcom Big Bang Theory. In this particular episode, the characters had jointly bid on what they thought was a miniature replica of the time machine from the 1950 film. What arrived was a full-size actual prop from the film which took over most of the apartment. The reason for the problem was that they had not read the size of the item properly in their excitement to buy it.

I started to wonder how often we do that sort of thing. Now and again everyone buys something that is the wrong size, and the fix is easy but what if you make that mistake on a business choice?

When you are considering signing a contract with a supplier, particularly one that is providing essential services, it is always a good idea to really put the contract under the microscope before accepting it. In some cases what you think you are getting may not be exactly what you are signing for. It’s vital that you make sure the contents are as you expected because hidden in the small print can be some nasty surprises both in terms of the provision and charges you can expect to pay.

When we started Back Office Support Services we knew that we wanted to be totally transparent with what we charge and exactly what you will be getting for your money. This is not always the case and, regardless of the service being provided, you need to remember that the contract you sign is the contract you must abide by. Signing a contract makes it a legal document and you will be bound by its contents and requirements to the end of its operational period. So while it’s hardly the most exciting of jobs, going through the contract is a must.

In particular, you should probably look for the following and make sure they fit with your needs.

• Are there any additional charges that you will need to pay in particular circumstances?
• How long is the contract for and how flexible is it should you decide to leave?
• Is there a cost involved in setting up the service, changing the circumstances or leaving the contract early? This one can be a real bank balance hit. For example, many insurance companies charge if you need to change your basic information with them.
• Are the fees totally clear and transparent to you? If not, simply do not sign until they are. Also, beware of delayed costs such as minimum annual charges that can be a real shock when the bill comes.

There are many other things to consider as well, but contracts are actually not that difficult to deal with for the very reason they can sometimes cause a problem. They are a written statement of what service is to be provided, when, what, by whom, and at what cost, so they must be correct. Over the years we have heard many horror stories around unexpected consequences of contracts and in almost every case it was about unexpected things in the paperwork.

A contract is meant to protect everyone involved, and so if you read yours carefully and make sure it is fully in line with your expectations, then all will usually be fine. Remember, the provider is also bound by the same conditions.

It is not a matter of trust, just a matter of common sense. Otherwise, you could find yourself trying to find room for an unexpected time machine.

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