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Why client sign off matters

23/03/2011

Client sign off has important ramifications for your professional indemnity insurance.

Seems straightforward doesn’t it? Do the work, get it signed off, everyone’s happy.

Well, yes and no. Although that does sound pretty straightforward, the whole sign off thing can be a bit of a grey area.

If you provide a professional service, it’s a good idea to be aware of what client sign off means, why it makes good business sense to get it, and how you can make sure you do.

This *cough* completely real conversation explains more:

Client: Hello PolicyBee. So, sign off then. What’s that all about?

PolicyBee: Hmm, yes, good one that. Bit of hot potato so let's see if we can help. What do you do?

Client: I’m in marketing. Consultancy mainly but some design and copywriting too.

PB: So you get your clients’ approval on the work you do?

Client: Yep. Well, I think so. I show it to them and they give me the thumbs up. Is that what you mean?

PB: Sort of. The next thing is getting that thumbs up documented in some way. Getting client sign off for your work is one of the first steps to 'best practice'.

Client: Best practice. Right. How so?

PB: Simple. Let’s take your work as an example – a print ad, say. It’s a well-established legal precedent that your client accepts final responsibility for it by signing it off.

If they spot an error after they’ve put pen to paper, it's their problem, not yours.

That’s an important distinction.

Client: But what if my client argues my error is my error, regardless of whether they signed off the work or not? And what if they decide to sue me for the cost of putting the ad right?

PB: OK. Let’s assume you’re a switched-on kind of person and have professional indemnity insurance.

In this example, it’s important to realise if your client sues you for an ad they've signed off, your policy won’t pay to reprint it.

Client: That’s because it's no longer my responsibility, right?

PB: Right.

Client: So does that mean I’m not covered?

PB: No it doesn’t. If your client decides to sue, your professional indemnity insurance will still defend you. That is what it’s for, after all. Here, it just won’t pay for the costs of a reprint.

Client: I see. What if, despite my best efforts, something goes wrong after I've got client sign off?

PB: Like?

Client: Well, what if I accidentally send the wrong, unapproved version of my work to a printer? Or what if I change part of a document while correcting another error, and it’s not noticed until it’s too late?

PB: Good examples and both are actually pretty common. Either way, as before, you’re covered.

Client: That’s a relief. And what about the printer? What if they drop the ball?

PB: If the printer makes a mistake, the printer puts it right. Simple as that.

Client: My clients frequently ask for last-minute verbal amendments too. How do I keep track of them?

PB: That’s no problem. Your best bet is to acknowledge the amendment in writing. Importantly, within that, you should point out if your client doesn't sign off the final version, you’ll accept no responsibility for subsequent errors.

Client: That seems fair enough. So how do I go about making the whole client sign off process ‘official’?

PB: It doesn’t have to be complicated. We’d recommend having a section in your terms and conditions that references your sign off procedure and explains your clients’ responsibilities. That should be enough.

And then don’t forget to actually apply it, of course …

Client: Of course. Just one more thing: can I assume that if I don’t get sign off then I’m not covered at all?

PB: You’d think so wouldn’t you? But no, that’s not the case.

If, for some reason, you didn’t get client sign off and it turns out there was an error (and it was your fault), your policy would still defend you. You have made a genuine mistake after all.

Don’t be thinking that that gets you off the hook though. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother getting sign off on every contract …

Client: I wouldn’t dream of it. I’ll get cracking on that then. Thanks, PB.

PB: No problem. PolicyBee, er, signing off …

Image used under license from Shutterstock.

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