Experience is what you get when you don?t.      – Pete Seeger

Do you have enough to read? Every day my email box is chock ?a- block with really interesting and informative stuff that is immediately relevant to my profession.  Twitter is simply dangerous in the way a library can be, despite promise s to myself to stay focused, that article from Mashable or that cool science image draws me inexorably away from my task list.

Sometimes it is tough to wade through the stuff I know I need to read though, and it can be tempting to not read much of it.  When you see blocks of single-spaced text, no breaks or bullets, do you want to run your eyes over it just to get the idea and not read every, single, solitary word?

There are some mind-numbingly boring things that you simply have to read, though. Clever lawyers and writers, and often politicians, bury critical information in those concrete blocks and not reading every word can come back to bite you. I bet there a plenty of people who are left sitting with a printout of a contract or deal looking for just where things went pear-shaped.

A Horror Story

Many years ago, I got a great job, at the time it was the pinnacle of my career. I had also inherited lots of things to fix and re-build as the organization had gone through some wrenching problems. One of the biggest and scariest was a contract with an outstanding bill, a big one, with a venue where we had hosted a conference.

When the conference was first planned, the then-marketing director was charged with finding a venue that fit our requirements and budget. As a smaller health-related nonprofit, money was always tight for both the organization and many of our members. Providing an attractive space that was accessible and affordable was key to delivering a great event.  The contract for all the spaces, room and food was signed and a deposit was provided.

Unfortunately, a perfect storm of problems cropped up: the marketing director left, the main contact at the hotel left and registrations for the conference were really low. We all know more people tend to sign up at the last minute, but the momentum didn’t seem to be increasing. I had suggested to the President ( at the time) that this event be cancelled, but we had put down a deposit, and no one wanted to be the one who pulled the plug.

The conference arrived and things went from bad to worse. The new marketing director imploded, the hotel double booked a few of the rooms, and the attendance was as low as we feared.  We were not going to be able to meet our number requirements at the hotel for both rooms and food. But the event happened, and everyone went home.

Then the bill came in. In the interim I had been promoted to the head of the organization and cleaning up this mess was now on my desk. When I saw the total payable, I almost had a heart attack. Not only were we billed for the rooms we didn’t book, there was a very steep penalty fee of over $15,000!

Paying this bill would have bankrupted the organization. How did this happen?!  I shut the door of my office and read each and every word in that contract, and by Jove, we were in fact on the hook for all those fees. The fine print of the contract was very clear about what we would have to pay if we didn’t meet our stated obligations. 

It turned out that no one had really read the small print and signed anyway. So here I was legally obligated by contract, and without any of the people who had been involved in drafting it or signing it.

Maybe not my fault, but for sure my problem.

The board was distant and unhelpful, what was I to do?  Then in a stroke of good fortune, I met a fantastic woman whose business was to book very large conferences and events. She guided me through the negotiation process we had to undertake to avoid legal problems with the hotel and bankruptcy for the organization.  The solution was in the use of language, compassion  ( read: do you really want to close us down ?) and persuasion. I admit to wanting to throw up as I walked into the hotel.

How It Ended

We did, in fact, get out from under the punishing penalty, and figured out a way to have everyone come out looking OK. The hotel got paid for what they provided, and we saved the day. The lesson indelibly printed on my mind was from that day forward, to read every word of a contract that I sign. Yes, it is boring, but in not doing so , you can leave yourself open to some bad things.

Contracts are tedious word churners, and their existence is based on when things don?t go right, more than for when they do. Be sure you know what you are promising and what happens if someone doesn’t come through. Maybe for some learning the hard way, otherwise known as experience, is a good teacher; but don?t let it be yours.

Some mistakes will be inevitable, but mistakes as a result of not reading the small print are avoidable. Get out your glasses, you will  be glad you did. 

Wisdom Comes From Experience And Experience Comes From Making Mistakes

If you want someone else to read all that small print, give us a call and we’ll help you to know what to look out for that might provide  more ‘experience’ that you want.  

310 828 6979



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