An earlier post noted that volunteer professional services come with both obvious and hidden risks. Risk Alternatives proposed a rule of thumb: if it’s important, pay for it.
But what if you can’t follow that rule? If you do engage professionals for free or at a discount, what risk management steps are appropriate? Consider raising the following questions at the outset of the engagement:
1. Has the firm performed the service before? If not, what resources will the firm draw upon?
2. Who in your firm will perform the work? Is that person one who has performed such services before?
3. If the work is delegated, what quality control will be placed on the work process?
4. What ensures that this project will receive the same attention as paid work? This is an awkward question, to be sure, but raising it at the outset may lead to a useful discussion about processes and expectations.
5. What are the agreed deadlines for this work? This obvious question is often unasked and unanswered in volunteer assignments.
6. What ensures that the work will be performed in a timely manner? This is related to (5), above. Setting out a timeline and a procedure for the client to enforce deadlines at the beginning – when everyone is focused and constructive – can prevent misunderstandings at later stages.
7. What if the work is substandard? Another awkward question, but an important one. To whom should the client complain if the work is insufficient? By what standard can the work be judged? How, in other words, can the client get what was promised?
Discussions relating to these questions may be challenging. Raising them, however, is essential to effective risk management when seeking free professional services. If the provider does not want to take steps to clarify these issues, that is a red flag.
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