In my last article on the power of your written trail to protect yourself and your company I shared the two key “filters” you need to pass your written paper trail through. I want to share more details on the nuts and bolts of documenting your business deals and relationships so that you see it isn’t hard or a “cost”. Rather, done well, it will make you money and reduce your stress.
First, we call it “CYS” which is the polite why of saying “cover yourself”. Whether you’re talking about a confirming email, a clear contract, a written note from a conversation, or a letter agreement, CYSing is a real need in the business world.
Over the course of 20 years leading a business coaching company that has worked with thousands of companies, I’ve seen first hand hundreds of instances where our client’s vendors, suppliers, or customers backed out of agreements or changed the rules of engagement midstream on our clients.
Most business owners say, “I’m too busy to put it in writing.” Or when they put it in writing they rush it and leave it fuzzy. That’s why in my last article I told you to imagine you were writing your paper trail to a neutral judge who would only see your written trail and nothing else before she decided your fate. When you do that you include key details and shape the narrative more intentionally.
I also suggested you do one last look at your written documentation and ask yourself, “Is there anything here that a rabid, aggressive plaintiff’s attorney would take out of context or misconstrue to intentionally hurt me?” If there is, fix it.
In this article I want to share with you 6 keys to actually keeping your clear written trail.
- Take detailed notes as you go. It’s called “contemporaneous” notes versus writing them far later after the fact, and they hold much more weight in the mind of any court.This is especially true if you’ve established a pattern and history of doing so versus just “miraculously” having notes for this one pivotal conversation.Make taking notes as you go a habit, and save those notes versus re-writing them and tossing the original.I simply take a picture of them with my phone and put them in Evernote, with a searchable name and a few key tags (see the next tip).
Make sure to include key details. What was the date, time, and parties involved in that conversation? What specifically was discussed and agreed to. The more detailed your notes the more credible they will be. (E.g. “March 2nd, 2017 at 3:35pm Pacific. Talking with Mark Smith via phone…”
- Leverage technology to file your notes.Your Business Journal: Keep a “business journal” in which you date and document key conversations as the day goes on. I put my key notes into digital through a picture saved, carefully named, and tagged on Evernote. I also save old business journals for several years. Here are some of the tags I use in Evernote to make it easier for me to find my notes when I need them:
- “Phone notes”
- “project name”
- “Client name”
- “vendor name”
Remember, you can use more than one tag. E.g. “Phone notes; Baker mechanical; CYS” (Yes I actually have a tag that is “CYS” and think you should too.)
Your CRM (customer database): Record key conversations to your CRM. It makes them easy for you to find. Remember to include the date and time of the conversations so that you can increase their power and credibility.
- Use email to keep your notes. If you prefer email, then email yourself your notes (typed as you talk, immediately after the conversation, or picture of the written notes you took.) You can even send the other party a “follow up” email after your conversation to document the trail. Or even ask them to “confirm” the details in your email, or state that “this is my understanding of what we agreed to in our conversation today. If you feel this isn’t accurate in any way I’m asking that you hit reply and tell me where you think I am off here. If I don’t hear back from you in writing in the next seven days I’ll rely on this to mean that you feel this letter as stated is accurate and will proceed based on that understanding.”
- Remember your “rabid, plaintiff’s attorney filter”. Run every email or post you and your team send, whether they are internal or external messages, through your “plaintiff’s attorney filter”. Some things just shouldn’t be sent (or even said).
- Digital lives forever, and is searchable with software. Remember, nothing you do on your computer is really ever gone. In the case of litigation you and your teams’ hard drives will be searched with powerful discovery software tools that make finding the “smoking gun” highly likely. So go re-read tip 4 above.
- It’s dangerous to think email is safe. It’s not. It’s a formal, written, permanent record that can be taken out of context and misconstrued. Use it intelligently and intentionally. This is ten times more important with internal emails (and slack, basecamp, etc. posts or comments.) If you wouldn’t want an evil plaintiff’s attorney to force you to read it on the record in court, then don’t write it down.
I hope these six tips give you pause to rethink how you strategically and systematically document your written trail and CYS, both as an individual, and as a company.
If you enjoyed the ideas I shared, then I encourage you to download a free copy of my newest book, Build a Business, Not a Job. Click here for full details and to get your complimentary copy.