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Sign Off Etiquette

As fun as it can be to let a project drag on for eternity, and as much as I thoroughly enjoy working for free, one of the best things I can do for my relationship with my client is to define a clear end point for the project. I need sign off.

The problem, is how do I terminate a project in such a way as to strengthen my ongoing relationship?

After a bit of brainstorming with Shane, I came to the following conclusions:


In order for a sign off to happen you really need to have started and run the project in such a way that the sign off is expected and that it makes sense.

Have a Written Agreement

In order to maintain a good relationship with a client, it is essential that you have a written agreement. Ideally, you should have a proper contract. This contract should identify:

  • Mission Statement
    What is the overall goal of the project.
  • Deliverables
    What you are expected to do and how much these things cost
  • Milestones
    When you should have completed the parts of the project
  • Payment Schedule
    When and how much you expect to get paid through out the project
  • Terms and Conditions

Communicate Early and Often

In addition to having a contract in place, it is important that throughout the life of the project, you have been checking in with the client to make sure that their expectations are lined up with your contract and with your expectations. I have had countless experiences setting up a perfectly detailed contract only to find that the client didn’t read it and was upset to find out that they are not getting what they expected.

Make Sure You Are Actually Done

Some time before you ask for a sign off, you should have asked if there is anything that your client was expecting you to do that you haven’t done. If it’s within the contract, do it. If it’s out of scope, explain that it’s not in the contract but that you would be delighted to add it to the list of tasks for the next contract.

Before you ask for sign off, get your contract and walk through it and make sure that everything is done and fully tested.

Offer a Warrantee (or Don’t)

Your contract should include a mention of support. What if there is a problem that the client only discovers after sign off? What if it’s a week after? What if it’s a year?

Your contract should state either that you are or are not offering a warrantee. If you are offering some support, then be sure to mention how long that warrantee lasts and what it covers.

The Sign Off Letter

Your Sign off letter needs to include several key points:

Be in Control

Tell the client that you are done – do not ask. If you ask, you are offering your client free work. You need to control this process. Having made sure that you are done, and having tested everything, checked for errors, and details, and having already done a final review, you should be confident that you are done.

Make it Easy – Do the Work

Make a checklist of all the things in the contract or that you have otherwise agreed to and make notes next to each item that either says ‘done.’ or explains why it’s not done and what the plan is for the next contract.

If you state that you’ve done everything in the contract, but you don’t include a checklist, then you are effectively asking the client to look up the contract. Your client doesn’t have the time for that and may never respond to this request for sign off.

Also, offering this checklist is an act of consideration that will make the client feel well served.

Offer a Warrantee (or Don’t)

If you have a warrantee in your contract, then you should reiterate it in this letter so that the client doesn’t feel threatened by this letter. If you warrantee is time based, it will require a written starting date, which you should define at this juncture.

Be Formal and Friendly

This letter is actually about demanding written confirmation that the project is complete. But you are being friendly and “asking” for a confirmation. It should regardless be a written confirmation. That way, the client is absolutely clear on the fact that this project is complete, and you have written proof to that effect.

Remember, even if they don’t respond, this letter is effectively stating that the project is complete. It’s just a really satisfying experience having the client agree in writing.


The most important thing at this point is to ensure that you have a new contract either in the works or already approved. This letter is the perfect opportunity to get the client excited about what they will be seeing in the next round of work.

Express Gratitude

This person just enabled your lifestyle. They chose to work with you. They entered into a trusting relationship with you. It is essential that you thank them and be specific about why your thanking them. Even if there were some turbulent points in the project, point to the highlights and make your customer feel good.

The Letter

After working through all these requirements, here’s my sign off letter:

Subject: Wrapping Up

Hi John,

I’ve completed and tested everything in our contract as well as the bugs we discussed last week. I would appreciate it if you would confirm via email that this contract has been completed. I’ve included a list of the deliverables below. Just to remind you, as of the completion of this project, I am offering support on any bugs in the system for the next 30 days (until June 1st).

While we were working together, I’ve been collecting notes about things that you might want to add in the next contract. I’ll send the list over in a followup email. Are you available to meet and discuss the next contract on Friday at 10am?

On a personal note, I just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate the opportunity to work with you. Your enthusiasm is contagious and inspiring.

Thanks John,




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