I’ve read a lot of standard contracts.

I’ve never signed one.

When I ran my condo association, I read a lot of these. The property manager would hand them to me and expect me to rubber-stamp them. Um… NO. I’d read them, mark them up, and send them back. Every time. And, as a business owner, I’m constantly negotiating over contract clauses—and occasionally just walking away (from the contract and the work).

Here’s the truth: there is no such thing as a standard contract.

“Standard contracts” have typos, wish-list clauses (rarely in your favor), irrelevant clauses, and just dumb stuff.

Standard is a low-bar measure.

"Low Bar is Open" Neon Sign

I’ve been thinking about the meaning of “standard” since taking a trendy boot-camp-type fitness class when I was in Sarasota last week. This company’s take is that they want you working within your heart-rate zones. So the class bounces you around stations, tossing in intense bursts of cardio along with some more steady running, rowing, and weightlifting intervals.

There’s a lot to be said for understanding your zones and spending time in different zones. It’s good for fitness—and it’s critical for athletic performance.

But not “industry standard” zones. The instructor said at least four times that her company uses the “industry standard” and the “same standard as everyone else” in the industry. Which, in my case, would have me walking slowly – as my actual zones are nowhere near where the fitness industry’s age-based calculation would put me. Or pretty much anyone else I know.

Industry standard is a cop-out.

Red Door in a Sea of Black

I get it.

It is far easier (and cheaper) to input a few generic numbers into a computer than to offer actual testing to figure out where someone’s ideal zones are.

It’s also easier to have a one-size-fits-all contract, service, product, or business model. But that leaves you with no competitive differentiators. Nothing that tells me I should work with you because you’re doing something that counts.

Maybe being standard works if you’re selling generic, bulk products. Or maybe not. I pick one brand of toilet paper over another for a reason.

Don’t settle for being industry standard. Be better.

Feature photo by Lauren Manning (Flickr); Low Bar by dumbonyc (Flickr); Red Door by El Photo (Flickr).

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