(Editor's note: Today's guest post was submitted by attorney Autumn Witt Boyd, who serves creative business owners in a variety of capacities. We're thrilled to have her valuable contribution to our monthly content theme of legal and financial issues.Read more about Autumn at the end of the post!)
You already know you need a written contract with your clients, right?
Contracts help both sides work together more smoothly, because there are no questions about what everyone has agreed to. It’s all there in black and white. No one has that feeling in the pit of their stomach about what could happen if things go wrong – you’ve already talked about it, and you both know exactly where you stand.
Plus, asking your client to sign a contract shows them that you’re taking their event, and your relationship, seriously. And that you plan to live up to your side of the bargain.
You don’t have to work with a lawyer to create your client contract (although as your business grows and your contracts get bigger and more complicated, it’s a good idea!). Creating a contract can be as simple as sitting down and writing the key provisions.
I recommend all wedding industry contracts include these terms:
- Detailed list of products or services being provided or sold
- Total cost, broken down into line items if there are multiple events, deliverables, or project milestones
- Payment schedule with deadlines and late fees, if any
- Refund policy (whether you provide refunds or not, you should say so in the contract)
- What happens if one or both of you wants to end the agreement early – for example, if the event is canceled or rescheduled to a date you’re not available, or the client turns out not to be a good fit, how do you handle cancellation and what payment is owed for work you’ve already completed? (I like to include a cancellation clause that lets either side cancel for any reason so no one is held hostage to a bad fit – but that clause must also make sure you get paid for work you’ve done prior to cancellation)
- Any special requirements for out of town events, like mileage, airfare, hotel, or other travel expense reimbursements
- “Force majeure” or “act of God” term that excuses you from the contract if you are unable to provide services because of fire, earthquake, labor dispute, act of God or public enemy, or any other event beyond your control
- If you are creating designs, text, music, video, photos, or other content, who owns the copyrights and/or trademarks, and will any native or design files be shared
- Permission to use images of your work or photos from the event in your portfolio or for promotion on social media
- Legal terms to protect you (indemnification; limits on your liability if something goes wrong, someone gets hurt, or property is damaged; choice of law and jurisdiction in the event of a dispute – these are best discussed with an attorney familiar with the wedding industry)
How can you make sure the contract sticks?
As a final step, both sides should sign the agreement. Who should sign as the client? Whoever is paying! If a parent is actually footing the bill, that’s who you want to sign the contract, since they’re responsible. If the services you provide also require you to interact with or get information from the bride and/or groom, it’s a good idea to go over the contract with them as well and have them sign it too, so they understand how you will work with them, even if they’re not paying your bills.
Since we all do so much business over e-mail, I’ve found the best way to actually get both sides to sign is to use an e-signature service. Hellosign and Rightsignature are both very popular and easy to use (I’m not an affiliate; I just think these services work really well!). Save a copy of the fully signed agreement in your files in case questions come up later.
What if a potential client asks you to change or delete parts of your contract?
Now that you’ve got a great contract, of course a potential client will ask you to change it. So what should you do?
Your client contract is the backbone of your business. When you’re putting it together, you should think through how you want to handle worst-case-scenarios like disagreements, cancellations, and refunds in a way that’s fair to both your client and your own business. That way, you can answer questions from potential clients about how your contract works, and feel good about it.
Most of the terms that I included in the list above protect both parties to the contract, not just the service provider, so make sure your potential client understands that before you agree to change or delete something. As long as your contract is fair, you shouldn’t give in to requests to change major terms in it.
That said, it’s not usually worth losing a potential client over a small change to your contract if it won’t majorly affect how you do business, so take this on a case-by-case basis. It’s great to have wedding industry friends who you can bounce ideas off of; you can ask around about whether similar vendors have had a bad experience after giving in to a client’s request to change or delete a particular term in their contract before you do so in yours.
Creating a clear contract that you always make sure your clients sign will do more to protect your business than any other legal step you can take.
What questions do you have about your client contracts? Leave a note in the comments!
Autumn Witt Boyd is a copyright, trademark, and business lawyer with more than 10 years of experience. She loves to help creative entrepreneurs with growing businesses. You can learn more about her at www.awbfirm.com, or email her directly. You can also follow Autumn on Facebook and connect with her on LinkedIn. Note: This article is intended to give general business information, not legal advice.