(Editor's note: Today, we're rolling out a new semi-regular Friday post series, in which we revisit some classic WeddingIQ posts to see how our perspective may have changed over time, and/or to provide some updated insight and resources on topics that remain relevant today!)
This month on the blog, we've been sharing content on topics related to the legal, financial and operational aspects of your wedding business. Of course, these are perennial responsibilities that we as business owners have to maintain consistently (which, admittedly, is sometimes easier said than done). We were fortunate to have attorney Autumn Witt Boyd share her knowledge of the importance of effective client contracts earlier this week, and another of our attorney friends, Annette Stepanian, has created a great set of customizable contract templates (with an exclusive afflilate link for WeddingIQ readers here!)
All this contract talk has had me thinking about how contracts have worked in my own businesses. Way back in the earliest days of WeddingIQ, circa May 2012, I wrote a post on honoring your own contract, and realized that, while my strong feelings about contracts being essential haven't changed, my own understanding of why they're essential has definitely deepened over time.
Many of us who have been in business a long time like to joke along the lines of "every contract clause tells a story." And it's so true, right? For example, many business owners, especially in an industry as "nice" as weddings, don't think to include an abuse clause until we've actually been harassed or attacked by a client or his/her family members or guests, nor do we proactively include language that protects us if we simply can't communicate well or work effectively with someone who's hired us. It just doesn't occur to us that someone could choose to book our services, give us money, and then make it impossible for us to actually please them - but sadly, it does happen.
In my 2012 post, I wrote, "If you're willing to cross something out at a client's whim, it doesn't belong in your contract." I think that still holds true today. For one thing, at least for me personally, fairness and consistency in business is a big deal. It seems only right that all of your clients should be held to the same standards and expectations. To hold only some of your clients responsible for damage but not others, or to penalize only some clients for late payments but not others, is not only a dangerous precedent to set for yourself but it also just seems ethically wrong. Maybe this is my own bias creeping in, but it bothers me that on a higher level, our society seems to reward "squeaky wheels" and capitulate to difficult people in the name of avoiding conflict. I don't like to see small business owners bending in this way.
One clause that is part of my DJ company's client contracts is that the client accepts liability for any physical harm to the DJ and/or his equipment as a result of the client's actions or the actions of any other party in attendance. I will say, this clause has earned us quite a bit of pushback (for whatever reason, it's most often the fathers of the bride that have the issue). "Why should I be responsible for what one of my guests do?" they ask. They want to cross that section out entirely. And my answer is always no. I can't recall off the top of my head whether that's ever actually cost us a sale, but I know it gives me peace of mind to stand my ground.
Because, as I see it, if the client is refusing to be liable for something, they're essentially expecting the DJ, and myself, to be liable. And in the scenario of physical damage being caused by some other party's actions (and not, say, the DJ's negligence), that's not a liability I'm willing to assume. Not that I think it's remotely likely that someone is going to beat up our DJ or destroy his gear (and we do carry $2M in liability insurance) but at a certain point there's a principle involved. Someone who expects my small business to suck it up in that kind of a situation isn't someone with whom I really want to do business, even in the best of circumstances.
In that regard, refusing a client's demand to change the contract actually feels good to me, because it feels like I'm doing the right thing by my team and my company. Of course, that's just one example - plenty of people have asked for other modifications, from our equipment specs to our payment terms - and I do give each request at least a little consideration. Some clauses, however, don't deserve a moment's thought because they're simply asking us to ignore our own interests in favor of earning a buck.
I said back in 2012, "Your clients will never respect your contract more than you respect it" and I think that is still the case. I'd rather someone not hire us for consistently upholding our standards than to hire us and walk all over us throughout the process. Is that a luxury I have because of the volume of events we service? Maybe. But I know that, over the past 13 years, I've always regretted saying "yes" to requests I'm uncomfortable with but have never regretted saying "no."
I'd love to know which clauses in your contract have received the most resistance from clients, or your tips for staying strong when it comes to change requests. Feel free to comment below or discuss it with me over on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!