Our guest blogger here is Wynne Reece of Reece Law and founder of The Creative Counsel. We asked her to talk us through what it takes to have a contract that truly protects both the pro and the couple and she delivered! Please enjoy! -- The Knot Pro Team
Having been a wedding planner in my ‘past life’, I know just how much work and dedication go into each wedding and the protection you should be afforded. Consider your wedding business contract a form of insurance. Take the step to protect yourself because weddings are emotional, the potential cost of a legal battle can be astronomical, and you deserve to be protected.
Why You Should Use a Real Life Lawyer
Before we dive into specifics, let’s address the elephant in the room; the agreements that are pieced together, downloaded or purchased online. I get it, lawyers are perceived to be scary, expensive and unsympathetic to your creativity (in fact those sentiments led to the creation of The Creative’s Counsel). But I am telling you that there are great lawyers out there who get you and can help. Find them and work with them, because unfortunately many of the agreements we’ve seen, obtained one of the above-mentioned ways, are vague or overly-restrictive, they don’t offer adequate protection and are often created for vendors across the country meaning they don’t apply the right law, don’t account for your specific vendor community practices, and the list goes on. Clients won’t hesitate to scrutinize, so you shouldn’t hesitate to be buttoned up!
Now, let’s shift focus to some specifics. Your agreement doesn’t need to be incredibly long and dense, it can sound like you, but the following are important for your protection:
Your Contract Should Include These Pieces
The Very Basic Basics
- Date of the wedding
- Names of the parties involved
Wynne’s Expert Tip: We also suggest including language about who has authority to discuss or change the agreement, as there is an increasing involvement from parents in vendor negotiations, and you can’t enforce an agreement against someone who hasn’t signed it.
- Date the agreement is signed
- Dates and times of the services you are providing
Wynne’s Expert Tip: I recognize that this may be something that evolves as the wedding-day timeline does, but you can include language to cover that situation.
- Cost of the services
- Detailed description of the services
Wynne’s Expert Tip: In this area it is easy to over promise, including everything that you think you may do or have done in the past. You can eliminate the vagueness that comes with oral communication, but we would caution to not over promise so that you aren’t giving the client a reason to make a claim against you.
- Signatures of the clients, everyone who can make decisions about the agreement and your business name.
Wynne’s Expert Tip: Make sure that you are signing on behalf of your company (you should form an LLC or other company), not you personally, because you want to make sure that you are protected!
- Deposit, final payment, and the payment schedule that may come in between
Wynne’s Expert Tip: We typically suggest making the deposit non-refundable and non-transferable to protect yourself. This doesn’t mean that in the appropriate situation you can’t choose to give a refund or transfer the monies paid, but you are setting the tone at the outset that refunds will be given in rare situations.
- Add on fees, including travel and out of pocket expenses that may be incurred at the couple’s request
- Authority for contingency plans and substitutions that may affect the cost.
- Cancellation at the Client’s request
- Cancellation at the Vendor’s request
- Cancellation due to unforeseen circumstances (such as extreme weather, serious health issue)
Wynne’s Expert Tip: Often times, if the you are the face of the brand, clients will believe that unless that individual is there, the services will be sub-par. Thus, language allowing for substitution of the individual, at your sole discretion, is really beneficial.
Clauses To Include
- Limitation of Liability
- Governing Law
Wynne's Expert Tip: These are clauses you would typically want to include. Some of them should be written specifically with your business in mind while others are legal written language.
- Intellectual Property
Wynne's Expert Tip: This doesn’t just apply to photographers and videographers! No matter what service or product you offer, you should always think about intellectual property usage rights for social media, blog and print submissions, professional marketing usage and more!
Hold On To Your Agreements For Longer Than You Think
Although this isn’t something to incorporate into your agreement, I’ve been asked many times about how long you should keep your signed agreements. We suggest keeping them for 6 years, as many contract claims can be brought within 6 years of the date of service.
And If Your Client Wants to Make a Change To Your Contract?
Once you've worked with a professional and you feel good about your agreement, it would be nice to assume your contract is bullet proof. Not quite. Ask any (reputable) attorney and they will tell you that there is no such thing as a bullet proof agreement and there will undoubtedly be a client who tries to change the agreement to their (sometimes significant) benefit. When that happens, let the client know you will respond to them, and then call your attorney! If you have a good agreement, then you are in a much better situation to protect yourself against the majority of claims that we’ve seen arise.
About Wynne Reece:
The Creative's Counsel, owned by Reece Law, L.L.C. and founded by partner (and former couture wedding planner) Wynne Reece, is a boutique practice focused on making legal work understandable, approachable and affordable to all. In just two and half years, The Creative's Counsel has worked with nearly 400 small business owners, over 200 of whom are in the wedding industry. Attorneys with The Creative's Counsel hope to change the way you look at the legal industry as we recognize it can be intimidating yet legal work is truly needed by all.
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