How exactly can contracts not only detract from your client relationship but be a tool that enhances your client experience?
When it comes to contracts, the most common complaint I hear from creatives is that a multi-page contract will scare off a client, which will send them straight to our competitors, and we’ll end up with no business and no clients, all thanks to that contract.
Ok, that’s a little dramatic, but I have actually had someone say that to me. More often, creatives tell me they think sending a client a multi-page contract is almost rude, because it’s somehow indicating to the client that they don’t trust them. The creatives who tell me this usually find themselves in a bind, wondering if they need to choose between putting safeguards up for their business, or “risk it” and not make their clients sign anything.
I’m here to tell you that there’s a better way to view the whole situation. I know, you probably think I’m biased because I am a contract attorney, but bear with me: before I start any client project, I too have to send over a contract to that client. And I’ll admit, it can be nerve-wracking!
But I want to challenge you to flip the script, and instead, recognize contracts as a tool that enhances your client experience. Here’s how:
1. A Solid Contract Paints YOU As A Professional
Anyone who can pick up a camera or a calligraphy nib and turn it into a business is a professional in my opinion, truly. However, I’m willing to bet that the father of the bride who may or may not be footing the bill for your services is raising his eyebrows at the cost, and is looking for red flags to show him that you aren’t a sound investment. How do photographers get away with charging thousands of dollars to snap a few photos, anyways? It’s robbery 😉
If you follow me around the interwebs at all, you’ve probably heard me share a recent story about a client who embodies this point beautifully. This client is a photographer who came to me a few months ago to reconstruct her wedding photography contract, tightening up loopholes and clarifying the document in general. Early in the new year, she emailed me to tell me that the father of a potential new bride wanted to negotiate portions of her contract before signing. You guessed it…he’s an attorney too.
Luckily, my client and I had sat down and gone through the contract together, so she felt confident in answering his questions and negotiating back and forth. Long story short, that new client ending up signing the contract for my client’s biggest package, and the father of the bride later told her that they had passed on three other photographers simply because the contracts were too weak, or those photographers were unwilling to answer questions about them.
The key here? My client was confident in her contract, and it showed. Her confidence allowed her to act like a professional, which immediately put the parties at ease. At the end of the day (particularly for those in the wedding industry), odds are your clients have never worked with a professional like you, or had to pay so much for your types of services. Most people have never paid $7,000 to work with a photographer, thousands for a new logo, etc. It’s your job to show them that they can trust working with you, because you are a professional.
So now the question remains: Just how do you lead with that professional foot? Your potential client has chosen to work with you because of your talent, yes, but the first “business” impression you will make is the contract you hand them. No matter the parties’ background, most people can spot a contract that’s the result of a cut and paste escapade on Google. They usually just don’t make much sense. Second, be capable and willing to talk to your client about that contract. This will make them appreciative of your willingness to meet them in the middle, and therefore confident in working with you.
However, to be able to do this, you, of course, need to know what your contract actually says! This is the exact reason why I create a video tutorial for each and every template in my shop, which you can keep on hand both for your own use and to help you in preparing for those conversations with your client.
2. A Contract isn’t a scary agreement you’re asking someone to sign…it’s just a written reflection of the agreement you and your client have already made.
A lot of people hear the word “contract” and immediately feel a surge of apprehension- what exactly is in those documents? What are you really being asked to sign? What is in there to trick the other party?
A good contract (ie, something you can actually trust, and know what it actually says), is simply a written reflection of what you are already agreeing to with your client. By putting everything in black and white ink, you are simply clarifying the agreement with your client, so that you both know exactly what you’re both agreeing to. This will help to clarify any potential miscommunications that could happen at the outset, and set the stage for a smooth client relationship. More than anything, it makes your relationship with your client much more convenient.
The most pertinent, real-life example I have of this is Hurricane Harvey, which occurred less than a year ago. As we all know, September is a huge wedding month, and Harvey made nearly all of the Houston metro impassable. Do you think all of the wedding vendors who suddenly couldn’t uphold their end of the agreement contemplated something as unexpected as a hurricane in southern Texas to render their services impossible to perform? A strong contract will contemplate scenarios such as this, so you won’t have to make awkward, haphazard agreements with your client when those unforeseen scenarios arise.
3. By having a contract locked and loaded, ready to go, there is no lag time between the inquiry and the booking.
When a client decides to book you, they need your products or services for a specific purpose… and odds are, you’re not the only person who can provide that service.
The time between the inquiry and booking is critical, and not something that every professional considers at the outset. If you waste too much time in the interim, scrambling to throw an agreement together, chances are your client will be able to book with someone else, who has a quicker response time. However, by having everything ready to go at the outset, you’re showing your client that you are a professional who is more than capable and ready to take on the work- and what better foot can you lead with than that?
4. A good contract will clarify each parties’ responsibility at the outset.
I know, it’s so simple it doesn’t seem like it needs to be said. However, it’s important to note: a good contract is going to make your client’s role clear to them from the beginning.
As an example from my own experience, I hired a photographer for a shoot one time, and later went back to see what the intellectual property rights were to the photos (because I’m a nerd, and I look those things up before I post online). This language was conspicuously absent from the Agreement, which honestly annoyed me, because it was inconvenient for me to try to contact them to figure it out. When a client gets annoyed with you for ambiguities like that, they probably aren’t running to work with you again.
It will also clarify things such as timeline questions, and duties of the parties. If the timeline is written out for your client, (hopefully) that will cut down on the number of times they have to ask you if the work is done. It’s also going to clarify exactly what they can expect from you, which will save you from the problem client who ends up expecting way more from you than is reasonable.
5. It takes some of the load off of you when you talk about money.
Maybe it’s just me, but I hate talking about payment with my clients. I usually end up telling them that, too.
A good contract will lay out the amounts and payment schedule that you both are agreeing to. This is going to save you from having to awkwardly remind them of payments along the way, or the payment amounts. It’s also going to protect you when clients ask for your money back after canceling or terminating your agreement, which are some of the most awkward conversations you can have with a client.
6. To be valid, a contract generally has to be equal to both parties.
This is probably the most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to contracts and your client relationship. Generally speaking, in order for a contract to be upheld in court, it must favor the parties equally. If your client seems nervous about signing your contract, it is so important to tell them this! If you have a sound contract in place, you aren’t trying to trick your client- it’s just a document reflecting your agreement.
It’s important to note that this is one of the most common issues I see when clients come to me with contracts they’ve pulled from the internet or inherited from a “friend”. If a contract too strongly favors one side, a judge would throw it out as “inequitable”, rendering the entire thing useless.
By telling your client that you know agreements must be equal to be valid, you’ll be able to immediately put your client at ease. There’s truly no better way to kickstart your client relationship!
So there you have it! 6 ways to view your contract as a tool that enhances your client relationship, rather than detracts from it. I hope this has been helpful, and as always, I’d love to hear your thoughts!