Creative Liberties You Can Take With Your Contract
I like to think that I can really relate to my clients, and they recognize that. After all, I’m not just a small business lawyer- there’s plenty of those around. I can relate to my clients because I can not only talk the talk, but have walked the walk: I spent 2016 and most of 2017 running a calligraphy business after I’d get home from my job as a full-time litigator at a law firm. So yeah, I can relate to my creative clients.
That being said, there is one area that we’ll probably always butt heads: when it comes to the contracts you use, I don’t care if they’re pretty. They just have to be effective.
Don’t get me wrong- I know how awkward those conversations can be with your own clients. You know, the ones where you are handing them a document, asking them to sign on the dotted line and promise to pay you for your creative work. 99% of the time those conversations happen very early in the relationship when you still don’t really know the person. That’s a scary, vulnerable moment for anyone! I’m speaking from experience myself because as a lawyer, I have those exact same conversations with my clients.
What a lot of creatives do is fold under that pressure, and fall back on what makes them feel a little bit safer: they break down their contract to the bare bones of the document, usually cutting out a majority of the protective language because they haven’t been convinced that they need it, or they are afraid that it will scare off their clients. They fall back into the comfort zone of relying on the “aesthetics” of a document, and lose sight of the purpose of the document. And all they’re left with is a document that provides them essentially no protection whatsoever. What good will that do anyone?
But not you, because below, I’m going to show you how you can bridge the gap between the aesthetically pleasing contract you want to give your client, and the 6+ page document that (I know) your lawyer wants you to use.
Making The Case For Contracts:
A strong contract will make you look professional with your client.
Here’s the deal: your client is hiring you for your creative abilities, yes, but they are hiring you as a business. Particularly when you are working in the wedding industry, it’s critical that you portray yourself as a professional. If you are a film photographer, for example, and you’re asking your client to pay you $8,000, and then you slide over a dinky 1 page, scattered document…they could (rightly) get cold feet. From the first meeting, you have to actively make a case for your business and services.
For a contract to be legal, it actually has to be fair between the parties. Generally speaking, if a contract is grossly disproportionate in who it favors, a court can throw it out altogether.
So, any time you are handing a client a professional contract, it should actually be a source of comfort for both parties. It is quite literally just a written agreement; a tool to manage the expectations of both parties. It is just a tool to help eliminate misunderstandings between the two of you, which is something both sides should want.
But of course, you have to truly understand that contract to be able to communicate that to your client.
Talking about the contract will help build your rapport with your client.
Not many lawyers will tell you this but… you can take some creative liberties with your contract.
(Within reason, of course).
You’re a creative, after all: every interaction with your client should be laced with some evidence of that!
Add your logo.
You don’t need to hand over a bland word document to your client. Go ahead and add your beautiful logo across the top (or wherever you’d like)! This will absolutely not harm the integrity of the contract from a legal perspective, and you know that it’s important to keep your branding cohesive across the board.
Change the font, color, size, etc. of the text.
Go ahead and let the actual text of your contract reflect the aesthetics of your brand as well! Again, your client is hiring you for your creative services, so I think it is a good business practice to let your creativity show on your contract. It’s probably just further evidence of my nerd-like tendencies when it comes to contracts, but when I got married, I remember getting the contract from my wedding planner. It was beautiful, printed on thick paper, and reflected the golds and blush of her brand. Looking at it made me even more excited to work with her, and in a corner of my mind, it was further proof for me that she could create a beautiful event. So go ahead and make your contract as pretty as you want, with the size of the text, fonts, colors, double or single sided…get creative!
Write some humor into the margins
So here is the advice that most attorneys won’t give you, but: go ahead and bring some humor to the situation.
Unless you are a contract lawyer who loves writing them (guilty), we can all agree that contracts are boring to 99% of the population.
No good lawyer is going to let you cut out the legal portions of your contract. It’s just not going to happen-everything in there is there for a reason. I was speaking to a mentor of mine about this recently, and one of his photography clients made the most of the situation. He wouldn’t let her take out those important provisions that in her mind, had too much “legalese”, so she added some humor into the margins. Even Pinterest does this in their terms of service.
Now, take this with a grain of salt: I’m not saying to rewrite the paragraphs. But at a minimum, feel free to go ahead and blame their inclusion on your lawyer. It’s a win-win- not only will it be memorable and creative, but it will build rapport between you and your new client.
Have you ever wanted to make any other creative changes to your contract? Let me know in the comments!