Lessons Learned – Contracts

Ding, ding, ding, round 2!

In this corner we have the small business owner and in the opposite corner we have the corporate giant! Ding goes the bell, both contenders come out swinging, excitement sweeps over the crowd and an 8 round slug fest ensues! Deep into the 9th round the giant gets caught in their own red tape! The small business owner sees an opening, returns with a devastating product that’s under deadline, and the match is over folks! The small business owner is the champ…but wait, where’s his paycheck?

Well, it looks like the champ is going to have to wait 3 months for his money to arrive since he didn’t draft up a contract before going into the bout.

While this may seem like a vivid and exaggerated story, I was once that fighter!

I suffered through this battle too many times with a variety of clients who always wanted the finished product ‘yesterday’. I’d deliver and expect a paycheck in return for my hard work and effort, only to find out that compensating me was at the bottom of their list. Not to mention, I saw a major gap in my vendor to client expectations. I made too many assumptions when I first stepped into professional photography 2 years ago, and I desperately needed to streamline this process.

This wasn’t a major issue back when I had a day job and a paycheck waiting for me monthly in the mailbox. Now that I am full-time, I know there will be occasions in the future when I absolutely need that payment and I refuse to leave this aspect of the business up to chance.

The present day fighter is much leaner and faster due to a one-two combo of price sheet and contract (anyone else getting tired of the boxing analogies?). One of my first goals after going full-time was to create a boiler plate contract for every aspect of photography that I cover. Much like a resume, I opted to have everything presented in plain English on a single page. My price sheets and contracts for event, corporate, portrait, family, and architecture photography are on a single sheet that is logically organized. Each contract clearly spells out what my rates are and what is included with my services. The document also outlines how and when payment is to be delivered, along with protections to safeguard my business and the images I produce. The only exception is my wedding contract, which is two pages long since it comesdirectly from PPA and I didn’t want to deviate too much from their guidance. Which segues to my next thought, drafting up your own contracts.

I took much of the existing language from PPA’s sample wedding contract and transposed any of the applicable legalese into the contracts listed above. I had two lawyer friends look them over, give the thumbs up, and I was on my way. If any of you would like to see one of my contracts, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll happily send them your way.

Digital Pro Photo’s Samuel Lewis recently published a phenomenal article titled Get It In Writing and closed on a great thought; contracts are not a one-time exercise. Your contracts should go through a number of evolutions based on your business experiences. I certainly plan build upon the existing structure and rewrite some of the language in my contracts. I know that in the future I will need to expand my contracts to cover a wider gamut of clients, but I hope they eventually plateau and only require minor revisions over time.

And of course you don’t ever want to step in the ring with your clients…but be ready to fight to get paid!

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