I’ve had the opportunity to chat with creative entrepreneurs at DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s 202Creates community about some of the legal questions they frequently grapple with. The most common questions involved contracts: When do I need to use a written contract? How should I use contract? What should be in a contract? How do I get things into the contract that are important to me? How can I get clients to honor their commitment to pay me after I’ve completed the work? All these questions led me to recommend that they should have and use a good contract template.
What is a contract template anyway? A contract template, or in legal parlance, a “form of contract,” is a written document that includes standard contract provisions applicable to each scenario that it would be used for. As with any typical template or form, it provides the framework and allows space to input specific details about the thing you are contracting about.
For creative entrepreneurs who provide work for clients, a contract template for their client work would have space to include these details that will likely be different for each project:
- Description of work;
- Fee for the work; and
- Timeline for completing the work.
It would also include standard provisions that would stay the same for each project, including but not limited to:
- Payment terms (what portion of the fee to pay and when to pay it, how to make the payment)
- Ownership of the work
- Standard legal provisions concerning:
- Limitation of Liability
- Dispute resolution
- Governing law and venue.
There are so many benefits to having a good contract template – not just for your creative business, but for any business!
- Professional Credibility. Having a good contract template can make you look more professional and give you credibility as a business person. Presenting a client with a well-written document helps give your client confidence that you know how to handle your business. This is especially important for creatives that are looking to engage larger, more established, and perhaps more sophisticated clients. Conducting your business in a professional manner will compel your clients to see and treat you like a professional businessperson, which is a good thing if your goal is to build your creative enterprise.
- Efficiency. Once you meet with your perspective client and have discussed all the details (scope of work, fee, timeline, etc.), you can put those details in your contract template and present it to your client for consideration and signature. There’s no more wondering about who is going to write up your conversation and/or put together a document that you each need to sign. There’s less wondering if your potential client is serious about engaging you for work – you’ll likely know whether they are or not once you present them with a contract. Having a contract template can help you move past the deal making part of the process and into the creating part of the process faster.
- Confidence. A good contract template is one that is tailored specifically to your business needs. It can be difficult, however, to know whether a contract template – maybe the one you’re already using – is a good fit for your purposes. You might not be aware of what it might be missing until you come across an issue that wasn’t addressed in your contract template. A good contract template can reduce that uncertainty and it’s precisely why I advise against finding a template online – especially a free template – and using it for your business. What’s perhaps the most critical is that you understand what is in your contract template. Contract templates may contain legal provisions that are written in dense legalese and difficult for non-lawyers to understand. You should not be using a contract template that you don’t understand – it could potentially harm you and your business. You should have a contract template that you know is right for your business purposes and you understand the provisions of. Understanding the contract provisions gives you confidence in answering any questions a client might have or to modify a provision to suit a particular situation. A good contract template will ultimately help reduce risks to your business.
- Stronger Negotiating Position. In my experience, I’ve unfortunately seen creatives get pushed around by demanding clients who have their own lawyers. The creative entrepreneur gets presented with the client’s contract template that is written in legalese, has provisions that don’t apply to the type of work they are doing, and – worst of all – is written in a way that completely favors the client and doesn’t fairly protect the entrepreneur’s interests. This puts the creative entrepreneur at a disadvantage in the negotiating process. But it doesn’t have to be this way! Creatives can flip the script by having their own contract template. It’s not uncommon for creatives to shy away from paperwork and operational details – they’re creatives after all and creativeness and paperwork don’t always mix well – but these details can be important to their creatives business and help protect from certain harms. Fortunately, we can help dampen the unpleasantness of the paperwork by streamlining it with templates and help put you in a better negotiating position. As a service provider or maker, it is completely normal and even expected that a creative entrepreneur present the client with a contract. Having a go-to contract template allows you to make the first “offer” and starting point for negotiating the terms of the relationship. Your contract template will have the provisions that you understand and prefer and protect you and your business. You can choose to deviate from those terms, but the client first has to request the change to the terms. The responsibility is on them, not you. Of course, there can be some back-and-forth negotiation on certain terms, but starting with your contract template gives you more control over what ends up in the final contract.
Having a good contract template can benefit your creative enterprise in so many ways. The bottom line: it can save you time and energy so that you can focus your efforts on doing what you do best – creating!
If you’re interested in working with me on a contract template for your creative venture, contact me. Fees start at $500 per contract template and includes a 30-minute call to review the template and ensure your understanding, and one round of edits to get it right for your needs. You can also find me at 202Creates’ co-working days, every Tuesday in January – stop by and visit from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 200 I (Eye) Street, SE, Washington, DC. If you aren’t already familiar with 202Creates, get to know the initiative that is promoting and amplifying DC’s creative economy; connecting DC resident with government resources, educational opportunities, and space to support their creative ventures; and building an interdisciplinary community by connecting DC creatives: www.202creates.com.