Today, we’re going to talk about something super sexy: event-planning contracts. Alright, fair enough, they’re not actually that sexy, but they are an absolute necessity for any planner or planning business—regardless of the size of your business or how comfortable or friendly you are with a particular client. And, because we just released a Proposals and Contracts feature, we thought it would be a good time to chat this through.
Business can be a tricky thing. With finances on the line, emotions tend to run high—and, while we always like to hope for the best, preparing for the worst is an absolute must as a business owner. As Samantha of Little Petunia Consulting says, “The truth of the matter is, business + finances make people do shady things and even your longest standing friend can turn into a different person when it’s their livelihood on the table.” Amen, sister.
Today, then, we wanted to break down the essentials to an iron-clad contract, because protecting your business, your creative property and your assets should always be the very first step you take when taking on a new client.
Once a client states they want to hire you to plan their event, send them a contract within 24-48 hours. Do not begin any work on their event—no matter how tempting it may be—without receiving a returned, signed copy of that contract. Don’t have contracts for existing clients? Create one (like, yesterday) and send it to them ASAP. Every single client you deal with—no matter how small or large—should be under a clear contract.
Your contract can look however you’d like. For branding and professionality purposes, it can be a nice touch to include your logo in a header or a pretty border that’s in line with company branding, etc. Regardless of the aesthetics of your contract, though, be sure to always send it in a non-manipulatable format. This means a PDF rather than a Word Doc. While we don’t expect clients to manipulate the wording of contracts (hello, shadesville), it’s best to be safe.
This one's a biggie. If your contract hasn’t been reviewed by a lawyer, have that done immediately. You may have to shell out a few hundred dollars, but that’s a small price to pay compared to spending thousands on legal fees down the road. If you’re strapped for cash, try reaching out to your local law school--oftentimes professors will be willing to help review a contract for a small or no fee.
What to Include
Your contract should always include basic overview information, including: Today’s date, the names of each member of the engaged couple, the couple’s contact information, the event date and signatures of both parties. In addition to these simple basics, an iron-clad contract should include the following clauses:
Description of Services & Deliverables
Event services contracts should always include a clear explanation of the services you will provide the client. This will give the client a clear expectation of what your role as a planner is and, more importantly, what it is not. This helps to set expectations from the get-go and avoid that dreaded scope-creep, which clients love to do. Bullet-point lists can work great for this. Think clarity above all else: your client should be able to read this portion of the contract and understand immediately what you’ve agreed to provide and what you have not agreed to provide.
This one goes without saying—include a clear-cut outline of the cost of services and payment due dates. You’ll want to specifically talk about the deposit, when it is due and clearly state that, until the deposit is received, no work will begin on the event. From there, you can move on to the remaining installments and their due dates. Be sure to clearly mention taxes and/or fees. Transparency and clarity are key here.
No one ever expects a contract to be cancelled, but as planners, we absolutely have to prepare for the unexpected and the not-so-fun—such as broken engagements. We outline Cancellation Policies in Depth in “Aisle Planner Answers: What Are Your Cancellation Policies.” You can find helpful wording and sample cancellation clauses there.
Force Majeure Clause
Force Majeure or “greater force” refers to “Acts of God” (i.e. circumstances beyond either party’s control) that affect the outcome of the event and/or cause either party to be unable to fulfill the terms of the contract (i.e. a fire burns down the venue, a tornado touches down the day-of, etc.). A Force Majeure Clause allows both parties to be absolved from liability in such a circumstance. Don’t leave this one out! Mother Nature, as we all know, can catch us off guard when we least expect it.
Rights of Ownership and Copyright
Samantha of Little Petunia Consulting recommends including Rights of Ownership and Copyright Materials in your contract, and we couldn’t agree more. As creatives, so much of what we share with our clients is our intellectual property—which is why we need to include a clause in our contracts that keeps that property from being stolen, recycled in ways we’re not comfortable with or used for monetary gain without our consent.
We’ll end on a somewhat sweeter note with this one. In Debbie Quain’s “Wedding Planner Contract Guide,” she recommends including a cover letter, and we couldn’t agree more. Contracts can feel a bit...cold. And, as one of your very first interactions with a client, you want to offer them the paper version of a compliment sandwich (compliment - constructive criticism - compliment). This means “sandwiching” your contract with niceties like a cover letter and/or thank-you note. Hiring a wedding planner is a huge decision, so be sure to express your gratitude—it can really help to add a warm personal touch (which is so important to engaged couples) to the more “cold” and business-oriented idea of a contract.
Overall, while contracts aren’t the most exciting part of the planning business, they are, by far, the most necessary. Or reach out to our Aisle Planner Community on Facebook for suggestions and help (but always have a lawyer review your final contract). Remember, contracts are about protecting yourself and your business first and foremost—so never underestimate their power or importance.
Hero photo courtesy Shane and Lauren Photography