This week we are featuring a series of legal posts from Katy Carrier, founder of Carrier and Associates. Learn about Katy and her firm at the end of this post.
I am honored and excited to serve as a guest blogger for Sage Wedding Pros this week! I actually attended the very first Sage Wedding Pros The Simple Plan workshop in Seattle back in November 2009, and I am a huge fan of Michelle and Kelly’s amazing business insight and advice for wedding professionals.
We’re going to be discussing the topic of client contracts this week. If you’re like most wedding industry professionals, you have a written client contract you use when booking new business. If you don’t use a written contract, it’s time for a change!
You Need a Solid Contract
It doesn’t matter what type of vendor you are – everyone benefits from a written contract as evidence of a mutual agreement. It’s fine to reach an agreement verbally, but in the event that you ever find yourself in a dispute you’ll be faced with a ‘he said, she said’ situation, and it’s very hard to prove the terms of an agreement when your only evidence is conversations that were not recorded, multiple email chains and scraps of paper with handwritten notes. Once you reach a verbal agreement, those terms should be formalized in writing, and you should also include additional clauses that protect you and your business. We’ll discuss specific clauses in the next post in this series, but I want to start by talking about important formalities of contract formation. In addition to the value of a written contract, the way you handle the signing of a contract is also important.
BOTH the Bride and Groom Should Sign the Contract
If you are a wedding planner, photographer, videographer, caterer, venue, DJ, musician, florist, invitation designer, cake artist, rental company, lighting technician or transportation provider, you should have both the bride and groom sign your client contract.
I know if can be hard to nail down that bride or groom who is traveling constantly for work, or maybe you’re only dealing with one or the other so you think it makes sense to have that one person sign on behalf of the couple. Don’t do it.
You need to remember that you are dealing with two separate and distinct people in the eyes of the law. And you must consider that they may or may not even make it down the aisle, or may end up divorcing soon after the wedding. You need to ensure that both the bride and groom understand the terms of the agreement and are ‘on the hook’ for all of those terms and conditions. That unpaid balance for your services? They both need to be responsible for payment and subject to any applicable late penalties and interest. How about a claim for personal injury by the groom? If only the bride signed the agreement, a court may not hold the groom to the terms of the agreement that were supposed to protect you from certain liabilities, effectively leaving you wide-open to any kind of lawsuit and legal damages.
For certain contracts, like beauty services for just the bride or bridesmaids, it’s fine to have just the bride sign, but I really would only make an exception for those types of personal services contracts dealing with only one person from the couple.
How to get them BOTH to sign
So how do you get your contract signed by both the bride and groom when they are so hard to pin down? To start, you need to make this a non-negotiable element from the beginning and inform the couple that they both need to read, understand and sign the contract. You do not need to have everyone sign on the same piece of paper. If you have a clause in your agreement dealing with counterparts, you can have each party to the contract sign a different copy of the contract and it will still be binding on everyone. We’ll discuss the counterparts clause in my next post.
A great way to secure client signatures quickly and easily is by using an electronic signature service, like EchoSign or DocuSign. Sage Wedding Pros just had a great post last week explaining EchoSign. E-signatures may not be right for every client, but it is a great option for those clients that make signature-wrangling your full time job.
Whether you sign the contract on paper or electronically (or both), you need to maintain every copy that is signed by the parties, including yourself. And you should keep a copy of all client contracts in your files even long after the wedding date has passed; you never know whether you’ll need it as evidence down the line in the event of some sort of dispute or issue.
In my next post we’ll cover some important language and clauses in your client contracts.
Katy Carrier is the founder and principle of Carrier and Associates. The company is a full-service law firm addressing the needs of event professionals and creative business owners. We here at Sage Wedding Pros have had Katy advise on a few legal issues and we are very impressed with her knowledge, expertise, and professionalism. Check out her blog, The Law for Creatives and keep up with everything law-related for your biz.