Basics of Contracts
So basics of contracts. Contracts are, let's get it right out of the way. They don't necessarily have to be one formalized document that's in front of you. Right? They can be oral contracts, they can be stuff that was written in email communications. It all boils down to this meeting of the minds. That both of you have agreed on something very specific. For in this instance, you guys are wanting to get them booked for a wedding or a newborn session. Within that, there are some other legal requirements you need to have. They have to be old enough. They have to have the capacity to do so. You're offering to shoot their wedding, they're accepting. Or they're offering to pay you X, Y, and Z, and you're accepting. All of this has to happen, but it doesn't necessarily have to be in one formal document. That is optimal, that is best, and that will make my job easier should we ever need to have to sort through and figure out what you guys had agreed to. But having everything, and I don't reall...
y feel like I need to beat this. A lot of you guys are looking at me like okay I get it. Having it all in one place also eliminates potential miscommunications. The majority of legal issues that come in my inbox these days don't really happen from one big thing. They happen from a lot of little things along the way that arose out of what? Miscommunication or missed expectations. And that's even sometimes when people have had a contract. So just 'cause you have one, doesn't mean it's gonna completely deter or prevent any issues from happening, but it can reduce the probability of you thinking you're gonna get every single image I shoot at your wedding. Me and the contract can say I'm only gonna provide you up to this amount. Right? It sets the expectations, the delivery timeline. We're gonna get into all of this, but just keep in mind, it doesn't have to be that one formalized document. But I really do strongly recommend that you guys do have one at the very beginning of the process, before you shoot, before you do anything, because there's problems riddled if you try to come back later on after the entire session, and then you try to get people to sign things. Then there's problems. One of the other things, and this isn't necessarily a requirement. It's a quasi-requirement. They do have to understand what's in the contract. They have to understand what they're agreeing to. That's one of the legal requirements to a valid contract. But you also don't wanna trick your clients into signing one. I've seen people who wanna title it something fun, so we're creatives, we should be fun through the whole process. Or just kinda slip it into an email, or you want your clients to know that they're agreeing to a legal document as well. 'Cause that's one of the requirements to have a valid document. But at the same time too, you need them to understand that you're serious, you're a professional. If you have a, people always tell me, photographers specifically, oh I don't wanna deal with a contract's mess. Most of the time it's 'cause they don't understand it, which is why you guys are here, 'cause we're gonna pick through that all, but 'cause they're afraid how the clients are gonna push back. By sticking it into your work flow, and just presenting it the way that I just presented it to you guys. This is here for customer service. This is here to protect you and set expectations. Any client that's worth having isn't gonna balk at that. If they balk at that, I'm glad they told you guys that at the very beginning, because then they're probably more than likely gonna be problems through the rest of the entire process, and you're gonna spend more time, money, and mind space on them than is worth it. Alright, so the basics of that, you have the offer acceptance, there has to be an exchange for something. So the most typical one of that is what? Money, right? I'm gonna give you images, or you're gonna purchase prints, and you're gonna give me money in exchange. They have to know that they're agreeing to the terms, what the terms are, and have the capacity. They have to be over the majority age or in their right mind to be able to do so. But also know that oral contracts or ones that you may have agreed to by email, and this can also include say you have a formalized document up front, and then as the process goes on maybe you decide to waive the archival fee or the late fee or something. Your email communications can always supplement as legal documentation for you. It can work in your favor. It may not necessarily be included if you ever go to court, but it is there for us to use. One of the things that I always tell my clients when they come in the door, to give me all your communications and all your legal documents so I can see what was said and what was not. We've established that everything should be in one set document. What happens though when you have people, when you discuss things on the phone? I think phone call is one of the best ways to be able to explain, or in person. It could be either or, or Skype, to explain contracts and these types of forms to your clients that you're doing pre-consultations or everything before they book. It allows them the opportunity to raise any questions that they have. I don't agree with when you have someone walk into the studio ready to shoot and throw a contract in front of them. There's too much potential for if there is an issue down the line for their attorney to say they didn't have time to understand this. They didn't have time to read it. They didn't really know what they were agreeing to. Plus it kinda makes the day that you're photographing them just yucky. Like it's not fun at that point. I get everything out of the way, and recommend that you guys do all this up front. Give them time so they can understand it, and ask any questions. Hopefully you're able to explain what's in your contract after this class. So then you can move forward, because that right there, this is the part of the timeline when we wanna try to get all the miscommunication and miss-expectations out of the way. Okay? Never use a legal document as a club over your client's head. We've kind of already gone over this a little bit. We really want to ensure that they understand this is there for both of us. Now, states do vary on how fair the contract has to be. Some states allow it to be more in favor of the person providing the service, in this case, you guys, the photographers. So you need to check to make sure that if you are hopefully not self-drafting contracts, or you've purchase one, which we do have templates at TheLawTog. You need to make sure that it's in line with the states reasonableness and how balanced it has to be. Some states want them to be more fairly balanced. One thing to keep in mind, and this is not just with contracts, it's with anything in business and I would hope that as an industry we would want to elevate the bar here. We have the responsibility to be the better person, to be the bigger person in all the things that we do. We're the professional. We're the ones that needs to explain, we are doing this. The FTC, the Federal Trade Commission, has requirements to protect consumers, you know, so that they're not defrauded in marketing and pricing and so forth. There, as well as with your contracts, don't hide it, explain it, put it all out there. That is to me is being the bigger person. We have a heightened responsibility over a consumer. So just keep that in mind when you're going to draft your contract, there are some things that you can have to safeguard you, and you should, you definitely should. It doesn't have to necessarily be 50/50 equal fair. But we also don't want it to be so disproportionate. Should you ever go into court that's gonna be taken into consideration. Clients may not necessarily wanna sign it. And then in the end, we also don't wanna use it as a club over the client's head. We've talked about this a little bit already. Why do you need it? The biggest one is protection. It's very difficult if you guys have someone inquires to you. You're like yeah I'll photograph little Timmy. We'll meet here and there. You have all the valid requirements that we just talked about a little bit ago. But it's not in that one set document. It's difficult, because there's extras that we're gonna talk about later, that are not included in that conversation. Say you guys get on the phone call with someone later on down the line, and you guys have agreed to things, maybe you're amending verbally your initial contract. Always follow that up in writing. I think anytime whether you talk legal stuff or not, you should be always following up all communications with clients, texts, Facebook messenger, or phone, anything that's not in your normal main communication method, which for me is email. I mean that's the most common that everyone has these days. So anytime you have discussions other ways, always just follow up, because it's gonna make it easier to supplement and attach that onto the contract to protect you later on if you need to refer to it. Sets the expectations and it facilitates the customer service.
The use of legal documents is standard in business, but the understanding and implementation of these documents in photography businesses is less common. So many photographers land in hot water for not having or understanding the proper documents. Join Rachel Brenke, TheLawTog®, as she helps get you armed against liability and issues by discussing what releases should say and how to read contracts and waivers to set you up for success.
The Brenke Group, LLC, doing business as TheLawTog® (“TheLawTog”) provides an online legal portal to help customers identify business and legal problems commonly encountered by individuals in the photography industry. TheLawTog is not a law firm and does not and will not perform services performed by an attorney. TheLawTog is NOT a substitute for the advice of an attorney. Instead, TheLawTog provides templates and education to individuals who voluntarily chose to prepare their own legal and/or business documents, submit templates to licensed attorneys for modification, and/or for education purposes prior to contacting a licensed attorney.