I love designing and consulting my clients, but there’s an unfun side to my business – most businesses really. One of those things is contracts. Writing them, reading them. They’re important to understand. A contract doesn’t just protect the business, it also protects the clients. Today I’ve assembled my favorite tips from around the internet so we can all understand contracts better.
Now let me first say I’m not an attorney. This is not legal advice. If you’re having an issue with someone or with your contracts in general, please call an attorney. It’s worth it to get it done right. That said, let’s get started…
Let’s chat for a second about what a contract is. It’s an agreement between two parties. These two parties could be a business and a customer. They could be two people or two businesses. But what it does is lays out what is expected from each party and by signing it, you’re agreeing to it. Now I say this with a lot of love – please read the entire thing before you sign it. You need to know what you’re agreeing to and what you can and can’t do in that situation. The easiest way to get into trouble with a contract as a customer is to not read the whole thing and as a business, it’s to leave something out or have it be unclear. Granted you can’t predict everything, but this is why attorneys recommend reviewing and editing your contracts on a regular basis.
Now then, one of the big tips I saw in researching this is to identify each party correctly. This is apparently a really common mistake (one I will be reviewing my contracts for now!!). Make sure that you are using the full legal names of each party that is to be included. Remember that if you’re dealing with a business use the business’s name and not the name of the person who is your contact. If you do that it means they as an individual are the ones on the hook if something goes wrong and the business itself is exempt. Also, don’t forget when writing out names to add any suffixes like Jr. or Inc. or LLC to the name!
Another tip that popped up a lot in my research was to be specific when writing out your contract. This is especially true for payments. Don’t assume anyone will understand what you mean. Spell it out. Write clearly simply so that even your favorite 10-year-old will understand what you’ve written. Think of the worst possible scenarios and include those things. Oh, and while things that are verbally said can be legally binding, they’re really hard to enforce, which is why you’re making a contract in the first place.
Alright, last tip here…don’t go it alone. Seriously, the best thing you can do for your business, your customers, and yourself is to ask others. Contact a local attorney to help you, but before you do learn what is necessary for your industry and your local area. For me as a designer, one of the big things is understanding intellectual property and copyright. You can bet I did my homework by contacting the national graphic design groups, researching online, and then sitting down with an attorney who specializes in this to answer my questions. For another business the big issue might be food safety or disability rights, but whatever the issues that are big deal in your industry, learn about them and include them in your contracts spelling out what protections you have in place, and who owns what and how that works.
My goal with this was to make contracts feel a little less intimidating and something you’d be ready to use in your business. Hopefully, you feel a little better about them!
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