Is there anything more personal than wedding planning? As wedding professionals we help mold the bride's dreams into one extraordinary day. It's not an arms-length process. We get real close. Which is why inserting a something as off-putting as a legal contract might seem unnecessary or unpleasant to some folks. Several discussions on different wedding forums are about the need for a contract. I thought we could take a look at it together. Are contracts necessary?
I look at it from two perspectives: as a 'recovered' attorney and as a business mediator. Just so I'm clear nothing I say is meant to be legal advice. This is for the purpose of educational discussion. Objects are closer than they appear. Your mileage may vary. We're just talking through this issue.
Contracts Create a Structure
I believe its essential to have a contract with clients. You want everyone to know 'the corners of the deal' and that there's a true meeting of the minds between what you will provide and what clients expect.
Contracts are also a good way to discuss what won't be acceptable. The issues that drive you crazy- late guest lists, disorganized brides, obsessive mind-changing- can be incorporated into your contract so that clients are properly educated about how you work. And, educated about the consequences of their actions or inaction. The act of signing a contract is a ritual that most people know and recognize as being significant. That makes a lot of sense when you're dealing with clients who might be caught in the confusing whirlwind of planning a wedding.
You can get boilerplate contracts, but I say why not create your own. Decide some basic points then find a business lawyer to make you a template. It's worth spending the money I think. You'll want to think about including language that covers:
* Who is responsible for what- you, the bride, other vendors * What services are included and what is not
* What dates are required for i.e. lists, payments, timetables
* How will you handle problems, disputes, emergencies
* A general introductory statement
In my introductory statements I try to reinforce important ideas like we're all working towards the same goals, that we all trust each other and that if there's an issue we'll work collaboratively to fix it. Which leads me to the other perspective.
Discussions Create Meaning and Understanding
As a peace-loving, collaboration junkie, I say the contract is only worth the paper it's written on. Anyone who has been to small claims court knows you can win a judgment and still never get results.
The true value of a contract is in the discussions that lead up to the agreement. You'll want to talk about your style of working with brides. Ask your bride how she likes to get things done. Because if you're a detail freak who likes to control every aspect of a wedding working with a laissez faire kinda bride, there'll be some 'splainin to do. (couldn't resist the Lucy reference) That's where the real understandings are formed.
I like to frame the talk as a way to protect our good relationship, make things go smoother and create a plan B, if necessary. I talk about how our responsibilities are interdependent- I can't do my job if they don't do theirs. That makes the terms of the agreement seem less arbitrary (this is how I do it) and more friendly (we want this outcome so we'll work this way). And, frankly, contract discussions are another chance for me to 'get to know my clients'. I think you'd agree you learn a lot about people when you start talking money, right?
This is such an important topic I'm actually planning to do a Brideability Summit on contracting next year. Not the legal stuff (bringing in a ringer for that), but how to approach creating boundaries and talking about them, which seems to be tough for some folks. I'll let you know more as the details develop.
What do you say to your clients when signing the contracts?