Best Practice Tip: Adding Protections Into Your Contracts

For my inaugural newsletter, I thought I’d talk about my own experience as a solo business owner in the wedding industry and what I’ve learned along the way about adding protections into your contracts.

Mary Lee Herrington, Esq.

Like many new entrepreneurs, I started my event planning business with rose-tinted glasses and hit the pavement running. In many ways, it was so busy just getting the business off the ground and then figuring things out on the fly that sometimes it felt impossible to stop and make sure all the ducks – legal ducks, I should say – were in a row.

My experience showed me that you can’t predict everything when it comes to weddings – after all, every couple is unique and, especially these days when couples want their weddings to be bespoke, a form contract may not cover everything that is eventually demanded of you.  I found that my contracts would always have to be reviewed, tweaked and tailored to each client after I had learned something new or experienced a different unforeseen incident from the last wedding that I had wrapped.

And as time went on and each client wedding brought new challenges and predicaments, I always went back to my agreements and reviewed them in light of the new experiences and tightened the language to protect me in the future. It wasn’t necessarily “bad” things that would prompt me to do this – rather, and often, it was due to things I realized from just doing the work.  It was things like realizing that the massive quantities of wedding favors needed extra days to assemble (ergo, a proviso for additional fees and staffing), or noting that clients must inform us of guests in wheelchairs and seniors who needed separate transportation options (adding additional liability language in addition to the existing indemnity clause); or just making sure that all the time leading up to the wedding day was correctly spelled out and covered in the contract.

I also spoke to many of my peers who told me they had similar issues but weren’t sure how to reflect it in their contracts. Sometimes they just didn’t know what to do and instead of sticking to their guns, they would forfeit a deposit, lose a wedding date during high season, work many hours for free because they had not set out clearly with the client what the expectations would be, or absorb the cost for rush jobs or printed mistakes when the clients had already signed off. Sometimes, perhaps unfairly, a situation can even result in bad word of mouth or a demand for refunds.

It is so easy to think that because weddings and events are about parties and celebrations that business will always be fun and people will be lovely to work with. And we hope always true!  But realistically, even if you are the type of person who actually does get teary-eyed at every “You may kiss the bride” moment, the fact remains that this is and should be regarded as a business, not a hobby or a personal favor, and a business whose interests you should protect. After all, if you are a sole proprietor in an unlucky situation, your personal assets – not just your business – could be vulnerable.  Albeit an egregious example, the fact that couples like this one actually decide to sue is a scary reality and you never want to find yourself on the receiving end!

So here is my best practice tip: after every wedding, jot down notes on where you think things could have gone wrong (and of course those things that actually did go wrong, however minor or major) while it is fresh in your mind.  Then go back to your client contract and see if it covers you on all of those points.  If your contract is lacking those provisions, then think about getting a lawyer to help you with revisions.  Because every client is so different and there are so many chefs in the kitchen on a wedding day (the parents/in-laws who may be footing the bill and think of themselves as the client rather than the couple, a demanding bridal party, the guests who may view you as their personal valet), you will find that a very generic form contract is not enough and that you need to add more protections.  Just having these protections in your contract not only covers you in future contractual work, but it also offers that lovely thing called “scope” – meaning, your next client will read it and, at the time of booking you, understand that these are your terms and your boundaries.

{ Photo credits: left image, Aneta Mak // right image, Judy Pak }

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