Contract Basics: Thinking About Contracts

Every professional will have to deal with contracts sooner or later. Today let’s look at when and why you might need a contract and next week we’ll take a look at the things a contract should include. I’m going to focus on contracts for commissioned work (not gallery representation or anything else), although there is definitely overlap between various types.

Contract Basics

Some Things to Think About

The first rule is, never sign a contract unless you have read it completely and fully understand everything in it!

The purpose of a contract is to protect both parties from any confusion regarding a commission. Thus, the main goal of a contract is to clearly state all of the points involving a job in as detailed a way as possible. You should never assume things to be true unless they are explicitly stated in the contract. It doesn’t mean you and the other party don’t trust one another, it’s just always best to be as clear as possible when dealing with money and business transactions.

When and Why You Might Need a Contract

So when do you need a contract? The short answer is always, but it’s a bit more complicated than that and sometimes you might want to have a very loose contract or none at all. Let’s look at this in terms of job size.

Small Jobs

For smaller jobs you might be wish to go easy on the contract. I consider a small job anything that’s $1000 or less. If you’re dealing with a small company and the commission is only a few hundred dollars it doesn’t make sense to have a detailed contract. First of all it might scare them away as they will need to have their lawyer look at it, and get other management involved, when all they wanted were a few photos (or whatever the case may be). From your end, the time it takes to put together a contract and the back and forth with the client probably isn’t worth the fee – it would be silly to go to court for such small amounts of money anyways. What would be better is to have a small half page contract just outlining the specific deliverables (what you will give them and what they will pay you) of the project. This can even be done by email, as long as they specifically agree to it, email correspondence is considered binding.

Large Jobs

For larger jobs (over $1000) there is no question that a contract is needed. When you start working with large sums of money there is much more at stake. You are likely putting in money up front in the form of expenses and you are also spending much more time on the job. If something goes wrong, your livelihood can be harmed, so make sure you have a solid contract. This goes the same for your client as they are investing more resources into the project, they will also want to make sure everything will be smooth on your end. If you have a large job and the client is hesitant to sign a contract then walk away, it is unprofessional and there is no reason for their hesitation.

Who Provides the Contract?

So now you should have a good idea of if you need a contract and when to have a detailed or simple one. But where does the contract come from? Do you provide it or does the client?

From my experience this depends mainly on if your client hires your type of service often. If they do, they will have a standard contract in place and will provide it. If hiring someone like you is rare for them, then they probably won’t have something in place and most likely won’t be familiar with the terms involved in drafting an agreement for your services. Then it is your job to put together a contract (we’ll discuss this in next week’s post).

Revising a Contract

The last point I’d like to touch on is that it’s okay (and expected) for the contract to get revised. For example, if you send your client a contract and they get back to you wishing to make changes, this is completely normal. It’s the same if you get a contract and wish to add or remove something. As long as there is a valid reason for adding / removing something then this is no point for concern. However, if the client wants to add / remove something but doesn’t want to tell you why then this is a red flag. When in doubt remember the first rule: never sign a contract unless you have read it completely and fully understand everything in it!

Don’t forget to check in next Monday for the second part of this post where I’ll go into more detail about the basic points that should be included. Please remember that we are not lawyers and this isn’t legal advice. For any major jobs involving very large sums of money you should hire a lawyer to draft a contract for you. We’re just talking from our experience in dealing with client and contracts we’ve signed.

If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments!

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