I was recently working on landing a new client that I was excited to work with. Everything went great, they accepted my quote, they sent a great creative brief and it looked like everything was going to go smoothly.
When it came time to make it official I sent my normal working contract over to them to have a look at and make sure they agreed to my terms. It’s a short contract that covers the basics; deposit up front, kill fees and intellectual property transfer. I’ve tried to make it as fair as possible for both sides, so I was a little shocked when I got their reply.
“Call me, the CEO thinks you’re going to sue us.”
I gave them a call and they explained they had been taken advantage of in the past, after signing unfair contracts. The CEO was dubious of any contract as a result.
This was a problem because as a rule, I don’t work without one. Somehow we would have to meet in the middle.
The fist step was explaining why I have a contract. It’s not to allow me to squeeze more money out of clients, or get them into a legally vulnerable position. It’s so that both sides of the arrangement know what they are expected to give, and what they will get out of the transaction. I want to make sure everything is clearly defined, so no one is disappointed.
A contract effectively is a list of things that each side of an arrangement can expect of each other, and what is required of each in the transaction.
Discovering the real problem
A lot of times people are afraid of contracts in contract form, but will easily agree to everything they contain. The best solution I can think of here is to make the contract less intimidating, without backing down on your terms.
How I solved it
Rather than tell the client that I can’t work without a contract, I reworked it into something they could accept.
I offered to draft up a list of expectations and rules, in plain English, we could both agree too.
This will serve the exact same purpose as a contract, but perhaps without the stigma of the legal system ( and being sued ) attached. I’ll admit this isn’t as good as having a concrete lawyer drafted contract, but in this instance I was willing to accept the small personal risk rather than have no contract at all, or lose the client.
I reworded all of the contents of my contract into plain English and emailed it to them asking that they send a confirmation email if they agreed. They responded immediately with full acceptance.
The problem wasn’t the contact of the contract, but rather the format.
I’d love to hear if any of you have similar stories of clients afraid of contracts. and how you handled it!
Do you have a technique to take the intimidation out of contracts without leaving yourself unprotected? Let’s talk in the comments.
• • • •
If you’re like most freelancers and get stuck when it comes to contracts, our ebook bundle Contracts For Creatives can help! Inside the bundle, you’ll find a full ebook jumpstart guide that teaches you left-brained legal concepts in a way us right-brainers can digest easily. Plus, you’ll get three bonus items: contract templates to help you draft your own contracts quickly and easily, 5 extra legal essays (written for right-brainers too), and a legal glossary. You can learn more and take a peek inside the ebook bundle by clicking here.
Please note, GDB is not a legal agency. Our advice is based solely on our own opinions and experience; please consult with legal aid if you have questions.