I almost feel as though I am preaching to the choir in this post. I think most professionals would never dream of allowing a potential client or a third party to alter their contract in any way. While I am always open to suggestions, and am happy to answer questions, I can honestly say I have never had someone try to manually add or change my contract, and I’m grateful for that because I would not allow it. While I may agree to whatever change/clarification, etc. is being requested, I would make the change myself in the document file and then forward that on to the client myself. For instance, I have a clause in my contract that outlines photography rights, basically saying that I will share any photos taken by my staff or myself with the client, and that they will share images from their professional photographer with me upon receipt of them. I once had a very private and reserved couple say that they would prefer their photos not be shared on my blog or website. We discussed this through carefully, I explained to them that I need to be able to showcase my work in order to obtain future clients and we agreed that I could use photos of the reception details only. I amended the photography clause to outline this compromise, they we all signed the contract and acted accordingly. No biggie.
Recently, I had two vendors ask/tell me to make changes to their contracts that were sent to me as word document files. Their casual approach to their business contract amazed me, and I have been wanting to post about it for some time. Following are some background details on each:
Photographer: In this instance, the photographer’s contract did not include the mailing address and telephone number. The client needed this info in order to be able to mail the deposit and final payment, as well as to be able to reach the photog with any questions. Additionally, there were several blanks that were to be filled in, such as photography start time, end time, bride’s getting ready address, addresses for ceremony and reception site, couple’s mailing address after the wedding, etc. I didn’t want to write this in because the type was so small. I sent an email with the request for the photographer’s address and phone to be added, along with the addresses and other info that photog wanted. They replied back, asking me to make the changes to the contract and email it back to them.
First of all, while gathering the information from my client and forwarding that to vendors as needed does fall within the scope of my responsibilities, amending and completing the contract does not.
Second of all, If I were a dishonest person, I could have changed anything in the contract that I wanted to because the photographer basically gave me complete access to it. Maybe the photographer would catch any changes, maybe they wouldn’t. Of course I didn’t do this, but you get my point. What if I accidentally made a typo in fee amounts or number of hours of service included?
Now, to be fair, this is a photographer that I consider a friend and work with on a regular basis. In the interest of time, I did make the additions myself in order to get the contract complete for my client. In hindsight, I think my willingness to help sent the wrong message. I won’t do this again.
Reception Band: In this instance, the band’s contract seemed to indicate that they required guest meals and access to the bar. I suggested to my client that they receive a vendor meal just like the other vendors. The contract also seemed to be very strict in their requirements for a rain plan. In fact, it seemed to indicate that they required to be moved indoors in case of inclement weather. This was not possible at this venue, so I needed to address it prior to the contract being signed. The contract also requested a very specific electrical set-up, and access to two separate, private areas for both the male and female members of the band to get dressed. Again, not possible at the venue we were working with, so I verbally addressed it on the phone with the band manager. He assured me that they would work with us and understood the limitations of the venue. I asked him to add notes or amendments to the contract to cover the issues we had discussed. He was hesitant to do so, and both my client and I were uneasy about signing based on verbal agreement only. The band manager suggested that I type our conversation up in an email and send it and he would reply with “ok”. In the process of hashing this out, my client took the initiative to type everything up as agreed and added it to the end of the band’s contract (sent to us as a word document file) under a general “Amendments” title. The band countersigned and deposited the check. I would like to say that on the wedding day, there were no issues and the band did a great job.
However, in my opinion, as with the photographer’s contract mentioned above, amending the contract should not have become the responsibility of myself or my client. The contract holder needs to be in control of the document/file at all times. I would go so far as to say that contracts should ALWAYS be sent out in a “read only” format. For me, that means my contract is sent out in a protected PDF document that only I can alter.
If you are sending your contracts out in an unprotected word document or excel format, please stop now. You can thank me later.
Here’s a hypothetical situation: Let’s say the final amount on your contract for services to a client is $4,810. Let’s say you started at $5,000 and the client talked you down a bit, asked for a discount or opted to omit an item to bring their pricing down to the agreed upon $4,810. You agree and tell them to make the change to your word document contract that you have already emailed to them with fill in the blank areas for pricing and services. They make the amendment, but accidentally transpose the final amount due to $4,180. Neither of you notice the error, the contract gets signed and countersigned. You just lost $630 due to a typo, unless of course, your client is wonderfully honest and understanding. Also, what do you have to back up the originally agreed upon price of $4,810? Emails or was it a verbal discussion? Good luck to you.
Let’s take this one step further and remove the wedding industry element from the equation. Hypothetically, you are selling your car. Let’s say you are asking for $10,000. A buyer comes in, asks for you to add new floor mats, a new stereo installed and offers $9,500. You agree to new floor mats and $9,500 but no stereo. They hesitantly agree – they really wanted the new stereo. Would you then forward the contract or bill of sale to them and ask them to type in the changes? Of course not, this person is a complete stranger and you don’t want to get screwed. You would make the changes (or have an attorney make them for you) and go from there.
Business is no place for casual attitudes towards contracts. It doesn’t matter how many times you have worked with another vendor, that you may be friends outside of work, etc. Protect your contracts like you protect your reputation.
Also, don’t put the responsibility of making additions or corrections to your contract on the client or a third party (such as the wedding planner). First of all, it isn’t their responsibility, it is yours, and secondly, you are putting them in an awkward situation. Not to mention that depending on their schedule, the entire contract process could be held up because I can almost guarantee they weren’t counting on being your legal assistant.
If you should have any questions about why protecting your contract is important to your business, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.