What is the Ideal Length for a Photography Contract?
“Your contract is too long. I’m not signing this.”
“Why do I even need to sign a contract, you’re just taking some
These are two of the more common objections you will get when requiring potential clients to sign your contracts. The client may not like the idea at the onset, but it is necessary for you, the photographer, to protect your business.
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There is no one answer to how long a contract should be. There is no formula which says X percentage of your clientele will walk away if your contract is X pages long. As trite as it sounds, a good contract is as long as it needs to be. While this sounds like an answer that a student might expect from a teacher when asking how long a writing assignment needs to be, it is really the only correct answer.
If you were to set a limit of two pages in length, that length might work for some clients, but fail miserably with other clients. Your contract’s length will be dictated by the contractual provisions you and your client elect to utilize in the contract, no more, no less. It really is all about the content and the provisions, that’s it.
You can always expect some clients to look at you askance when you place your contract in front of them. You can expect some client pushback in these situations. But, I want you to consider this: Do you want to pander to a client at the onset and end up disappointing them when the job is complete?
The answer is undeniably, No. It will be better to sit down with the balking client and explain to them how important of a legal tool a contract can be. You will want to communicate to your client how the contract protects both parties, setting in stone the duties and obligations of each. Explain to your client how your contract is to ensure that each client is happy with the end product that they receive.
If the client still refuses. Well, it is never a good idea to let a client dictate your business’ policies and procedures. Although, as a photographer, you may feel that this happens more often than not. A good photographer will always be listening to her clients, evaluating and reworking her business model based on this feedback. Yet, you should not let the clients rule the roost.
Remember, it is your business, not the client’s. It is your name that is attached, or should be attached, to your work. Do not go into contract cutting mode simply because a client feels that the contract is too long. Do not forgo the use of a contract simply because it makes a few clients walk away. A contract protects your name, your image, and the integrity of your work. Stand firm and communicate to a leery client that a contract helps them, let the reluctant client know that your contract is utilized to preserve the quality of your work.
However, if more than just a few clients are leery about your contract’s length or certain provisions in your contract, reevaluate the contract. If you feel that the terms and conditions in the contract are sound, educate your clients on why you believe the contrary provision is necessary.
Once again, let them know that the contract is to protect both parties to the bargain. Explain that the contract outlines the expectations of both parties, enabling both parties to clearly understand the duty and obligations they owe to all other parties to the contract. It functions as a roadmap, so that each party will know what will happen within the confines of the contractual relationship.
In considering whether to cut length from your contract, sit down and think: “As a small business owner, are there enough policies and provisions within the contract to thoroughly protect myself and my business? Are the provisions worded concisely, simply, and expressly? Are the terms and conditions covering what I need them to, or do I have provisions within the contract that do not even apply to my business model?”.
If you see provisions that do not apply to your business model, then you are not adhering to them anyway; go ahead and cut out those provisions. Why have the useless provision in the contract to begin with? Unless a provision is working for you and your business, then you are needlessly obligating yourself to further duties and obligations for no further consideration (money).
This method of analyzing your contract is sure to cut down on its length. But, once again, length is irrelevant; you want a quality contract, not a contract absent important protections, or over inclusive adding to your business’s duties and obligations. The whole process comes down to this: READ YOUR CONTRACT. Know it like the back of your hand; be comfortable with its terms and conditions and fluent in the application of each provision. A potential client will see how comfortable and confident you are with your contract and this will help stem client pushback.
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Upon initial consultation with a potential client, sit down and give them a copy of your contract. Heck, you can even email them a copy of your contract before the first meeting; this may be more effective anyway. Whatever you elect to do, ensure that the client has read your contract and is familiar with the terms and conditions contained therein.
Spend the first fifteen minutes of your consultation explaining the contract and answering any questions that the client may have. This allows the client to know right off the bat how the contract works to protect both parties. It lets the client know that this is how business will be conducted and it allows you to listen to client feedback; giving you wiggle room to work, while ensuring that you are actively protecting your business at all levels.
In reference to emailing a client your contract, in my opinion, this is best practice. Publish the contract, using Microsoft Office, Libre Office, or whatever program you use, as a PDF. This will let the client print the contract, read it, put it on an iPad or smartphone, but prevent the client from changing the contract or editing it in any manner.
Since it is so easy just to email a potential client a copy of the contract, why would you not provide them a digital copy? The majority of your clients will at least have a modicum of tech savviness. It will allow them to look over the contract at their leisure without having to carry around a large and cumbersome document.
An electronic copy will also cut down on client pushback and assuage any apprehension a client might feel about signing a contract. A manageable electronic document seems more appropriate when you are doing a typical general photography session. A client who just wants you to take a few photographs, or to take senior portraits is not expecting a big ol’ paper document to sign. A digital copy is an efficient and easy way to safely enable you to enact business with a smaller client.
However, do your best to read the room. A client booking your studio for a commercial project will expect a paper contract, a lack of a hard copy contract may convey a lack of professionalism to some vendors. A client who contracts with your studio to photograph a wedding, since it is a huge day or weekend long event, will also, more likely than not, expect a paper document.
If after explaining the contract to a client, listening to their feedback, and negotiating contractual provisions with the client, the client still decides not to book your studio because of your contract, take this action as a “red flag”. If the client is not willing to enact a contract binding both parties to act in a professional manner, then this client is probably not one with which you should work. The contract may have just enabled you to avoid a “trouble” client.
A contract is a tool to open up a dialogue between you and your client. Utilize it as such. Allow it to open up channels of communications regarding the expectations of both parties. If a potential client indicates they are not willing to work with your policies, even in a streamlined format, who is to say that the client will adhere to your instructions and requests at a later date?
So, there’s just a little tidbit for you on how to use your contract, and why you even need one in the first place.
Remember, QUALITY not quantity is what is important. Make sure your contract is tailored, like a fine Italian suit, to cover your exact business policies and procedures. Above all, KNOW YOUR CONTRACT! You need to have an intimate knowledge of what it contains so that you can effectively and fluently convey the information to your potential clients.
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Here at TheLawTog, we have photography contract templates with which you can start constructing your ideal contract. These contract templates have been drafted by persons in a unique industry position. The template providers are both qualified lawyers and professional photographers. This means that the individuals who constructed these legal templates have an intimate knowledge of the photography industry. They know what provisions to suggest based upon their own personal experience.
In my opinion, and admittedly I am prejudiced, these contract templates give you the most bang for your buck. They are pretty robust, because you never know when you might later need to include more contractual provisions. This is even more true as your business grows and you take on a heavier client work load.
These contracts are intended to be tailored for you and for your business. But, as I have stated multiple times, these contracts are like off the rack suits; they still need to be hemmed and fitted to order. The contracts provide enough depth for bigger studios but are compatible with even the smallest studio.
As with all contracts, remember to read the document. You can save the master template and utilize only the provisions you currently need. As your business expands and you gain more experience, you will know what provisions work and what provisions are missing. Then you can go back to the master template and pull the needed provisions into your contract.