You’ve spent months and years learning the craft, getting to know your camera inside and out, diving deep into your passion to formulate your own style, investing in workshops, e-books, and Photoshop actions and Lightroom presets, spent time portfolio building, and now you’re ready to hang out your sign and set up shop. You are ready to start charging clients for your photography skills. Regardless of what type of photography you specialize in, you should have a written legal agreement between you and your client covering the work you are to do for them. This is an important step in your business growth and an important step to include in your client relationship. Here are 5 reasons why you should use contracts with your clients.
1. TO BE MORE PROFESSIONAL
Clients will know you mean business and that you run your operation as an official and legal business. They will know you have spent time and effort into putting your business together and that you value yourself as a businessperson and not just as an artist. We all know that first impressions are immediate and lasting – just imagine how the client will feel when you whip out your professionally-prepared portrait or wedding agreement for them to sign! They will think, “wow! She really knows what she’s doing! I can trust her.” It will bring them peace of mind and an added comfort level that they know they are working with a true professional.
2. TO PROTECT YOURSELF AND YOUR BUSINESS
The main legal reason why you should have a contract with your clients is to protect yourself and your business. If the client fails to pay you for the work you did or the products they purchased, the amount due and the timing of payments, as well as any late fees or returned check fees, will be laid out in the agreement, and will assist in your ability to collect payment. If the client uses the digital files in a way that they are not allowed to under the written agreement, you will have written proof of what the client agreed to and that they are breaching those terms by doing something else. If the client cancels or reschedules, your terms will help protect your time and the money owed to you under the agreement. Also, there are a number of provisions that can be included in your written agreements to protect you from liability in the case of damage to your deliverables (film negatives or digital files), personal injury, or damage to personal property.
3. TO MEMORIALIZE YOUR BUSINESS POLICIES
This goes hand in hand with number two above and four below. Your contract should include all of the terms and conditions that govern the photographer-client relationship. Your client is agreeing to these terms and conditions when they sign the agreement. Meaning, the client agrees to the number of hours of coverage, the total amount due, the timing of delivery and what exactly is delivered, what happens in the event of a reschedule or a cancellation, and what they can do or not do with the digital files, to name a few. This is all written out for the client to see and agree to. If they want to do business with you, these are the terms by which the relationship will be governed.
4. TO PREVENT CONFUSION + MANAGE EXPECTATIONS
At the same time as you are memorializing your business policies, you are clearly communicating what you are providing to the client so that the client knows exactly what they are getting. This prevents confusion and manages their expectations so that later on they can’t come back and claim they thought they were getting something else or paying a different price or getting more hours or more files, etc. When you leave something up to a verbal exchange (or text or email for that matter), there is a lot of room for misunderstanding and confusion.
5. TO PROTECT THE CLIENT
As stated above, the client feels more comfortable knowing that what you are providing is laid out for them to read and understand and look back on for reference. If you fail to deliver what is promised and agreed to in the agreement, they have recourse, and that makes them feel safe. Also, for different types of photography, different concerns will be addressed in the agreement and that also protects the client’s interest. For example, in a boudoir photographer agreement, there should be provisions regarding the privacy of the images, whether or not the client wants to give a model release, and what happens if the ordered products end up in the wrong hands. In a birth photography agreement, what happens if the photographer can’t make it to the birth in time or if the hospital decides the photographer isn’t allowed to photograph an emergency c-section? Each type of photographer-client relationship will have it’s own issues to address in the agreement to alleviate any of the client’s concerns.
In summary, having a written agreement with your client sets you up for success instead of setting yourself up for potential challenges that can be avoided and could cause issues for your growing business. It also will help you think about, identify, and solidify your own business policies for how you want to run YOUR business. It is a simple step to add into your client workflow and adds great value to you and your business, elevating your level of professionalism.