The Basic Provisions Every Creative Needs in Their Client Contract

contracts Jun 06, 2019

Contracts Need to be Specific and Clear

You need a contract. I need a contract. We all need a contract. I won’t dwell on that bit. Here’s what I want you to know about a contract. While a contract is a legal document, it need not have legalese. A good contract is a simple contract.

If both parties to a contract don’t understand the terms then it’s a shitty contract. It doesn’t help clearly communicate your rolls. It might still help you in a lawsuit, but it won’t help prevent problems.

Contracts need to be specific and clear. Do me a favor. Have a friend read through your contract. Buy them lunch. Then grill them with questions. When would you pay me a client. What happens if you pay late, or I cancel, or your drunk uncle grabs my butt while I’m in the middle of photographing your wedding?

If you your friend can’t answer those questions. It’s time for a redraft..

Ok, we got the intro out of the way. Let’s talk nuts and bolts.

Here some of the key provisions your contract needs.

Background Information

The beginning portion of your client service agreement should include information about the parties, including names, and possibly addresses. Here, you should consider who is the party you’re contracting with.

Do yourself a favor and only enter a contract with one other person. Ideally, the person actually making the decision, not mom who has the credit card.

If your client is a representative of a company, you should discuss and specify if you are contracting with the company represented by your client or by the client individually.

If you have an LLC, make sure you’re specifying your LLC as the party to the contract. Also note if you have a DBA. Example: This contract is by and between Braden Drake LLC, dba Creativepreneur Consulting and Meryl Photography.

Scope of Services

Scope creep. We have all been there right?

“Hey, can you edit this photo again. I’d prefer one less chin.”

“Thanks, so much but I think the green is like a little too green. You know what I mean. Can you make it like a yellower green?”

“O my goodness! I’m so excited for the wedding. I just found out my friend and her boyfriend she met three days ago are going to be in town. Can you add two extra dinners and seats to our reception? Thanks.”

Most of the time, our clients aren’t trying to be a pain in the ass. However, when we quote them before entering a contract, we are providing a quote for a specified scope of services.

It’s important that our contract carefully detail what those services are and how it will be handled if additional services are requested.

Terms of Payment, Cancellation, & Refund Policy

Here, the contract needs to speak to what your retainer or deposit fee is, the payment plan, when you expect the payment and what happens if the client doesn’t pay on time.

For example, you may put in a clause that would have you keep a portion or the whole retainer if there is a last-minute cancellation of the contract by the client or if the client refuses to pay according to the payment terms.

It’s helpful to set a definite cancellation period without penalties. Then, describe what a late cancellation is and what portion of the retainer you get to keep and how much of the fee you get to keep if there is a last-minute cancellation. There may be several scenarios here. The portion of the fee you keep can vary depending on the reason of the cancellation.

For instance, something neither you nor the client could anticipate compared to the client changing her mind after you have already made the arrangements and bookings in your schedule.  Basically, consider the when, what, where, how, and even sometimes why.

Entire Agreement

Typically, you want an “entire agreement” provision that says something like:

“This Agreement contains the entire agreement of the parties.  No other agreement, statement, or promise made on or before the effective date of this Agreement will be binding on the parties.”

This provision makes it crystal clear that something you discussed in an email or phone call is not actually a binding obligation if it’s not in the contract.


You generally want a provision that states on the contract can be modified. I recommend stating that your contract can only be amended if in writing signed by both parties.

Non-Disparagment Clause

Non-disparagement clauses are causing more and more controversy today, so I briefly wanted to touch upon that. Non-disparagement clauses prohibit a person from expressing any negative experiences they have associated with the contract.  

While California allows the use of non-disparagement clauses in employment and severance contracts, under California Civil Code section 1670.8, the use of “non-disparagement” clauses in consumer contracts is prohibited. Violation penalties vary between $2,500 and $10,000. This means that not only such clauses are not enforceable for photography contracts on California, but you may be penalized for trying to introduce such clause into your contract.

Dispute Resolution

It is always a good idea to set a protocol for dispute resolution and mention the governing law of the contract. That’s the jurisdictional law that will apply in case you do not resolve the dispute and end up having to go to court. Typically, you would go to court at the place of where your business established, or where the services were provided.  For effective dispute resolution you may suggest mediation first.


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