How To Protect Yourself With Event Contracts
Do you need event contracts in place because you worry that your event clients won’t pay you or maybe you’ve had to chase your client to get paid for services you’ve already provided?
While I hope this doesn’t or hasn’t happened to you, getting stiffed is something every business owner worries about at some point in her career.
Most of us operate on good faith that we’ll get paid for the services we provide and that our clients will honor their agreement to pay us, and on time.
Why Event Contracts Are Important
Unfortunately I had to learn this lesson the hard (and expensive!) way, but I’m the first to admit that it was my fault because I didn’t have proper event contracts in place. 🙁
When we don’t take the time to get the right event contract in place before we start planning a client’s event, it sets us up for loss and disappointment.
The good news – there are a few simple things you can do to protect your business, yourself, and your clients.
If you’re wondering how to safeguard yourself from problem or non-paying clients, listen and learn from legal guru, Annette Stepanian, as she shares how to protect yourself, and what you should and shouldn’t include in your event contracts.
Annette and I would love to hear from you.
After watching the video, in the comments, let us know if you have any questions about event contracts.
We love hearing your thoughts and ideas but links to other posts will be deleted because they come across as SPAM.
Thanks for joining us; I look forward to reading your comments.
[00:00:00] Melanie: What you should and shouldn’t include in your event contracts. That’s what we’re talking about today on EventPlanning BlueprintTV. Hey event planners, welcome back to EventPlanning BlueprintTV. My guest today is Annette Stepanian, who is a lawyer for creative entrepreneurs, and what Annette does is she helps you grow and build your event planning business, so welcome to the show, Annette. Thanks so much for being here.
Annette: Oh thank you so much for inviting me. I’m excited.
[00:00:29] Melanie: I am as well. So I’m just going to turn it over to Annette quickly so she can give you a little bit more about her story and her background, and then we’ll get into the interview.
Annette: Thanks. Yeah, so as you mentioned, Melanie, I am an attorney for creative entrepreneurs, and I work with different business owners across different business fields, just to help them kind of digest the law a little bit and get them set up so it’s not so scary and they can go back to doing what they love to do, which is [00:00:55]. My experience is I practiced law at a national law firm for five years. I was living the dream, but I just was not fulfilled. It’s kind of a common story for most attorneys. So I took a leap of faith and I left my job and I started my creative business, a jewelry line, and fell completely in love with this community of small business owners, creatives, and a lot of people started coming to me for my legal advice. So I thought, hey, this is kind of a nice niche. I can combine my legal background with my love of creatives and small business. So now I merged the two and this is what I do.
[00:01:33] Melanie: Amazing, I love it. And we have some of your tools, your event contracts on our website, Event Planning Blueprint, and we’re going to talk specifically about event planning today, even though I know you encompass all creative businesses, and event planning is definitely a creative business. So let’s just start with what are some of the key issues that you hear over and over again? Things like maybe “How do I get paid? I want to make sure I get paid.”
Annette: That’s a big thing across any business. Yeah, that’s a big thing across any business. Of course, I think having a event contracts is definitely a step in that direction. You want to make sure you have something in writing that binds not only you, but also your client. So that’s the first step, and I think most people get that. But in terms of what you put into your event contracts, one of the reasons why I love event contracts is it clarifies the parties’ expectations. It’s a vehicle in which you can communicate to your client, “Hey, this is how I operate. This is how I expect to get paid. This is how things work,” and I think it’s important for you as an owner to think through those things. And as you proceed in your business and you learn about – “I’m coming across this pitfall” – you can tweak your contract to kind of circumvent those issues. But in terms of making sure you get paid, obviously you want to have your payment terms in your contract. One thing I see a lot of event planners do, which I like to suggest a different approach, most commonly, event planners will take a deposit initially upon signing of the contract, and then they’ll take the remainder maybe two weeks before they do the event, and so there’s this huge gap in between where they’re doing all this work and they’re not getting paid. And so what I like to recommend is to see if you can divide your work process into different phases and milestones. So for instance, let’s say there’s the first phase is finding vendors or finding venues and booking them. And the second phase is maybe doing all the logistic-related styling or organizing the event. And the third phase is actually running the event. So what I would recommend is if you can tie your payment terms to each project milestone, so let’s say after you guys have done your venue search and booking, you get paid. Then and only then do you continue to the next phase. So that’s one way to not leave it to until…and here you’re doing all this work and not getting paid.
[00:04:05] Melanie: I love that. That’s a great strategy for any entrepreneur, but especially in event planning, because it always is a concern. And it’s common, unfortunately, that people do run up against this where they’re not getting paid or they’re not getting paid on time or they’re worried about it. So what a great way to set, like you said, those milestones for them if those are your categories that Annette just mentioned. It makes it really simple and really simple to lay out in your event contracts as well. So that’s great. So you mentioned the event contracts, so let’s just talk about those for a little bit because there’s always a concern around them, like what should I have in my contract? Who should sign it? Or say for example, you were planning a wedding and the parents are paying for that wedding, but it’s your wedding and you’re the one organizing it along with the event planner, who do you get to sign the contract?
Annette: I know, that’s a great question. So there’s this concept in U.S. common law. It’s called privity in contract. So basically it says that your responsibilities and the duties that are owed are to the parties to the contract, and you can’t bind somebody or impose obligations on somebody who is not a party to a contract. So this is kind of a tricky question because if you want… If let’s say you enter into contract with a parent, let’s say, who was paying for someone’s wedding for instance, they are technically your clients. So you owe all your responsibilities to the parent, which might create issues with the bride and groom. So you have to think about whom is your client, whom do you want to report to, essentially, and be responsible to. So most people, I would recommend, if let’s say it’s someone’s wedding, you work with the bride and groom, and it’s the bride and groom’s responsibility to make sure you get paid, so whether that’s coming from their own pockets or somebody else’s pocket, your rights and obligations and duties are owed to the bride and groom and vice versa.
[00:06:15] Melanie: Okay, that’s good to know, and I guess it’s up to the event planner to kind of manage that relationship. You have to anyways, whether it’s bride and groom and the parents, or it’s someone in HR, the CEO, the CEO is paying, that’s a lot of managing. So what are some best practices for event planners either around the event contracts or even managing those relationships so that they do get paid on time and they don’t have to worry about any of the things that come along with – what’s the word I’m looking for here… I’ll cut this part because I’m stumbling a little too much – what… sorry, I totally lost my train of thought…
Annette: It’s breaking up a little bit, but don’t worry. It’s just breaking up. I don’t know if you’re getting it.
[00:07:06] Melanie: I am, and the thing is what I do is I actually transcribe them anyways, so I’m not too worried about it, and sometimes when it’s recorded, it’s not as bad as what it seems like for us.
Annette: Okay, great.
Melanie: So that’s why I just kind of go with it, because I never really know until I look at the video, but it’s fine. It is breaking up a little but I can still make out what you’re saying.
[00:07:30] Melanie: So let’s just go back to what we were just talking about. You had just made a point…
Annette: Whether someone has relationship issues, how you can manage that relationship to make sure you get paid on time.
Melanie: Yeah, okay. Thanks.
Annette: No worries. No worries.
Melanie: This happens sometimes.
Annette: Oh my God, it’s totally fine.
Melanie: That’s why I love recording.
Annette: Right, I know, I was about to say. Thank God for that, we’re not live, but even then, it’s real, right?
[00:07:59] Melanie: So Annette, just share with us, because there’s a lot of managing of relationships that go on, and the event contracts give you that legal binding piece of paper, but you still have to either manage your relationship, as an event planner, manage your relationship with the bride and groom and the parents, especially if they parents are paying and they’re the ones who signed the contracts, but it’s really the bride and groom’s dreams that your fulfilling. Or even if you’re a corporate event planner doing fundraising, you may run into a similar issue where somebody else is paying for it and you’re dealing with maybe an assistant or someone in HR or another employee. So do you have any suggestions or best practices for event planners on how to deal with that, and then how it relates specifically to contracts?
Annette: In terms of managing the relationship, I think it’s true of any relationship, it’s about communication and about being really clear about what you’re providing and what you aren’t providing, and again, what your expectations are and what your clients’ expectations are, and that’s something that I think should be done initially before you enter into a contract, but then when you do enter into a contract, all those things are outlined. So you put in your services to be performed, I recommend you get really specific and just say, “This is what I’m doing. This is what I’m not doing,” I mean even down to a meal for my assistants and I at the event. You want to get that all very clear so there are no surprises and issues later on. In terms of payment, I think it’s really important to get a system in place where you can timely follow up with people and invoice them on a regular basis, because one, it keeps you from losing out for missing invoices, but also, it communicates to the other person that this is a business and you treat it seriously, and that let’s say you have a late fee in your event contracts that says that if you don’t pay on time, I charge a $25 late fee for every day late. You want to be on top of those things so that people treat you with that professionalism that you are portraying and expecting to be treated with.
[00:10:16] Melanie: I think that’s a great point. I’ve had a number of friends who I’ve hired for different services, and they’ve always given me a contract, which sometimes feels weird if you’re doing it with family or friends, but at the same time, it definitely held us to a schedule and there was accountability there. So I agree, whether that’s friends or family or you’re planning events as a professional for clients, you need to get everything in writing, and even, like you said, down to that last detail. So I’m just going to throw out a scenario here and let me know kind of your thoughts on this, because I see this coming up or hear about this a lot where there’s an event planner who planned the event. They did everything that they were contracted to do, and then at the last minute, the client is just unhappy. And this happens in many types of events, it doesn’t really matter kind of events you plan, and then they want a refund. So they want a refund at the last minute because they weren’t happy with something that happened, maybe right at the event or leading up to the event. How would you deal with that in terms of writing that into your contract?
Annette: Well that’s interesting.
Melanie: Can you? Maybe you can’t and maybe it depends on the state and where you live.
Annette: You could include a refund policy under what conditions are refunds allowed, and it could be something like maybe you physically weren’t able to be there, but in terms of… You want to minimize how subjective the standards are going to be. So it’s like, “Okay, if I didn’t perform it to you expectations or I didn’t perform it to a level or a standard of X,” it should be, “Did I show up? Did I say that I was going to have the vendors all organized, I was going to have the tables set, I was going to have the programs out, whatever, all those things, did I perform all those things?” And if the answer is yes, you did perform all those things, then you’ve completed your part of the contract. But in terms of a refund policy, I mean I guess if there are certain things to a reasonable person you would think that would warrant a refund, you know, people didn’t show up, people were four hours late to the event, just things that just negate the reason why you would even be there or prevent you from performing the services you promised to do, then I think you can include a refund policy or something like that to that effect.
Melanie: Yeah, I agree.
Annette: Does that make sense?
[00:13:05] Melanie: Absolutely, it does make sense and I think having a refund policy is good backup. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to follow, because I think you said it, it’s subjective and communication is really key, and also just trusting that, you know what, if you messed up and they’re not happy, then you kind of have to manage that relationship and think about it long term rather than what’s in your event contracts. I think it’s a good thing to have in your event contracts as a backup and it does make it clear, but you’re right. It’s a subjective question and it comes up a lot, so I just wanted to get your advice on that.
Annette: Yeah, and I think it’s also important to disclaim any responsibility for other vendors’ performance. So if they hire a florist, for instance, and they bring out red roses instead of white roses, that is not your responsibility. That’s an issue that they have with that vendor. And so kind of clarifying those boundaries…
[00:14:03] Melanie: Right, but what happens when – that brings up a good question – if as the event planner, you’re the one hiring those vendors, because I’ve had to do that many times for clients where the vendors are my responsibility, and if something goes wrong, it all comes down to me, because they’ve hired me to hire those vendors. It doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes they have their own vendors or they have a preferred vendor they want to work with, and in that case, I get it, but you have to just kind of see how that work plays out too.
Annette: Absolutely. I think that if you’re kind of like… I think of it like building a house. You have a renovation. You have a general contractor and this person’s responsible for all these different subcontractors. Essentially you’re kind of the director and the coordinator, so then probably there’s some responsibility on your part on if anything needs to be double-checked or fixed or whatnot. I think, again, going back to it, it’s communication. Go back to that and say, “What is it you weren’t happy with? What can we do to fix it? Did I perform these services? Yes, I did.” You have to have that conversation and sometimes walk people back from a ledge.
[00:15:12] Melanie: Right, and sometimes it is just a matter of listening and not saying anything if it does come down to that, if that conversation does happen. So let’s just take a little bit of a turn. Still talking about event contracts and your legal rights, again this is something else that comes up in our community a lot, and it’s the copyrighting of pictures and content. There’s a lot of people who take pictures at their events, and then they use them as promotional tools on their websites, their blog posts, social media, and then they find out they’re being used elsewhere and not credited for that information or for those photos. Is there any way that you can copyright your photos or your content and protect yourself and your company?
Annette: Okay. Absolutely.
Melanie: It’s probably a really big question.
Annette: It is. It is, and I do teach on this topic because I find that there are a lot of questions and confusion. And I am only talking about U.S. copyright laws because that’s what I know, but essentially the concept of copyright is this form of protection that’s afforded by the laws and the United States, and it basically protects published or unpublished works of original authorship. So one question is to understand if this is something that can be copyrighted. So in the context of photos and content, yes it can. It falls within the right categories. The second issue is who owns the copyright? So if you are an event planner and you’re taking pictures of an event, but you’re actually taking pictures, or let’s say you have employed somebody and there is an agreement that if they’re your employee and they’re taking pictures, usually when somebody is performing within the scope of their employment, any type of content they create belongs to the employers, so you the event planner. Or you can come up with an agreement with a photographer that I’m going to own the copyright to these images. So assuming you own the copyright to the images, another issue that comes up is getting it released. So if you’re going to be posting pictures of the bride and groom or if you’re going to be posting pictures of the CEO of the company, you want to make sure you have a signed release from them, basically giving you permission to utilize images for your business purposes. But then finally, to get to your question of how to protect your copyright, so assuming all of that’s in place, so a lot of people don’t realize this but you are granted copyright protection at least under the laws of the United States the moment that your work takes a tangible form, so it’s the moment it’s expressed in a tangible manner. So the moment it’s on that digital memory card, it’s protected by copyright. It’s your creation. But there are obviously other steps you can do to more formally protect it. One, you can include the copyright notice, which is that C in a circle with the date in which it was published and the name of the copyright owner. You could file for copyright protection with the copyright office. You could do it online – it’s not complicated and not that expensive. So those are the formal ways you can protect yourself, but in terms of the realistic ways in which we operate in this world and just how everybody’s sharing everything and they feel like, “Okay, if it’s on the Internet, it’s free to take.” Photos, one thing you can do is people will include metadata so it has the name of the copyright owner, should it ever be taken, you can trace it back. You can include, like I said, a copyright notice on it, like a watermark. One thing they include is a content policy on their website or on their account saying, “Do not use without written permission,” or “If using, please credit.” There are ways in which you can do searches to find if your images are being utilized. So there’s Google Image Search. There are some other programs where you basically can do reverse search and find, “Okay, is this person taking my content?” And same for websites and content itself – it’s basically notifying the people, making it really obvious that this is something that’s protected under copyright – it’s your copyright or your copyrighted work, and policing it a little bit. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any way you can get some sort of notice that someone is using it other than kind of having your eyes and ears out there. I think there is a website, at least with content, it’ll give you a notice. It’s almost like a Google notice, but it’s not from Google, where you get something if someone grabs your content, so you can track down websites like that and see. It’s a balance.
[00:20:25] Melanie: It’s called Tynt – T-Y-N-T. They’re making others, but that is one of them that I actually use that one as well.
Annette: Okay, what does that do?
Melanie: So what it does is you have to put the code on your website, so let’s say you have a developer, just get them to copy and paste the code into your website, and then it tracks anytime your content has been shared or used, and each week it’ll send you an update and it’ll tell you which of those posts have been used, how many times and there’s a bunch more information which I don’t recall that they send to you.
Annette: Yeah, so there are tools out there. You have to think about do I really care? How much energy do I put into checking and tracking some of this activity down against it’s going to happen, unfortunately, and so long as they credit the source, then I’m okay with it.
[00:21:23] Melanie: Right, and you can always contact people too, if you are okay with it or – sorry, if you’re not okay with it, just a simple cease and desist. Just a nice email – this is my content. It doesn’t have to escalate into anything aggressive at the beginning, and then just follow it from there. I have a lot of people who will copy and paste information, and I do have things on my website to prevent the copy and pasting. You have to share it now, but I have contacted them and said, “I’m really happy that you share my content. Thank you, but please credit me for it.” It’s simple.
Annette: I find that the majority, they want to do the right thing. They just don’t know the rules and they find that everyone else is doing it so I guess it’s okay. And it’s a slippery slope and it’s dangerous, especially because there are those few people who out there who will contact you with a cease and desist order from an attorney. So again, that’s why it’s really important – what do I really care if it’s done? Do I want them to stop using it or do I just want them to credit it? Do I want them to pay me for it? So thinking through those things about the different content you create so you’re prepared should you find somebody utilizing your content without your permission, you know what to do.
[00:22:43] Melanie: I agree and you brought up a really great point again about how most people don’t know. And chances are if you don’t know what the rules are, they may not either, so just sending out a simple email saying, “Hey I noticed you shared it. Would you mind crediting me or please take it down, whatever you’re more comfortable with.” Sometimes, in many cases, having a credit on there is much more valuable to you because other people see it, they’ll come to your website and you might get business out of it.
Annette: Absolutely. Yeah, so that’s a personal decision.
Annette: And that’s a personal decision for everybody.
Melanie: Yeah, absolutely. This is great. So Annette and I would love to hear from you guys. If you have any questions about event contracts, please make a comment… I can’t seem to get this together today. I’m going to skip that part and go to it at the end. I don’t even know why I jumped into that. Anyways, I love editors. So Annette, thank you so much. I know we could talk for hours and hours about contracts and the ins and outs and what we should and shouldn’t have, and a lot of the time, you’re going to have to customize your contract for your event or the types of events that you plan, so I would love to know, because I know you started your business and you were working for – my God, sorry, I’m not usually… It’s usually at the beginning that this happens…
Annette: I must be distracting you with my charming good looks.
[00:24:07] Melanie: I know, I’ve got to stop looking. It’s the bright lights.
Annette: I know.
Melanie: Anyways, let me try that again. So Annette, thank you so much for all that information. I know that we could have a conversation about this for hours and hours and it does depend on the type of events that you’re planning. And you know, you may have to customize every contract for every event, but let me just ask you a question about your business. You went from working for a law firm to running your own business. What’s one thing that stopped you from getting started?
Annette: Oh my God, that’s a great question and I’ve been actually thinking about that a lot lately. I think entrepreneurship and running your own business is really a huge exercise in conditioning your mind and conditioning your thoughts. If you can master your own inner psychology, that is your key to success in anything that you do. I think a lot of what stopped me was my own thoughts in my own mind about what I could and couldn’t do, and fear of putting yourself out there, so I think if you can just acknowledge that that fear is always going to be there, listen to it and just say, “Okay, I hear you but I’m not going to do what you say and I’m just going to do this anyways,” that’s a huge step in the right direction.
[00:25:33] Melanie: I love that. Yeah, I think you’re right. You have to train your mind and realize that you can do it. It brings up a good point. It’s not totally on topic here, but I’m going to say it anyways. I was listening to a live – actually it was recorded – webinar yesterday, and it was from a hypnotherapist who works with celebrities, and her simple strategy for working with her clients is to write down, even if it’s on your mirror or on a sticky note, but to say, “I am enough.” And if you see that over and over and over again, and I think that happens a lot for entrepreneurs, because you get this feeling that, “What if I can’t do it? What if I don’t succeed? What if, what if, what if, what if,” and it can become a vicious cycle in your brain.
Annette: Oh my God, I could do a webinar series on this alone. It’s true. I think really entrepreneurship and running your own business really makes you so vulnerable and it makes you have to work through all of that and just slowly chip away at that. And if you could get through to the over side and just conquer that, you’re going to be that much better off.
[00:26:37] Melanie: It’s really true. I was saying to a friend a couple weeks ago, we were talking about business and starting a business or businesses in his case, and I just said to him, “I feel like I’ve had more tears in the last three years than I have ever shed in my life.” And sometimes they’re tears of joy and sometimes they’re like, “I have no idea what I’m doing.”
Annette: And you know what? It’s so nice and refreshing to hear that because I think that sometimes, I know I’ve sat in and I’ve watched videos just like the one we’re having right now, and I feel like, “Oh my gosh, she looks like she has it all together and everything looks so great,” but the reality is everybody goes through this. And maybe they’re not crying and eating bonbons like maybe you and I are, but everybody has that. And I think the greatest successes come after you maybe experience what you think is failure, because it motivates you and you learn from it and you go to the next one. So I hear you. I’ve had my fair share of tears and still have them, and it’s just part of the process.
[00:27:39] Melanie: I think it is. There’s always a little bit of self-doubt, and sometimes it’s a driving factor, at least it is for me, because I want to know that I can do this. So thank you for sharing that with us. I know there are a lot of people who are watching this who will resonate with that fear factor. So just before we sign off, I do want to mention that I do have some of Annette’s event contracts on my site. I’m going to put a link below for you guys. There is an agreement for event or wedding planning services, plus an independent contractor agreement, so make sure you click on that link and you can get access to those. And then just before we go, Annette, just share with us how we get in touch with you.
Annette: Yeah, you can find me at my website, and it’s my name, AnnetteStepanian.com, and that’s A-N-N-E-T-T-E-S-T-E-P-A-N-I-A-N-dot-com. There’s no H in my last name. And if you go to the top right hand corner, there’s a button called join and you can get on my mailing list and you can get a contract review checklist, and it’s 17 things that I recommend you look at before you sign a contract or send out a contract for review. You’ll also get an invitation to join my Facebook group and I’m in there every day having conversations just like this with a bunch of creatives from all around the world.
[00:28:55] Melanie: That is great. I love that you mentioned the contract checklist. I think that is perfect for everyone watching, so make sure you head over and see that. And just before we sign off, Annette and I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions about event contracts, please share them in the comments below and we’ll be sure to respond to you. And as always, thank you for joining us. If you like this content and you want to get more videos, make sure you subscribe to my YouTube channel at EventPlanning BlueprintTV, and make sure that you also head on over to eventplanningblueprint.com and sign up for a free weekly advice. Thanks everyone and I hope you all have a fantastic day.
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Disclaimer: This information is for educational and informational purposes only; it is not intended as and does not constitute legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and Ms. Stepanian. You should not act, or refrain from acting, on the basis of information provided here without first consulting legal counsel in your jurisdiction.