Bringing you a guest post this week! Rachel Rodgers, creator of Small Business Bodyguard, is talking today about the biggest legal mistake photographers make. 

You aren’t just a photographer, you’re a small business owner. You’re the boss; the big cheese, the head honcho. And that is exciting, and affirming…and scary as hell.

Because being a business owner comes with a lot of responsibility, especially if you’re a photographer.

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Running a photography business comes with lots of questions like, oh, I dunno …

  • What’s the important stuff to put in contracts?
  • What about policies? What do I do if a client wants their money back?
  • Who is allowed to use my photos? And how do I find out who is doing so without my permission?
  • What happens when someone steals my photos?
  • Do I need to copyright my photos even if I’m just starting out?
  • What’s the best biz entity for me? What if I’m not being paid yet?
  • What insurance coverage do I need?
  • When do I know it’s time to get a lawyer and how do I find a good one?

Creating a proper legal foundation may not be fun, but it’s what smart photographers do to make sure they don’t have to worry about things like contract disputes, being sued, unintentionally giving away their intellectual property, and paying way too much in taxes.

Photographers, stop making this legal mistake in your business! Click To Tweet

>> Related: Ali B. Photography Website Makeover

The good news is that taking care of the legal stuff does not have to be hard, expensive or incredibly time consuming. For example, you can protect yourself and your business from a whole host of legal issues simply by having a solid contract with every client. Which leads me to the number one legal mistake I see photographers making:

Not having a reliable client service agreement with every single client.

It’s not enough to have a handshake or a friendly conversation. None of those will sufficiently cover your butt when the excrement hits the wind-machine. A client service agreement is all about your relationship with your clients and it’s capital ‘E’ Essential. It’s imperative that your clients know what to expect when working with you and what their responsibilities are in the transaction.

A well-drafted client service agreement memorializes the basic terms of your relationship with your client. It also provides next steps in the event something unexpected happens. It can prevent disagreements and confusion with your customers, which in turn can prevent any need for litigation.

Here are a few things to make sure you cover in your client service agreement so that you can avoid tons of heart-and-wallet-ache later:

  • What happens when a client fails to show up at their appointment?
  • How many calls/emails/meetings with you can the client expect?
  • When and how will the photos be delivered?
  • When and how will the client pay you?
  • What happens if payment is late?
  • Will you provide hair and makeup?
  • What rights to the photos is the client purchasing?
  • What are the terms of the client’s license to use the photos?

But what about all that other stuff?

The stuff at the end of your client service agreement is called boilerplate. These are standard clauses that are often found at the end of a contract to protect you if there is misunderstanding, confusion, or just plain trouble-at-the-OK-corral during the relationship with your client. The boilerplate clauses control what happens when the parties to the agreement disagree.

For example, the limitation of liability clause is meant to do just that: it limits the amount of liability you could have if an issue arises with your client. In other words, thanks to this clause, the amount of money a problem will cost you is limited and won’t be inflated by extra, over-the-top damages.

Another important clause in the boilerplate is called recovery of litigation expenses (also known as the attorney’s fees clause which is such a better name, right?). The typical attorney’s fees clause allows the winning party of a lawsuit to recover their attorney’s fees and other costs incurred to bring the lawsuit to enforce the agreement. In other words, if the judge agrees to it, then whomever wins gets their attorney’s fees covered. Which is awesome, because some attorneys can be really expensive. (Not me though, I’m worth every penny — wink).

Some other important boilerplate items to include are:

  • No Guarantees clause states that the service provider (that’s you) cannot guarantee a particular outcome.
  • Transfer of Intellectual Property. This section is mega important because it states how and under what circumstances the intellectual property is transferred from the service provider to the client.
  • Entire Agreement; Modifications; and Waiver. This clause states that what is written in the contract is the entire agreement between the parties. That means that emails, conversations, and other statements made between the parties are not a part of the agreement. This section also requires that any modifications to the agreement be done in writing.

And here’s one last tip to make this whole contract thing super easy: use HelloSign or a similar app to have all of your client’s sign your client service agreement electronically. Electronic signatures are totally legit and you’ll have a much easier time getting your contracts signed quickly by every single client.

So write a sticky note on your desk, set a reminder on your phone, get it tattooed on your bicep—whatever you have to do to add a solid client service agreement into your regular client onramp, DO IT. You will feel so protected and happy and that will probably show in your photographs (maybe I made this up, but go with it).

Wanna protect your photography business from rookie status, lawsuits, unnecessary taxes, and other scary things? Check out our NEW resource Legal Nunchucks: For Photographers: self-defense for your photography business.

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