In honor of our favorite source for creative business contracts’ upcoming annual sale, today we’re sharing the (somewhat) juicy details of actual CJ deals gone wrong! In hopes that you won’t have to go through it yourselves, we’re recommending where you can find a creative business contract to get yourself legal and protected.
As creative business owners, it’s easy to get caught up in the creativity more than the business side of running your business. Whether it’s video, like us, or photography, event planning, painting, etc., if you’re a creative, that’s what you want to do: create.
When you’re first starting out, it’s common to begin offering your services at discounted or even free rates. You do this for the sake of creation. Your passion drives you, and you want to serve the world with those gifts!
In our case, not only had we just started our first business, but we also were brand new to Georgia. In an effort to connect with some of the local creatives here, we offered to do some video work for free.
We were so excited for the possibilities! Finally, we could be behind the camera showcasing really cool people doing really cool things here in the Atlanta wedding industry.
While we were eager to get started and make friends in the industry, we knew we’d be investing a lot of our precious time producing these short videos. We did our best to research and reach out to creatives who would value our pro-bono services.
But here’s the part where we admit our mistake: we didn’t send out any contracts. We assumed because we were donating our time and energy, a simple hand-shake transaction based on good faith would suffice.
And the first film was a success! We produced a valuable video asset that benefited the vendor’s business and more importantly, we made a friend!! It was a great experience. No issues to speak of, only positive memories.
We were excited to continue pumping out content after that first successful promo video. Since there had been zero issues not using a contract in round one, why would we start using one for the next pro-bono gig?
Next up: the lead singer of a local wedding band. After feeling that we had a great connection with the band, we agreed to produce a two-minute promo video for them. Several half-hour phone consultations later, we had a date and a location secured.
The production day arrived. By the time we got on set, it became clear that expectations were not on the same page (literally and figuratively). We’d realized the other band members did not know we were offering our services entirely for free, which created some tension and confusion.
A two-hour shoot turned into a six-hour shoot. Somehow, the lead singer had corralled other wedding vendors to participate and donate their services too.
Between outfit changes, makeup and hair adjustments, chatting with other (confused) vendors, we just had to accept the lack of control over the talent and the situation. Without a contract, there was no way to reign people in. We kept on filming whatever we could film.
Long story short, after about 40 hours of editing, we delivered a four-minute promo video for the band. We honored our word AND actually over-delivered!
As soon as we shared the video on Facebook, it received dozens and dozens of positive reactions, comments, and thousands of organic views. We were beyond proud and the lead singer was so, so grateful! They excitedly shared it online and praised our work to their networks of people.
The next morning, we received a call from the lead singer. The tone sounded stressed.
It came to our attention that one of the other band members did not like the audio quality of their musical performances. However, the lead singer didn’t necessarily agree the audio stunk. Confusing, right?!
After hearing them out, we explained that we understood they wanted changes. But after committing forty hours of time into the project, and delivering a video that was double the runtime we originally offered to create, we were unable to work for free any more. We had to move on to other projects. Paid projects. To pay our bills.
Though we did not feel the desired edits had objective merit, we were willing to make the requested changes, but couldn’t dedicate any more uncompensated time. Knowing they were initially on cloud nine with their video, the changes felt so subjective and random.
How did we know they wouldn’t continue to demand more editing changes? Where would we draw the line? A contract would have stated upfront what we define as reasonable re-editing request. Plus how much reedits, if desired, typically cost.
In this case, a lack of a contract meant a total lack of respect from the other party. Maybe the lead singer thought since we were willing to do all this work for free, why wouldn’t she be able to convince us to do even more for free? She hadn’t heard a “no” at all up to this point. Why would she want to hear one now?
Besides not protecting ourselves legally and setting clear expectations in a creative business contract, this whole situation was a major blow to our confidence. When you’re only six months into your new business and you’re getting threatened with lawsuits over free work, your confidence will definitely slip!
After several angry voicemails, emails, and even making false accusations about us to some of our mutual peers online, the lead singer would not desist in the lawsuit threats. Our phones kept blowing up.
While it’s highly unlikely they would have actually been able to sue us over free services, it caused immeasurable stress and worry for the next few weeks that followed.
We wondered: Is this what biz life looks life? Is this what we had to look forward to? And what happens when people ACTUALLY start paying us good money and then suddenly become unhappy??
Despite the *trauma* of this situation, we pushed onward. We didn’t stop believing that there were fair people to work with. We vowed to never press record without a signed contract in place, no matter how well we connect with the potential client, or how “small” or “easy” the job seems.
Another blessing in disguise: we created a pro bono contract and used it to protect ourselves on a few pro bono gigs and styled shoots in the months that followed!!
Our next case study occurred some months later. Two brothers and their team had a traveling convention that was making a stop in Atlanta. They needed a promo video consisting of a dozen interviews, b-roll and drone footage, and a few live speech snippets with a ribbon cutting.
After a phone call with one of the brothers to better understand their needs and expectations, we sent over an invoice and contract, which they signed and paid pretty fast. Good to go… right??
A few days later, the event took place and we filmed what we needed to film. As we were preparing to leave after a successful day of work, the other brother approached us and asked–no, told–us to send over the raw footage ASAP. We politely informed him that raw footage wasn’t discussed at the time of booking. And that we could provide it at an additional charge if they really had to have it.
He did not like hearing this. Not one iota. He started shouting and swearing in front of many witnesses. It was so strange to have a grown man with kids behaving this way. To pacify him, and just to be able to leave, we eventually stopped debating and explaining ourselves.
The highlight of the discussion was when he began trying to bribe us with “connections” and “so many CEOs” and “other people you would never dream of meeting.” If ONLY we had a dollar for every time someone tried to offer us “connections” then we’d be rich!
Long story short, he handed us a hard drive telling us to put the raw footage on there along with some signed copies of his most recent book. Once back home, we referred to our contract where it said raw footage is extra and not included in the original scope of work. So the next step would be to send out an invoice for them to pay for it if they wanted it. If they didn’t want it, we would return their hard drive as the convention was still in town the next day. Simple!
Night passes and the morning comes. The brother who originally booked our services calls Abraham, unhappy about the invoice for the raw footage. “What’s this crap?” Best he could, Abraham reiterated what had been outlined in the contract at the time of booking, which did not include raw footage whatsoever. Click. He hung up.
Within a few minutes, the other brother calls back demanding the raw footage. The threats escalated to “we’ll call the police” with the brother alleging we had stolen his property.
We hopped in the car and started driving back to return their hard drive. On the way there, we stopped for gas because we were running on empty. While pumping gas, we get an email from their lawyer. She was threatening to sue us if we didn’t bring the hard drive back with the raw footage on it to boot.
You never know when someone is going to lie and make false accusations against you. So Abraham hid a microphone under his collar and Daniella recorded video from her phone as Abraham handed the hard drive back to the brothers. “You won’t make it far!” they shouted as we walked out of the building.
Driving home, we received ANOTHER message from them. This one alleged we damaged their hard drive. What would they do and allege next? It became more than a surreal sitcom at this point.
Even though, with those brothers, we had a signed contract in place–and it saved our butts–there were still plenty of lessons to be learned.
The fact that we weren’t sure if our contract was solid enough to protect us shows that we didn’t understand it well enough. Our Google-scavenged contract sounded fancy and seemed good enough. But now, in the thick of it, was it really all that?
Not having a lawyer-reviewed contract caused so much unnecessary stress and worry. What good is a contract that both parties legally sign if the company and the client don’t understand all its meanings and implications?
A solid, legal contract is critical to getting the job done professionally. Imagine if all we had to do at the time was smile at the brother when he first requested the raw footage and just walked away. No unnecessary back and forth. No theatrics. Imagine the kind of foundation with rock-solid terms and conditions!!
Also, don’t take a hard drive from someone who’s just trying to set you up.
Now the fun part, where we recommend just where to find your own perfect template for a creative business contract. The Contract Shop offers attorney-prepared and peer-reviewed contract templates that are super easy to customize for your business.
If you could avoid future stress, wouldn’t you? If you could save your future-self hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars, wouldn’t you? Then invest upfront in a contract template for your business. It could not only save your sanity, but your career.
Whether you’re brand new to the small business world or you have been a business owner for a few months–one who has avoided lack-of-contract nightmares similar to ours–we urge you to protect yourself while you can. You’re only one nightmare away.
Not to mention the time you will save yourself to focus on what you do best! Don’t you want to spend your time on the creation portion of your business? Working on the stuff that you actually love, the stuff that earns more income. Buy back your time so you can go grab coffee with other creatives and fellow business people. Find, keep, do. Not hope, roll over, and cry!
Having your creative business contract ready to go gives you back the freedom to know you’re fully protected, able to set and maintain clear expectations, and know that you are in complete control of your business. No more victimhood for you!
While they offer contracts for various niches, here are some specific The Contract Shop’s templates that might help you:
Don’t see your business category here? Don’t fret, The Contract Shop has tons! You can check them all out here.
Peace of mind matters. Creating and operating from a peace-of-mind mindset is SO much better than a winging-it-and-we’ll-figure-it-out-if-something-goes-wrong-later approach. You don’t have to do it ALL yourself, friends!
And don’t forget about The Contract Shop’s mid-year 40% off sale, coming up this May 27-30th, 2019! They’re even giving customers the chance to grab 50% off for the first three hours of the sale, so you won’t want to miss out! They’re seriously the best when it comes to creative business contracts!
Finally, we also want to share how you can sign, send, and receive contracts. For all our client management needs, we love Dubsado.
We always get compliments from our clients on how quick and easy it is to review and sign our digital contracts. Dubsado then safely stores them anytime you or your client needs to go back and refer to something quickly!
You can read all about why we love Dubsado for running our business here.
Do you have any contract-fail stories to share? What’s your favorite resource for creative business contract templates we didn’t mention here? Comment below!
When it comes to preserving the memories of the biggest day of your life, you'll want to be sure you're choosing people you can trust! With that in mind, we've put together a list of eight things you'll want to consider as you're weighing your options.