7 Reasons You Need a Contract and Deposit
For a new photographer, the words "contract" and "deposit" may sound daunting. But they are an essential part of running a photography business, and the sooner you embrace them, the sooner you'll realize what important allies they are in this crazy game. Here are 7 reasons why contracts and deposits are important.
1. They Set Expectations
Contracts outline what you and the client are both agreeing to. To name just a few things: They set expectations for the product being delivered, the payment and deposit, how the client can use your photos and how they cannot, how you cannot use the photos, model releases, cancellation and rescheduling policies, what happens if you cannot make the shoot, what happens if the photos are damaged or destroyed... The list can go on for a while. And all of these things (and more) are very important to have a clear understanding between you and the client. It can help eliminate a lot of confusion and awkward situations later on.
2. Holds Everyone Accountable
Having these set expectations, and then having everyone sign and agree to it holds everyone accountable. And this accountability can give everyone a piece of mind. You can't just run off with their money and never deliver the product. They have agreed to certain terms, and if they decide they want to do something that doesn't uphold the contract (a common example is people that want to pass out their digital files to family members, which in most typical contracts shouldn't be allowed) you've already got a signed legal form stating they agreed not to do whatever the issue is.
3. Clients Take You Seriously
Having a contract and deposit is professional. People have signed an official document with you, and have put money down to hold your time and talent. You mean business, and they get it, and usually appreciate you for it (unless on occasion they are a friend or family member who still thinks they can do whatever they want due to the personal relationship).
4. Clients Show Up
When people have put their money down, and are taking your seriously, they show up for their sessions (you can also have a rescheduling fee in the contract--That helps quite a bit). Early on I would have people that had agreed to shoot with me, and then either want to reschedule last minute, or cancel completely. It's inconvenient, frustrating, and a bummer when that happens. A contract and deposit fixes that about 90% of the time for me. And then other 10% is usually some sort of sickness or emergency, because life does happen (as a photographer, that's a great thing to keep in mind when dealing with clients.)
5. Helps Keep Records
When you are keeping a copy of all of your contracts, and are keeping track of your deposits and payments (you should be!), it helps a whole lot with keeping records for your business to have contracts to refer to. I've also used contracts over the years as a reference if for some reason I can't find a client's contact information (or a groom's first name!).
6. You Get Paid
An agreement has been made, and you get paid. A lot of times photographers without contracts will have clients that go back and decide they didn't like the photos, and refuse to pay for them (often after they have received them). Avoid this.
7. Protect Yourself
In a way this whole list of reasons could be about protecting yourself and your business. And ultimately that is what a contract is for, to help decrease your liability in the case of crazy circumstances or clients (they happen to the best of us) and decrease your likelihood of being sued. Especially if you are starting out as a sole proprietor, this is huge.
So how do you acquire a contract? The absolute best thing to do is hire a lawyer to write one for you. But as a young photographer that isn't always a feasible option. So if you can't do that, you've got to be ready to do your research on contracts. There are templates out there that are a place to start from, but keep in mind they aren't fool proof. My favorite legal resource hands down is The Law Tog, and even if you don't always have the means yet to do everything she suggests, you'll understand it in a different way, and that will help pave the way as your grow your business.