Bride Signing ContractContracts scare me. Or at least they used to. In my old sales job years we were trained not to call them contracts because even the word is threatening; they were “agreements.”

A lawyer would probably cringe to hear how we created our first contract, but it’s a familiar story. We knew a contract was something we had to have as a professional wedding business, so we borrowed the contract of our DJ mentor, replaced his name and business information, and started using it.

The thing about contracts is that you never really know that you need one…until you need one. And it’s tough to figure out exactly what should be in it until you discover what isn’t.

When Contracts Go Wrong

Take Sarah and Joe’s wedding contract. We specified the agreed upon price to cover music for the wedding ceremony, cocktail hour and reception. It was all pretty clear.

Except that the couple was having an offsite ceremony, a fact we didn’t know at the time. An offsite ceremony involves additional travel and the stress of multiple setups in a short period of time. We’d never agree to an offsite ceremony for our regular on site price.

Joe and Sarah sent us an email asking if we would be available for their ceremony at the chapel and I explained that an additional fee would be involved because of the travel. The groom replied with a rather angry email indicating the lower price printed on our contract.

He was right. Our contract clearly stated the price and we honored it. But you better believe we specified onsite and offsite pricing on our contract afterward.

When to Ditch Your Contract

We live up to our contractual agreement 100% and deliver everything we’ve promised with the expectation that our clients will do the same.

Except for the times when we throw the contract out the window.

Of course, we fulfill the terms of our contract 100%. But sometimes we look the other way and let our clients weasel out from under the terms of their commitment.

Why we would ever do something like that?

The relationship with your client is more important than the contract. The contract is there to protect you if necessary, but we’d prefer to preserve the relationship rather than damage it by making the client follow it to the letter of the law.

Here’s an example: our contract requires that a sturdy table must be provided for our equipment at the wedding reception…yet we still carry a backup folding table in our van.

Why? Because on the wedding day the last thing we want to do is explain to the newlyweds that there will be no music because the caterer forgot to order an extra table.

The most frequent instance where we compromise our contract has to be the non-refundable retainer fee. We aren’t required to refund it if the contract is terminated by the client. But…

One of our clients broke off the wedding. The sweet almost-bride owns a small business and they were paying for the wedding themselves. She didn’t even ask for the retainer fee back, but as soon as we rebooked the date we surprised her with a refund.

Legally, we get to keep that money. Heck, we’ve earned it already with all the planning and communication before the date, and we refused other events for that same day.

Sometimes allowing clients to break the contract just feels like the right thing to do.

The contract is there in case we need it and most of the time, we won’t. In any case, the relationship with our clients comes first. Making sure they conform to the terms of our agreement comes a very distant second.

What do you think?

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Stephanie Padovani

Stephanie is a Hudson Valley wedding insider, blogger, writer, and wedding business coach. Want to book more weddings at higher prices? Quit dealing with price shoppers? Transform your wedding business so that it supports the life you really want? Look her up! They don't call her the Wedding Business Cheerleader for nothing. :)

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3 thoughts on “Contract Controversy: When You Need Them and When You Don’t”

  1. Debbie Palahniuk says:

    Great article. Smart advice.

  2. Very Good Blog! I am a firm believer in having a contract; it is like my armored vest against lawsuits. However, I agree that preserving the relationship with the client is more important than how you followed the contract. We are in the people business and if we make a lot of people unhappy then we would best get out of this line of work. By the same token some clients can be unrealistic and you have to draw the line somewhere.

  3. Randy Trent says:

    I completely agree! The relationship and your reputation trump the contract.
    I have returned non-refundable deposits in certain situations and I always carry that table, just in case.
    Thanks for the great advice!

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