This season we had a first happen to us. We and the client agreed to part ways, and the agreement was canceled, as in, we had to pull out our cancellation policy, go through the motions, and get legal. What had been just a clause in our agreement was now something we realized was pretty serious. And we hoped it was good enough. The short version of the story is this: we and the bride agreed to disagree on our agreement terms and what was to be upheld by each party. It was a sad experience, because to me, wedding planning should always be fun...but I learned a lot. And while I hope this never happens again- and never happens to you- I've realized there were many reasons it did happen.
1. Clear Expectations. This was my first mistake. I know for a fact that had I set clear as day expectations and steps, and made sure the bride and her family were aware and agreed to those terms, there never would have been any situation to speak of. Outlining the process, steps, and what we were responsible for, as well as what the family was responsible for absolutely needs to happen. Ask them 15 times if you have to- "do you have any questions or reservations about this agreement?"- don't let there be any questions left on the table.
I now outline everything in my proposals, which then become an attachment to my agreements. Makes for a longish agreement, but I'm ok with that.
2. Make sure your cancellation policy works for you. Read the clause you currently have in your agreement- if you ever had a situation like this arise, would the terms your agreement holds you to work for you? Are you actually keeping tally of every single minute, hour, fax and phone call you've spent on this bride? If you had to show a detailed log, would you be able to? And the retainer policy- what does your current clause outline for the amount of money owed by the client or you at certain points of the planning process?
We found out that our original cancellation policy was actually a little too vague, and may or may not have held up in court. And we also found out that providing time logs sucked. Even though we are fairly meticulous on keeping track of the amount of time we spend on each wedding- it's part of how we figure out how much money we really made on an event- it still took way too much time to transfer all of those conversations, notes, etc on to a legible spreadsheet to provide. Finally, we found that our retainer policy had major loop holes in it- so it could go either way if we were to go to court. End of story: we ended up giving some money back, even though our time logs clearly showed we were owed money, because we were in the middle of intense wedding season and I just needed the situation to go away. Now that sucks.
3. Read this post on choosing the right client. After all was said and done, we realized she really wasn't our perfect client, and who knows, all of this may have happened eventually no matter what. Set your boundaries and expectations for yourself and your company- who you'll work with, and what conditions you'll work under. It will save you a lot of heartache.
Finally, make sure you have your agreement reviewed by a professional. The agreement is meant to protect you and the client, so it needs to work for you both.
What other advice on dealing with agreements and clients have you found along the way?