Think It’s Not a Big Deal? Why Even the Simplest Partnerships Need a Contract

Why Even the Simplest Partnerships Need a Contract

What I've Learned from Our One Woman Shop Partnership

We’re writers and consultants, designers and photographers, front-end developers and store owners. And despite our differences, if you’re anything like me, emails with some variation of “Hey! I have an idea we could tag-team” pop up in your inbox frequently.

Entering into even the most casual of partnerships begs us to pause and protect the business we’ve worked so hard to create. Sure, “partnership” conjures official, legal agreements, but in actuality, a partnership can be anything from an Instagram loop giveaway, styled shoot, affiliate link, co-hosted webinar or e-course, conference, breakfast panel, or even a guest blog.

But for something as small as these examples, do you need a contract? After all, you’ve got a budget to balance, receipts to file, proposals to draft, and deadlines to meet. Who has the time to comb through an email thread and delineate terms and conditions?

No contract? Here’s what could happen

Time and again as I wade the freelance waters, I turn to Christina Scalera, a lawyer for creatives. According to Christina, yes, you need a contract even for small partnerships: “Ninety percent of [creatives] can avoid lawyers — the expense, heartache, and more — by communicating upfront and honestly in a contract,” she says. “Lack of a contract can lead to problems down the road if you’re not careful.”

Without a contract in place, we could:

  • Finish up a styled shoot to find no photos of our 12 hours of calligraphy work were even submitted to the publication
  • Partner to form an Instagram community, only to find a sneaky cohort is slow to hand over the login
  • Trade headshot photos for copywriting with a writer who just can’t seem to ever get to your bio

But first: Is the collaboration worth your time?

Before I send you into a downward spiral of researching what goes into contracts (editor’s note: start here!), pull out a pen and paper to figure out whether this collaboration is truly worth your precious time. If your hourly rate isn’t already on a sticky-note on your screen, follow these steps to find a rough calculation:

  1. Take what you need your salary to be (after taxes), and divide it by 0.7. That dumps back in an estimated 30% in taxes.
  2. Add your monthly business expenses, times 12.
  3. Divide that number 52.
  4. Finally, divide that by the number of hours you’re willing to work each week.

Back to the sticky-note: It helps me so much to think back to my PR agency billable days every time a joint venture, guest blog, affiliate, or partnership opportunity flurries across my inbox. Picture yourself on the project — for me, that means seeing the project fit into my ink-splattered world of calligraphy and copywriting projects. For you, that may mean thinking through the creative brief, wondering how many hours you’ll log in Photoshop and Illustrator, and how many rounds of edits might be needed. Consider exactly what this partnership project require from you, then ask yourself this:

Are both the partnership ROI and the time I’ll invest in the partnership worth my hourly rate?

In many times, yes! As Christina mentions, guest posting is a great example: Essentially you’re doubling your reach. Market research tells us that it takes anywhere from 3 to 12 touches to nab that customer, meaning leveraging your voice by getting in front of others’ communities can be a rock-solid business investment.

Reassuring you a bit more, don’t fret over “legal-ese” verbiage: Technically, if both parties understand the language, it can go in the contract. It’s your catch-all. At the end of the day, much like my desk holds my calligraphy pen, nib, inkwell, gouache tube, and sketchpad, a contract holds together all the little fragments of email threads and promises between collaborators, tying them neatly together.

Truly, while you could manage promises de facto through your email thread, I’m a fan of a drawing up a quick proposal within my Honeybook account and emailing it over. It takes under an hour — totally within my budget considering my hourly rate and what lack of a contract could cost me.

What to include in your contract

Like any good millennial, I’m in a constant state of information overload, and need an actionable takeaway for an article to stick. So, here’s your simplified partnership checklist! As you send over that proposal partnership template, review these questions:

  • Am I clear on the profit split, if any?
  • Did I write out dates of deliverable deadlines — and project termination? (And reminder, this doesn’t mean relationship termination!)
  • Have I addressed the exit strategy, and listed the means that could allow the contract to be terminated and how the assets would be divvied up if so?
  • Who will own assets — both during the project and moving into the future post-partnership — from email lists and social media accounts, to final copy and leftover swag bags?
  • Did we jot out a list of tasks, and who will be responsible for what?

There you have it! Simpler than it sounds, right? Let’s save the freelance world of lady boss friendships-gone-angsty, one kindly worded contract at a time.

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Stringing words and slinging ink, Ashlyn is a copywriter for creatives and calligrapher tucked in the Decatur corner of Atlanta (likely with two German Shepherd puppies at her feet). She pours more than a decade of media and journalism experience into helping women make what matters happen, so they can work from a place of rest, not hustle. Find her at Ashlynscarter.com or @AshlynSCarter.

1 Comment on Think It’s Not a Big Deal? Why Even the Simplest Partnerships Need a Contract

  1. Zoe Larkin
    February 11, 2017 at 2:13 pm (6 months ago)

    Hi Ashlyn

    This was super helpful and addresses something that most people (creatives) find really offputting and unpalatable. Contracts.

    I am the photographer organizing a styled shoot soon. I bought a contract online which I’m happy to use. However I had a question about timing. When is the time to distribute this to the vendors and get them all to sign it?

    My understanding is that the contract is only valid once all parties have signed it, but it needs to be signed BEFORE the shoot, so everyone knows what what their role is in advance of the big day.

    But as it can’t be done by email as that isn’t legally binding (right?), and no-one bothers with snail mail so it’s too much to ask, how can you make sure that come the day of the shoot, the contract has been read and more importantly SIGNED by all vendors/stylists/photogs/models etc? Especially as you may never have met some of these individuals before?

    Thanks
    Zoe

    Reply

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