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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How to Become a Certified Woman-Owned Business (And Why You Might Want To)

solo business logistics

This year, I set some pretty lofty business goals for my solo social media business. One of them: Diversify my clientele by adding corporate clients.

For me, the challenge of creating community and engagement around big, faceless corporate giants is one of the most fulfilling parts of running a social media management company. But approaching them? Not so easy. When reaching out to potential corporate clients, I know I need to bring my best game.

What becoming a certified woman-owned business is all about

Becoming a certified Woman-Owned Business not only creates credibility, but also creates opportunities for female business owners that they may not otherwise have access to. For me, it was a huge step toward the confidence I need to approach my dream corporate clients.

Certification can be obtained through a variety of organizations, including the U.S. Small Business Administration, and a host of state and local government agencies. I chose to pursue certification through the national Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC). While the City of Chicago offers a Woman Business Enterprise (WBE) Certification as well, a more national scale was a better fit for me because of the clients I’m targeting. For your business, a local certification may be the tool you need to set yourself apart in your specific region.

Ideal participants in certification should:

  • Be part of a business that is at least 51% owned, managed and controlled by a woman or women
  • Have a target market that includes corporate America
  • Be U.S. citizens

The WBDC promotes Woman Business Enterprise Certification as a tool to help women-owned businesses “get in the door” of large corporations. While not a guarantee of business, the WBE Certification is recognized by over a thousand major corporations and government agencies in the U.S. This is ideal for my business where, although I appreciate the benefits of working with local clients (like randomly popping into their offices with coffee and donuts for staff), I also have the flexibility of working remotely with clients.

Approaching corporate giants with a certification shows that you’re invested and serious -- a perception that solopreneurs may struggle against.

Who certification isn’t for

Not all One Woman Shops will benefit from certification. Namely, business owners who prefer to work strictly with solopreneurs or small business clientele most likely won’t be able to realize the full benefits of obtaining certification.

The process + timeline of getting certified

I gave myself three weeks to make this happen. There’s not a ton of information readily available about certifications and so I had to conduct a fair amount of research on my own. Over the span of those three weeks, it took about five hours of research to grasp the different types of certifications, which organizations offered them, and what the benefits of each were. The WBDC doesn’t offer application assistance services, but they do have a help line for application questions. I also reached out to various entrepreneurs for feedback and advice.

The WBE application is two-fold. In addition to gathering required documents, you must also register for and complete an online application. The online application is only good for 90 days, so make sure you have your documents before registering online!

Getting organized was my most time consuming feat. I didn’t feel comfortable just throwing documents into an envelope and sending them off. I wanted to present my application in a way that reflected my business as professional and thorough. It took about a week and a half for me to gather the required documents. I had to request copies of prior year tax forms through the IRS, hire an accountant to write an opening balance sheet and get my Sworn Affidavit notarized.

The WBE Certification contains six categories of required documentation:

  • General Information
  • Owner Eligibility
  • Financial Structure
  • Personnel
  • Management Information
  • Governance Information

I made title pages for each category, and behind each title page were the corresponding documents. I then nestled my entire application into a sliding bar report cover. The way I organized my application information is not a requirement, but I thought it would be convenient for the personnel reviewing my application.

Once submitted, it can take up to 90 days for your application to process. Keep this in mind if you’re seeking certification within a certain timeframe. Be sure to go through the documentation requirements with a fine-tooth comb. If you’re missing something, you run the risk of pushing your application to the end of the line, prolonging the certification process.

Tips to make the process smoother

When I first began researching WBE Certifications, I scared myself to death. I was overwhelmed with the six-page list of documentation I needed and ended up putting the project off for another week. When I finally worked up the nerve to tackle it again, I started small. I had no idea what an opening balance sheet was, but I knew I could print off my resume, make a copy of my state-issued driver's license, birth certificate, and DBA license, and in about 15 minutes I checked off four required items needed to complete my application. Start with what you know.

Here are a few other tips for making the process run smoother:

  1. Most organizations that offer certification will likely provide you with a list of required documents and/or another form of checklist. Print them off. I went through the doc requirements with a colored Sharpie to make note of what I had and what I needed. I then created a separate checklist of what I needed and a labeled file folder to keep all of my required documents in.
  2. You may need to solicit the service of an accountant or lawyer to help you with some documentation. Make a note of that as soon as you go through the requirements, and reach out to them in advance. It may take them time to fulfill the service you need for your application.
  3. Other documents you may be asked to provide are your business history and resume. In some cases, your biography does not suffice as business history, so you may have to write one from scratch. Keep in mind that a resume should cover related professional experience — so leave out the dog walking hustle you had during summer breaks, unless of course it relates to your business.
  4. Find an accountability partner. The depth of documentation required is highly dependent on how complex your business is -- based on factors like employees, partnerships, incorporation, and more. It can be overwhelming, to say the least. I knew committing to document my experience to share with other women in business via One Woman Shop (what you’re reading now) would keep me accountable and committed to my deadline.
  5. Most organizations that offer WBE Certifications do not offer application assistance. For business owners in the Chicagoland area, The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce offers application help through their Procurement Technical Assistance Center. Reach out to business assistance centers in your area for help (think Small Business Association). If they don’t offer the service, they’re likely to direct you to one that does.

Is it worth it?

A tedious application process and walking away $350 poorer must come with real benefits, right? Indeed, it does. Aside from the confidence it gives and the proof to your potential clients that you are a legitimate organization, certified Woman-Owned Businesses have exclusive access to a database of corporate partners, and those partners have access to your business information.

When I turned to a business group for advice on becoming a Women Business Enterprise, Jameeda McCoy, CEO of Belle Up Maternity weighed in on the benefits of certification: “The purpose of certification is that certain contracts (especially government ones) require a specified level of WBE participation, so large companies looking to bid on projects will often partner with smaller companies that are WBE-certified to do a particular job on the project.”

Christy Echols, President and CEO of Paragon Development Group, also added: "Reach out to organizations with a supplier diversity program (business programs that encourage the use of historically underutilized businesses as supply vendors) and target those companies with your WBE. For service-based businesses, WBE's love doing business with other WBE's!"

At the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Director Alex Alcantar reviewed my application with me. Although Alex assured me that my application was solid, he did explain to me that certification is only a first step in securing contracts. “You’ll have to work hard, market yourself and chase opportunities even after certification. Opportunities won’t just fall in your lap because of it.”

How to get started today

If you think a Woman-Owned Business certification is right for your business, start with a Google Search for Woman-Owned Business Certification + your city and state. A quick search will bring up city and state certification programs, and their associated costs.

One Woman Shops: Have you thought about applying for Woman-Owned Business certification? What’s holding you back? Tell me in the comments below.

Get Your Legal Ducks in a Row with Small Business Bodyguard

Small Business Bodyguard

Most of us solo entrepreneurs and freelancers are really great at doing our thing, but behind-the-scenes business tasks can throw a wrench into our smooth-running operations.

The worst of those dreaded business chores? Legal issues.

Many entrepreneurs pretend legal considerations don’t exist because they don’t want to deal with lawyers. You’re just designing a logos or selling knitting patterns . . . do you really need to pay an expensive lawyer?

Not necessarily. You do need solid legal advice, but you might not have to shell out thousands of dollars to a business lawyer. Enter: Small Business Bodyguard.

What Small Business Bodyguard is all about

Small Business Bodyguard is a resource for anyone doing business in the US . . . and “doing business” includes everything from selling ebooks or running an Etsy shop to writing a blog that includes the occasional affiliate link.

SBB was created by Rachel Rodgers, a practicing business lawyer and intellectual property expert. She’s on a mission to bring affordable legal protection to entrepreneurs everywhere and in plain (if irreverent) language anyone can understand.

This comprehensive guide covers the most common legal questions entrepreneurs and bloggers are likely to run into, including a handful many people are unaware of! Chapters on setting up your business, recordkeeping, writing contracts that work, and managing your intellectual property do a fantastic job of communicating what you need to know about doing business legally, without giving you a headache from all the tricky lawyer-speak you might hear elsewhere.

The best part? The Small Business Bodyguard includes copy-and-paste templates and scripts for you to use in your own business! You’ll be able to whip your biz into shape in no time with done-for-you contracts, privacy policies, and more.

All this legal goodness is available as a PDF download for $595 (or two payments of $327). Note: that’s a lot cheaper than hiring a traditional business lawyer!

How this real-life entrepreneur uses the Small Business Bodyguard

I grabbed the Small Business Bodyguard for my editing and content marketing business in early 2014. I’d been operating for more than a year without knowing exactly what I was doing legally, and I knew it was time to step up my game.

Since I jumped into the SBB after my business was already up and running, I skimmed over some sections (like how to set up recordkeeping, or deciding which business entity is right for you), but I dove into others headfirst.

The chapters on staying safe and successful in the online world prompted me to finally get my blogging shiz together with a privacy policy and terms and conditions. (Are you blogging without these legal terms publicly posted? If so, you’re breaking the law!) Next, I made sure my contracts were airtight by combining some of the phrasing from the done-for-you contract template into the contract I was already using. Last but not least, I learned about the inner workings of intellectual property and copyright so I’d be prepared when I published my first ebook (and so I didn’t accidentally violate someone else’s copyright!).

I don’t need to look at the SBB as often now that my legal ducks are all in a row, but it still comes in handy from time to time. If someone stole my writing or images or I needed to brush up on the finer points of advertising laws, you can bet that the SBB is the first place I’ll turn. If my business ever reaches the level where I’m ready for personalized legal advice, the SBB has my back with a list of additional legal resources in each state.

How to know if the Small Business Bodyguard is right for you

So, is the Small Business Bodyguard really going to be worth it for your business? It depends. If any of these scenarios sounds like you, getting the SBB is a good bet:

  • Your business operates out of the United States
  • You’re a fairly new or aspiring business owner
  • You’ve never been clear on exactly what’s expected of you legally as a business owner
  • You hold your breath every time you send a contract because you have no idea if it would hold up in court
  • You’re unsure about when it’s okay to use someone else’s writing/photo/recipe/etc. on your own site and how to give proper credit if you do use it
  • You’re producing intellectual property like ebooks or courses with no idea how to protect your products
  • You don’t have time to Google the answers to all your legal questions (or you don’t understand the answers you find)
  • Your legal strategy up until now has involved crossing your fingers and hoping no one sues you

New or established business owners who have been steadfastly ignoring the legal side of business would do well to hear what Rachel Rodgers has to say in the Small Business Bodyguard.

Then again, this resource isn’t for everyone. If this sounds like you, you may want to think twice before buying:

  • Your business operates outside of the United States, or you do business with many international clients
  • You’re an established business owner who has already pieced together a solid plan for your business entity, contracts, copyrights, and recordkeeping and tax paying
  • You run a business that has special legal considerations, such as licensed therapists or accountants
  • There’s no doubt in your mind that your business and website are operating legally
  • You already work with a reputable business lawyer

The information in Small Business Bodyguard is only applicable to the US, so it won’t do much good for international entrepreneurs. And if most of your clients are outside the US, it’s probably best to hire a lawyer with international business experience to make sure you’re complying with laws in those countries especially when it comes to taxes.

SBB is a general primer to doing business legally. If your business is already well established (as in, you know for a fact that you’re rock-solid legally) or your business has special considerations that won’t be addressed in a broad overview, you’re better off getting personalized help from a lawyer in your area.

The bottom line

Lawyers are expensive, but so is getting sued. You don’t want to find yourself on the wrong side of the law (unless you’re totally okay with paying fees, settlements, and overdue taxes).

Every entrepreneur needs to know the legal implications of running a business (even if you think you’re just small potatoes). Ignorance is, unfortunately, no excuse for not running your business according to the laws of the land.

No one is excited about paying for legal counsel, whether it’s thousands of dollars for a business lawyer or $595 for Small Business Bodyguard. But I’ll leave you with one final caution: getting your business set up legally from the get-go is a heck of a lot cheaper than paying for it down the road.

We are affiliates of and may receive commission from sales of Small Business Bodyguard. As always, we only promote products and services that we love and/or think you might benefit from!

4 Tips for Revamping Your Contracts and Protecting Your Business as a Solopreneur

Setting Up Shop

I despise the me-versus-you mindset that colors some client relationships. This mentality creates an unhealthy situation where the creative is just trying to get paid, and the client is grasping for the most bang for their buck. Of course, clients can be forgiven for wanting the best possible product for their lives and businesses, and creatives gotta eat. We’re all human. But still, this dynamic isn’t pleasant and I strive to avoid it wherever possible.

I’ve found that a clear, concise and no-nonsense contract is one of the best ways to keep a working relationship on the rails and über-friendly. It removes the stress of wondering what’s included or expected, reduces the possibility of anyone taking advantage, and provides a third-party enforcer of the terms so no one has to be the bad guy. It’s a nonpartisan ally we can all call to our aid, but only if we’re careful in its design and construction.

The beauty of a client-based business is that it evolves as time goes on -- and so must your contracts. Here are some of the crucial tips I’ve learned over the years about crafting a contract, that you can take into account when creating yours:

1. Make financial commitments and timeframes clear

I’ve never actually had a problem getting paid, but I have had to wait longer than I’d like. And you hear about fellow solopreneurs getting stiffed all the time. Truthfully, there’s no iron-clad way to prevent this, because no creative worth her salt is going to demand full payment before beginning a project. It’s unprofessional, it’s mistrustful and it’s just not done.

I do, however, take steps to try and streamline the payment process and increase the chances of getting that final check. For one thing, I always include in my contract the number of revisions I provide for the stated price. That way, if a client asks for more (than two, in my case), I can point to the contract. I also include what additional revisions cost, so that we have an already-agreed-upon way to proceed if necessary.

Furthermore, I clarify timeframes for various steps of the process -- i.e. deposits due at the beginning and final delivery of materials. Some clients are impatient, or will “forget” what you agreed to, so it’s great to have this in writing. Plus, it covers your derriere. While I’ve never gotten litigious with a client, you best believe I want the ability if I need it.

2. Remember that contracts are not intuitive to clients

With the explosion of the digital age, we sign contracts all the time. Every time you check that little box for another app or website sign up, it’s a contract. Because of this, many of us are used to breezing through and signing on the dotted line. Don’t let your clients do that, or you might be sorry.

I’ve learned the hard way that a contract is only as clear as the words you put right up top. For instance, I sometimes do design work, and once worked with one client while I was still in launch stage and working at quarter-priced rates in order to fill out my portfolio. Despite this, she thought she was getting top-quality pro work, the kind she’d receive from a 10-year veteran. When I requested understanding for my newbie status, she did not grant it.

In this case, it needed to be in my contract that I was starting my business, streamlining my process and not promising the same quality she would have gotten from an established creative charging four times as much (if not more). And once you put the terms in your contract, be sure to discuss them verbally.

3. Limit scope creep like a boss

Scope creep happens. All the time. Recently, another one of my clients sent me a job for 1,000 words. When I returned it to them, they told me they were happy with my work, and went on to insert it into a larger piece they were working on. They then emailed me all 11,000 words of their full project and asked me to edit for consistency… you know, since I’d been the one to write a small piece of it.

Um, no.

Even if you dutifully note the number of revisions you offer, as suggested above, clients will still try to take advantage by asking for “small fixes” or “just one more thing,” forgetting to include vital information up front and wanting you to include it later on. Or -- as my client did -- just wildly overestimating your willingness to help for free.

This is why it’s important to have a line in your contract stating how much you charge for continuation of work. Something along the lines of, “for revisions past two rounds, or additional work beyond the scope of the project, I charge $XYZ.”

4. Clarify incentives up front

Let’s be real about incentives: they’re not necessarily that great for you. If they bring in more business? Well, awesome. But sometimes all they are is a discount for work you would have gotten anyway, without benefiting you or your business in any real way. So... be careful.

If you offer incentives, stick to the terms. Honor them if a client is really buying two things for a 2-for-1 deal, and tell them to stick it if they ask for half-off one thing. Don’t play ball with old clients who want the new client sign-up discounts; it’s not for them. If you really like someone, you can consider it, but respectfully request that they don’t tell others. This goes for working at reduced rates for friends and family, who need to understand that as a businesswoman your goal is to charge much more than that when you work for others.

Use your contract as your new best friend

Working with clients can be a challenge. We’re all set in our own ways, opinionated, and looking out for Number One. A good contract, though, can create a team out of what might in other scenarios become two opposed parties. I believe strongly in its power to bind and build a bond through mutual understanding, and I hope you can one day feel the same.

What other situations have come up that have taught you important lessons about what to include in your contracts, fellow solopreneurs?

P.S. Want more information on effective contracts? Check out Small Business Bodyguard for the legal perspective and Stress Less & Impress for the process/workflow side of things!

Get $50 off Small Business Bodyguard This Weekend

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