As a business owner, typically at some point, you are going to take on individual clients who pay your company a fee to receive some kind of service – coaching, consulting, website design, or technical strategy, etc. Whatever the service, the number one thing all business owners need before they take on their first client, is a proper client agreement.
Many of you may be thinking, “Yeah, I have one of those…I copied it from a coach I hired a few years ago…” If this sounds familiar, read on.
Copying a contract from another person not only leaves you exposed for copyright law violations but also means the agreement was not generated for you. There’s no guarantee what your coach needed in his/her agreement is the same as what you need in yours.
As an initial matter – if you currently use any type of legal document (agreement, website document, etc.) that was lifted from someone else: STOP using it immediately.
Using an agreement or a document created and used by someone else is just like copying their blog post and using it as your own, and it constitutes copyright infringement – violation of U.S. Federal Law. If the coach or person you lifted the material from has registered their work as copyrighted and decides to come after you, you could be responsible to pay automatic damages to this person plus the cost of their legal fees, in addition to yours. Once this lawsuit was completed, you would be out a lot of money, and be left without proper legal documents to use in your business.
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Second, by using someone else’s documents or a template that was not designed with your type of work in mind, you run the risk that the agreement does not cover what needs to be covered in your agreement. For example, if you are an online coach and decide to use or piece together a client agreement from a consultant, web designer, or some other type of business – chances are this document won’t include what you need to protect your business.
For an online coach working with someone in a one-to-one capacity, your agreement needs to clearly outline the program being purchased and what is included within the program in order to reduce likelihood of misunderstandings between you and your new client. You will also need to include information confirming protection of all content your client is gaining access to by working with you and a reminder that this content is your intellectual property that may not be copied or distributed without your permission.
If you are taking on a new client, chances are this person is paying you in some way – how are they to issue payment? Are they paying in full or in installments? Is there a payment plan set up for this person? If there is a payment plan, how and when are payments being deducted? These are all things that need to be clearly ironed out before you start working with this client.
The most common issue I come across with client agreements is that the payment paragraphs were not properly outlined, and the client was not made aware of all details surrounding payment and agreements regarding payment, which can lead to everyone’s worst nightmare — non-payment.
It’s also important to include confirmation of what laws apply to the contract (hint: your state laws!) and what is to occur should there be a dispute between you and your client. Although we don’t like to think about or anticipate an issue with our new client, it’s vital to plan for the worst, just in case. Here, I always recommend outlining what laws apply to any disputes and the procedure for resolving any disputes: would you like to attend and use arbitration in a specific state or city, to keep disputes out of court? Make sure that’s in your agreement! You will also want to be sure you properly disclaim and limit any liabilities based upon guarantees or anticipated results by prospective clients to limit the likelihood of misunderstandings.
Overall, getting your Client Agreement properly completed is one of the key pieces to a successful business, and successful relationships with your current and future clients.
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Note: Although I am an attorney, this post is for legal information purposes only, not legal advice, and does not form an attorney-client relationship.