When is the Right Time to Sign the Contract

Getting a contract signed can be one of the more intimidating aspects of working with clients. You have established a good relationship, a good rapport, and a common vision. You’re both ready to work. Who wants to drag the whole thing down with a contract?

We find that clients and creatives often exchange or talk contracts after both parties have already become invested in the project. Nothing wrong with that, but we propose a few improvements that might make the whole process just a little more palatable.

Get a contract before getting invested. A problem arises when both parties become invested in the project before talking contract terms. One or both parties may have put significant work into hammering out proposal details or into developing project specifications. This is time and energy, and it makes it hard to walk away if parties can’t agree on basic terms later on. This means that one or both parties will feel reluctant to walk away and forge on with a contract they are unhappy with being a part of. Not a recipe for success.

Preserve the ability to walk away. To really get the deal that you want, you have to be able to walk away. If you are in a position where you absolutely need the work, you are in a weak position, but if you can walk away you will have far more negotiating power to get the deal that you want. Getting invested in a project or committing resources to a project before a contract is finalized can make it more difficult to walk away, should the need arise.

Make your requirements clear as early as possible. When working with a client for the first time, you want to make your requirements clear as early as you can, so it is worth taking some time understanding what contract terms are necessary for you. For example, you want to be clear early on that you will only be granting a license and not a full assignment to the resulting IP. That way if there are any disputes, you catch them before getting to invested, thereby preserving your ability to walk away.

The above points kind of overlap with one another, but if you think about them together you will understand that the overall goal is to get at least part of the contract discussion going before either or both parties are too far into the project. Remember, a contract should be a fair representation of terms that both parties want, and you want to maintain your flexibility in getting to a deal that will fairly serve you and your business.

You might get more value out of the post above if you have a little more background information on how contracts work and what they do. We have included a section about contracts in our e-book, Legal 101 for Ambitious Entrepreneurs and SMEs. It’s short, it’s cheap, and it’s focused on the real world legal concerns of ambitious business owners. Give it a shot.

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