"Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art." - Andy Warhol
“Doing business without a contract is like building a house without a blue print.” Mark Monlux.
It is naïve to think that you don’t need a contract if you are a creative. If money is changing hands, you're in business. Therefore, you need a written contract.
Without a written contract the terms are open for interpretation, and too often it's misinterpretation when it comes to selling art.
“What if I’m doing business with a friend or family member?” Then you need a contract even more to preserve that important relationship if and when an issue arises.
The single most horrific transaction I've had in over five years in business was with a "friend." She turned Psycho as she absurdly ignored terms of the contract she signed.
She actually accepted the commissioned painting, kept it for three months, and then announced that she wanted to return it and have me paint another one, and yet she had damaged it.
It get's worse but I'll spare you the details. I'm not kidding. You can't make this stuff up. Ironically, this crazed "friend/patron" was a frustrated artist who now represents artists.
Without the contract I'm certain that the situation would have deteriorated even further. With the contract in place my losses were limited to the extend that I had defined them in the agreement.
Make it clear to friends and family that the rules are the same for them. If they show any resistance don't do business with them. It's not worth the risk.
"Why are artists adverse to contracts?" I think it is simply a lack of confidence because they don’t yet believe they are successful enough to ask for what they want.
This is stinking thinking. If you want others to respect you and your terms you must have a contract. It’s business 101.
If the other party is reluctant to sign a clear and fair contract then that’s a big red flag waving, "Don’t go down this road!"
Make sure that you discuss each aspect of your agreement before you present the written contract so that there are no big surprises. Communication is a key to success.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard about writing a contract is to outline it as if you are getting married and as if will be getting a divorce.
Some things to spell out include:
- When will the work be complete?
- Who owns the intellectual property?
- What it will cost?
- When the money is due?
- What form of payment will you accept?
- What if payments are late?
- What’s the sales tax?
- What’s the scope of the work, what’s included and what’s not?
- What if the patron doesn’t like it?
- What happens if you want to end the contract? How and when can you?
- What if there is a conflict that you can’t resolve?
The Graphic Design Guild’s Annual Pricing and Ethical Guidelines is a great place to start. But you really need an attorney, who is licensed in your state, to review your contracts.
I use Pre-Paid Legal for this. I've found this service to be so cost effective that I distribute it to artists.
Using contacts is not a sign of mistrust, it’s a sign of good faith and professionalism. Contracts help preserve relationships by providing a tool to prevent misunderstanding and mitigate conflict.