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Notes from a COVID-19 Contract Chat with Every Last Detail and Engaged Legal

Thank you Lauren Grove and Caroline Brown for serving us today with your helpful live Q&A around the legalities we as vendors are facing. Those hyperlinks will take you to valuable resources both ladies have for you right now. Follow them both on social media for real time updates as new ideas and resources become available.

If you missed the Q&A, you can catch it HERE after joining the ELD Pros group. 

Before I jump into my takeaways, I want to share that Lauren’s business is focused on engaged couples. She does a lot of polls and when she asked them this week if they want to hear from us, 90% said yes. This has been a huge question among wedding pros. Do I reach out and cause stress? Or do I not reach out and it sill cause stress? Rock and a hard place. Based on this poll, I think the gamble here is to reach out! And you can word it like this to help:

“Hi couple,

I wanted to reach out and see how you are doing. It’s tricky! I hate to email and cause stress but I would hate it even more if my radio silence caused more stress. So I’ve decided to take the gamble.

Right now, I mainly want to check on you. This is obviously a difficult time for everyone. How are your jobs? Are you being impacted? Is there anything I can be doing for you? I’m not sure when your various celebratory parties are but I’d be glad to help brainstorm ideas with you if an alternative needs to be considered.

For now, I’m monitoring things and will reach out if I think we enter a window of concern for your date but for now, I think we are okay. I just wanted to see how you are doing.”

Here are my takeaways from the live Q&A (there were far more, I just didn’t have the brain capacity to compute all of them). ((This is my understanding… I’m NOT a lawyer.))

1. Force Majeure- Impossibility doesn’t excuse full contract. It excuses further performance. You’re not going back to square one.

2. If you don’t already, be sure to list that your expenses are also non-refundable in addition to your retainer.

3. Couples don’t always understand why the retainer is not refundable if you haven’t done any work. This won’t apply with the current nuances of COVID-19 but in general for the future, you can explain that this is real estate on your calendar. By booking them, you have to turn down other inquiries for the same date. So if they cancel, it’s an opportunity cost. Some will argue that you could re-book it. This may or may not be true based on timing. For me, I have 5 planners on my team. So if a couple cancels on me, the 4 other planners would have to be full in order for me to secure the next lead. That means we would have to book FIVE weddings to offset the one that cancelled. It’s not as simple as just re-booking it.

4. This is obvious but if you’re putting your name in your contract, stop! Always leave room for a back up. Pandemic aside, you may have all sorts of emergencies or reasons to need to transfer someone. If your contract allows for transfers right now, work with other vendors to assist in filling postponement dates. For example, if Vendor A is not available for the postponement date, they can sub-contract Vendor B to complete the work for them. This will vary from state to state per contract laws and can also require a certain legal set up, like having an LLC. Just figure out the finances behind the scenes and hope that in the long run, it’s somewhat of a wash.

5. List the reasons you could possibly need to miss a wedding. Let’s brainstorm this: car wreck, contagious illness, bed rest, pregnancy complications, childbirth, maternity leave, act of God, weather, hazardous conditions, forces beyond your control like city mandates, loss of life, etc. Sit down and write them all out. Then discuss with a lawyer the best way to include this in your contract.

6. Unless your contract says you will refund within a certain time-frame, you don’t have to refund immediately. Work out new terms for refunding over time.

7. You cannot just “add a clause” to your contract. They all interact with each other and need to be reviewed to ensure they support each other vs contradicting each other.

8. If a couple chooses not to postpone, and the current mandates still allow them to move forward, you have a right to ask them to sign a liability waiver. Given the CDC is recommending isolation, yet it’s not law, you can state that you will work the wedding if they agree to cover any medical bills or licence fees you incur as a result. I would go as far as to ensure they are responsible for covering the medical bills of anyone in my home or that I have to come in contact with as well. Right now, couples are using the angle of “we are moving forward” forcing YOU to cancel. You can’t make them sign this. It may be that you have to cancel on them. But it’s a card you can play.

Not discussed on the call but things I’d like to point out:

  1. If you have payment time frames like “6 months in advance” and “30 days in advance” listed in your contract and then also have the date next to it, consider revising this. Only list the date it’s due. Keep your “timing” in mind on the back-end but if you list both, you run into confusion when postponing. Which is it? Timing from original date or timing from new date? With specific dates listed, it’s clear. I suggest keeping the payment date as is with a postponement to have the cash-flow. Another option might be that you break the payments up. A little cash now, a little later.
  2. When doing a postponement re-work anything else you need to re-work in your contract. Now is your chance. Make sure you state it is a one time postponement.
  3. This one is huge and why my company is not hurting right now. Your payments need to be spread out in 2-3 chunks. And your contract needs to state that once paid, it’s non-refundable. All monies paid are yours to keep. Period. Also, get your final payment as far in advance as you can. Mine is 90 days in advance because as a planner I do 30-40 hours of work in that reconciliation phase. The day itself is basically a moot point in regards to my services by the time it rolls around. I’ve done everything. Their MOH could take my notes and execute in a worst case scenario, that’s how thorough my notes are. I’ve had the 90 day final payment policy for several years with VERY little push-back. And once I explain, they still sign.
  4. As an additional resource, I would like to share my “Contract Clauses to Consider” document. I don’t give the actual language from my contract because: that is proprietary to my lawyer and laws vary from state to state. This document (plus the comments below) will save you hundreds of dollars when talking to your attorney because it will reduce a lot of research for them as they learn your business. I have Refiners with attorneys that have literally told them that in response to this document.

Guys… hugs upon hugs to you! We WILL see the light of day. But you have GOT to take your contracts seriously. For some time now, I have not allowed contracts to be shared in Refine. I find it unethical because as I mentioned above, it’s the proprietary work of a lawyer. And further, your contract is an extension of your brand. I have a lot of clients that are lawyers and I get regular feedback that they hired my company because they saw I knew what I was doing, simply through my contract. If you don’t hear anything this week… hear this… the $2,500 it took me to get my contract in place has saved me everything you are losing right now. Y’all have GOT to take your businesses seriously and it starts with a solid contract. It’s a clear sign to me that a business will or will not survive based on how much they care about this aspect of their company. Don’t be cheap. Not with this. 

In general, here are some other legal resources for you. This lineup is industry specific(ish) but you need to combine their expertise with someone practicing in your state.

Contract Shop

Legal Paige

Engaged Legal

Braden Drake 

Your Legal BFF

If you are in Texas and need a lawyer to assist you at this time, I’ve gotten permission from mine to share his information. I use THIS firm.

COVID-19, Resources I Love, Wedding Planners, Wedding Pro Contracts

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