I have been very fortunate over the years to have worked with wonderful clients. Even the bride whose wedding cake I basically ruined on a delivery to Malibu on the legendary 405 Freeway traffic in the middle of summer was gracious and understanding (while she would have legitimately had reason to lose her mind). You can read more about that disaster here.
When I meet with clients for their consultation, we generally have a nice rapport. Sometimes we get very chatty and comfortable, and our conversations extend beyond cake into family, life, work, relationships. I have a genuine affection for my clients. They’re cute, bubbly, romantic, excited.
And then comes the business stuff. The stuff that I hate: the money, the deposits, the totals, the sales, and, the worst part, the contract. The language of my cake contract is straight forward and to the point. There’s no fluff. It’s not couched in gentle terms. There’s no room for interpretation in the contract. My contract is so not me. Every time I have to email the lovely couple with whom I just spent the better part of an hour chatting, laughing, and getting to know, I cringe. The language of my contact is, to me, downright mean.
And yet I’m running a business and I have to protect myself. But it’s more than that. I have to protect my clients, too, from disappointment or unrealistic expectations. I have to put on paper as many details as I can so there is no miscommunication or mismanaged expectations. In researching this post, I came across this article on The Art of Business. It’s a solid read, and I think the author hits it right on the head when he says “A good written agreement protects both you and your clients by explicitly spelling out what you will do for them, what they will do for you, and what happens if something does not go according to plan.”
Now, here’s the part you didn’t want to hear: You have to pay the money to have a lawyer look over your contract and make any necessary changes. When it comes to legal contracts, small words that to you and me are interchangeable make all the difference. Change “shall” to “will” and you’ve just opened yourself up to a lawsuit. You can and should try to write up a contract that protects you and your businesses, but think of it only as your rough draft. The final version should be up to a lawyer. I know, I know: You were trying to save the $300 and get it done yourself. Think of it this way: If someone sues you, it’s going to be for a lot more than $300, so you’re better off paying less for a solid contract than spending lots of time and money defending yourself.
Another thing to keep in mind: Location matters. Contract law varies from state to state and from country to country. The contract I had in California had to be revised and rewritten when I moved to Connecticut. If you’re copying/pasting from the internet and have no idea where the contract was written, better have a lawyer take a look.
We also have an invoice in addition to our contract that specifies things like flavors, cost, and design, and is customized for each client. But our contract–general enough to apply to everyone but specific enough to protect us–is critically important and indispensable. Below I have outlined the elements that should be a part of any cake design contract. [Disclaimer: This is not legal advice.]
1. Parties involved. Your contract should specify your client(s) and your business by name.
2. Payment information. Payment policies, deposit policies, dates due, and refund information should all be clearly defined in your contract.
3. Timeline. Include any timeline requirements, including final payment, head count, final design approval, etc. Leaving these things open ended can cause a lot of stress on your part, while having strict deadlines–and enforcing them–ensures that you’re not chasing after clients and waiting for them to pay at the last minute.
4. Liability. Anything that could impact the integrity of your cake but is beyond your control (e.g., high temperatures at the venue, guests’ carelessness, etc.) should be specifically listed (in addition to a general clause about circumstances beyond your control) as not your responsibility.
5. Changes. Detail any changes (in design, guest count, flavors, colors, etc.) and how they impact the cost. Specify the number of concept revisions included and the charge for additional revisions.
Don’t wait until it’s too late to put together your contract. Do it now, not after your first disaster. Also, think of your contract as a living document that might require revision as your business evolves and changes. There might be things you overlook initially that you’ll want to include later. Be sure to have an attorney look over any changes.
This is our contract.
Best of luck to you in all your cake adventures!