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The Rock-Solid 8 Part Client Agreement For Starting Every Project Off Right | The Infinite Clients Series

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We're now rolling into the first real episode of this new “Infinite Clients” series, and my goal is to set up each episode in this series with a new rule… or better yet, a commandment.
Maybe we'll have a full “10 Commandments For Infinite Clients” by the end, but let's just start with #1:
  1. Thou Shalt Put It All In Writing.
If you want a guaranteed way to lose a client for life (including any referrals they might have sent), start by putting nothing in writing.
Mismatched expectations are a killer of client happiness. The client might expect one thing, and they get something totally different.
That's why a rock-solid client agreement is so important.
This isn't about them simply being slightly annoyed. It can lead to bigger issues like losing clients for life or even running into legal disputes (Yuck 🤮).
The goal IS NOT to lock them into some sort of “legalese” contract they hardly understand… it's to write it all out in plain, easy-to-understand English (or your whatever your native language is) so they understand what IS and IS NOT included.
This is the first step to infinite clients.
In this episode you’ll discover:
  • Why setting expectations accurately is vital to your business
  • How to use a client agreement to ensure you and your clients are on the same page
  • The key elements of a client agreement
  • How setting timelines keeps your projects on schedule
  • Who owns the created work
  • Credit and cancellation policies

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[00:00:00] Brian: Hello and welcome to the Six Figure Creative Podcast. I am your host, Brian Hood. If this is your first time listening to the show, first of all, hi. Hey, hello, welcome. So glad to have you here. You are in the right place right now. If you are a creative who offers freelance services and you want to make more money from your creative skills without selling your soul, that sounds like you, then you're in the right place. If that doesn't sound like you, then go away. For my returning listeners, people will be for a long time.

[00:00:18] Brian: we're 292 episodes into this show. So some of you have been with us for a long time and I'm winking to you. If you're watching on YouTube, if not, then I'm just telling you that I'm winking at you, which is way less cool than just winking at you. We are continuing our series this week.

[00:00:30] Brian: I'm actually renaming the series. it started off as something really bland. I'm not even gonna tell you what it was if this is your first episode. This is the Infinite Client series now. Sounds way cooler, doesn't it? The whole concept of this series is, What can we do to make sure that every single client that we work with refers at least one client to us?

[00:00:45] Brian: if we can do that, we essentially have infinite clients. That's almost an impossible goal, but it's something we can strive towards. And this episode is our first and what is likely going to be a long series. When it comes to how do we make that happen?

[00:00:56] Brian: so anytime you hear me say infinite clients, it's a cheeky kind of like air [00:01:00] quotes. There is no such thing as infinite clients. But again, we're trying to strive towards that. and getting an infinite supply of clients starts with making sure your clients are happy and getting what they want.

[00:01:09] Brian: They pay you. You do the work, they're happy with that work, that's point A, that's the first thing we have to do. Clear and obvious.

[00:01:16] Brian: The biggest killer of referrals and repeat clients, which is what we always want, is unmet expectations.

[00:01:21] Brian: and the reason We get to this point this toxic area where there's unmet expectations of some sort.

[00:01:25] Brian: It's because we didn't properly set expectations the beginning And or we didn't put those in writing with the client. So they think that they're going to get something that they don't. They think that you do something that you don't. They think this payment that they've made to you includes something that it doesn't.

[00:01:39] Brian: They think the deliverable looks like X, but it's actually A or Y or P.

[00:01:44] Brian: And thus we get to the point where expectations aren't met. It's the killer of referrals. It's the of repeat clients. And we look at unmet expectations kind of like a spectrum. It's not black and white. It's not ones and zeros. It's not binary. It is a spectrum. unmet expectations could just be anything from something as minor as just like a weird bad taste in their mouth because [00:02:00] there was just something off at the very end of the project.

[00:02:02] Brian: And then the extreme other end is they hate you and they actively bad mouth you and they actively push people away from hiring you. and beyond Even that is a level that I don't think many freelancers have gotten to hopefully you haven't is where you get sued by your client that's like Unmet expectations times a thousand with none of us want to get there

[00:02:19] Brian: Obviously, we don't want this to happen but it would make sense that clients would be unhappy with unmet expectations anytime We're in a situation where we feel like don't get what we expect

[00:02:27] Brian: You tend to feel wronged and anytime you feel like you're wronged you tend to react in some way shape or form Depending on the severity of those unmet expectations.

[00:02:35] Brian: A simple stupid example would be like if I'm going to dinner out with friends at a restaurant and I'm expecting a nice meal where I can talk to my friends, have a great conversation and we sit down at the restaurant and the atmosphere is extremely loud, everyone's talking really loud, the music's blaring really loud and I have to scream and I struggle to hear what my friends are saying in the conversation.

[00:02:54] Brian: That's an unmet expectation. My expectation was that I wanted a nice dinner that I could have a conversation with [00:03:00] friends. I was not given that. So therefore it doesn't meet my expectations. I'm likely not going to return to that restaurant and I'm probably not going to refer my friends to it if that's what they're looking for.

[00:03:07] Brian: On the other side of things, if I'm looking for a loud, lively, exciting place to go and have a really good time with friends and everyone's drinking and having a good time, even though I don't drink, then that probably meets my expectations. So it's not that it's bad or good. It's just that the expectations weren't met.

[00:03:21] Brian: And if you feel like you've been wronged, if you feel like your expectations weren't met. You tend to react. And that's what we want to prevent from happening with our own clients.

[00:03:27] Brian: So the first part of making sure those expectations are aligned is putting together a client agreement, and having your client sign it and making sure they understand it. This is the first step of onboarding either.

[00:03:37] Brian: When they've paid a deposit or before they've paid a deposit or before they pay the firing of payment, anytime before you've done actual work together, before the nonrefundable deposit is nonrefundable or until the first payment is in, like at some point, the very beginning relationship, The client agreement needs to be sent and signed. Everyone's process is slightly different, but in my books, no one is considered an actual client until that agreement is signed.

[00:03:56] Brian: And if this is done right, if this is done well, then expectations are [00:04:00] met with your client. You are legally protected, which is a huge part of this. and this prevents other problems from coming up later because of things like scope creep. We'll talk about that all in this episode today.

[00:04:08] Brian: So, let's dive into this. We're going to talk All about client agreements today. It sounds boring. I promise you this is well worth it. If you don't have a client agreement with that, you're happy with a client agreement that your client signs and understands.

[00:04:16] Brian: And, or if you feel like your client agreement is full of a bunch of copy pasted legalese jargon that you got from someone else. That's not what we want here. We want our client agreements. First and foremost, to be written in plain English that makes sure that clients understand what you're saying to them and what they're signing.

[00:04:30] Brian: have to state that I'm not a lawyer. I'm not giving legal advice, but I'm just telling you from a logical standpoint The biggest reason lawsuits come up in any sort of service relationship, whether it's freelancing or consulting or really anything where a contractor involved, the reason those disputes come up and it gets to a lawsuit in the first place is because the expectations weren't aligned.

[00:04:49] Brian: So just by writing things in plain English, You avoid the number one reason things can get into litigation, which we don't want. and beyond the legal side of things, we are much more likely to have a happy client because they can read through our client agreement and [00:05:00] it all makes sense.

[00:05:00] Brian: They don't have to run it through a lawyer. Now, again, this is not a blanket statement for all people. Some people work with larger corporations. to have a team of lawyers. You can write things in legal speak for that, but I'm just talking about the everyman blue collar freelancer like myself.

[00:05:11] Brian: So in this episode, we're going to talk through All the elements that a client agreement should have in it

[00:05:15] Brian: and I'll talk through how you can send it and actually get it signed. So the first part of any client agreement, and this is the part that makes it legally binding, is having all identifying info of all parties involved with that. Again, I am not a legal expert. Talk to your lawyer if you want to make sure this is all done correctly. I can say that chat gbt is pretty good for like basic stuff like this.

[00:05:31] Brian: If you need to ask for some examples of like what makes it legal versus not legal. It understands law pretty well. So if you have chat gbt, especially if you have 0 and can get a lot of the stuff right at the first pass so that when you do go to a lawyer, it's a lot cheaper and you're not asking a bunch of dumb questions, but the first part is identifying information.

[00:05:46] Brian: So things like name, address, phone number, things that can identify the party so that it is Not just Brian Hood, it is the Brian Hood on it. There's a lot of Brian Hoods in the world. I'm not the only one. So which Brian Hood are we talking about? If there's multiple parties, then you need to put all those [00:06:00] parties involved.

[00:06:00] Brian: this is pretty standard, pretty straightforward. I'm not going to talk anymore about this. The second part is outlining a scope of work and deliverables. So this is basically, again, this is the biggest sticking point in almost any sort of dispute or misunderstanding or misaligned expectations is what's included.

[00:06:13] Brian: What's not included? if you've ever had a client come to you asking for things that were not included, ask yourself, was it in the client agreement? Was it clearly outlined that was or was not included? If it's not in there, add it as a thing that's not included or add it as a thing that is included. This is pretty straightforward.

[00:06:27] Brian: You know your service well enough to know for the price point that I'm charging, this is included. This is not included, but there's one more element within this bucket of a section that you should add that is almost always worth doing and that is. What defines the project is done. It's called the definition of done, D O D.

[00:06:43] Brian: You see this in project management all the time. these criteria are met, this project is done. Consider putting something like that in your contract. Or, like to use the word client agreement. It's a lot less, a intimidating than contract. They're kind of one and the same.

[00:06:53] Brian: But put something in there where When these five things or these ten things are done and delivered, the project is fulfilled. [00:07:00] AKA done. The next thing is kind of a project schedule and timeline. Another big misalignment of expectations is when the client thinks something's going to happen on one time frame or one time horizon and they happen on another time horizon.

[00:07:10] Brian: It takes longer or it goes faster than they're prepared for or a deadline that they think is going to get hit is not going to get hit.

[00:07:16] Brian: it's good to just map all of these things out. So What date do things start? What date do things end? How do things generally progress throughout that? Along with that, and this is kind of a separate section, is deadlines and penalties. This is similar to the schedule timeline. You can lump this all together if you want, but like what deadlines are there within the project?

[00:07:33] Brian: So things like what deadlines do you need things from your client and then what deadlines will you deliver something? I went through a design project when I first launched six figure creative where I was working with designer for the six figure creative brand as of early 2024 and He did a very good job of laying these things out there is a really good example of someone who put a lot of care and attention into the schedule and the deadlines and then telling me what the penalties or consequences of not hitting those deadlines were because there were certain things that he would deliver on a [00:08:00] certain date and he needed me to give my feedback on those items by a certain date and if I didn't then that would push the entire project back and it could delay it significantly if I wasn't communicating.

[00:08:09] Brian: So he clearly set out. Expectations ahead of time the timeline and the deadlines and the penalties involved with doing things a certain way and that Allowed the project to completely be done from start to finish in a number of weeks or months I can't remember the timeline but everything was done on time on schedule expectations met.

[00:08:25] Brian: I'm happy. I've actually brought him up His name's Cole. I brought him up on the show multiple times It's a really good example of setting expectations properly but when you map this out in a client agreement and you put the due dates or deadlines and penalties on there that make sure that people understand not just what they're expected to do, but also what the consequences of those actions are.

[00:08:41] Brian: You can put anything from monetary penalties, scheduling penalties, loss of something. the sky's the limit here. As long as you are setting the expectation ahead of time, they fully understand that expectation and they are agreeing to that expectation on both sides. Another one is going to the gym.

[00:08:56] Brian: If I don't show up to one of my classes, I get charged 15. That sounds [00:09:00] ridiculous. Why would I be okay with charging 15 just for not going to the gym? It's because it actually helps me. It holds me accountable. It's something that I want to happen I'm much more likely to show up to the gym if I do that.

[00:09:09] Brian: So deadlines and penalties can be a wonderful thing for making sure the project is on schedule. And it can also be a wonderful thing for yourself if you're the type of person who has to have that what's called accountability mechanism of some sort, The 15 gem thing is an example of an external. Accountability mechanism, can be really powerful on spurring you to take action and get things done on schedule if you are the type of person that struggles with being on time on schedule.

[00:09:30] Brian: Creatives, we're horrible at this sometimes. We can admit that to ourselves. We can put these things in writing to make ourselves, to essentially be as a forcing function to getting things done on time and on schedule.

[00:09:39] Brian: so we talked through the first four so far. We've got identifying information. We've got the scope of work and deliverables. We've got the project timeline and schedule. We've got deadlines and associated penalties involved with not hitting those deadlines. The fifth is payment terms. So this is another area that can be a sticking point, that can either leave clients confused, make them mad money is a very touchy subject when it comes [00:10:00] to projects like this Not just for your clients, but for yourself as creatives.

[00:10:03] Brian: We tend to shy away from the money conversation So it's actually in our best interest to make sure all expectations are aligned here. So nothing awkward or weird happens So in the payment terms, what do we want to cover in this section of our client agreement? We've got what is extra What services, what extra little things are we going to charge more for when it comes to payments?

[00:10:19] Brian: What happens if they want more?

[00:10:20] Brian: It could be they want more of the same thing you're offering. It could be that they want more on top of something else. It's kind of like bucketed in with what's extra.

[00:10:27] Brian: Maybe if they want more days, if you charge by day, or if they want more deliverables, like photographers doing prints or Et cetera, et cetera. Like What happens if they want more of the thing you're offering? The next kind of part of this is when are payments due? This is one of the most basic things you might want to start with that if they haven't paid up front, which I usually recommend in most cases, if you can handle it, if it's something that's feasible in your niche, collect all money up front so you can just be done with the money conversation and focus on the creative project without worrying about getting paid.

[00:10:52] Brian: Am I going to get paid? Am I going to get screwed? When do I have to ask for money? It's awkward. It's weird. In my entire music production career, Everything I did, I got paid before I [00:11:00] worked on it. within the first year of, as a freelance music producer, the first year, I had somebody cancel me, day of, and I lost like five days of income.

[00:11:07] Brian: So from that point on, I got paid in advance for everything. Started with a 40 or 50 percent non refundable deposit, just to even schedule the dates on my calendar. And then the remainder was due on the first scheduled day of recording, or mixing, or production, or whatever. And that was the policy I set for myself.

[00:11:21] Brian: I did that for almost all record labels I worked with, which is unheard of in our space, which is weird, but the only labels I didn't do that for the bigger labels that I worked with.

[00:11:28] Brian: But that allowed me to be protected and not become a debt collector. Next thing is the late fees. So if you do have some sort of payment schedule where they're paying you maybe a monthly retainer or they're paying you an installment like a deposit and the rest is due at the very end,

[00:11:41] Brian: project for one quarter and you're just doing three flat payments monthly and then it's done. Either way, there's something called late fees or rush fees. Two things keep in mind here. Late fees are if they pay you behind schedule, what's the penalty on that? For example, if they were due on the 30th of this month and they don't pay you for three months, what's the penalty involved there?

[00:11:57] Brian: Is it a monthly charge? Is it a one [00:12:00] time flat fee for late payments? There needs to be some consequence for this because you don't want to, again, you want to incentivize them to pay on time every time. You don't want to have to chase down and become the debt collector. And when you do, you want to be compensated for that.

[00:12:10] Brian: It's a fair ask. if you pay late, there's a five day grace period, and then it's a X fee or X percentage fee per month or something like that. Again, it's your business. You can put this how you want. And then the rush fee thing at the very end here, if you are rushed to do something like my podcast editor I was joking with him between cuts here. I don't have my own accountability mechanism or forcing function to get ahead on this podcast. So I'm almost always a week to week on the show. Something that needs to change likely, right? Because of that, him on the hook for a rush fee for him because we're scrambling at the very end to get this thing done.

[00:12:38] Brian: The rush fee apparently isn't strong enough to get me to actually get stuff done sooner. So this can be again, great for a freelancer. If you are a freelancer, you feel like clients come to you for last minute changes all the time and they're always waiting to the last minute or missing deadlines.

[00:12:50] Brian: What's the rush fee for getting things done faster than normal? It could be that they came to you with a notice for something usually takes two weeks Or they want to get ahead of another client or they ask for last minute changes all these [00:13:00] things are in your payment terms under rush fees

[00:13:02] Brian: And they can be a wonderful way of making a little extra money But also making sure your client knows that they can't just throw last minute stuff at you. It's not okay All right. So that's the fifth section. The sixth section is usage rights. This is one that I Didn't learn for way too long, but this is something that's common in a lot of industries.

[00:13:17] Brian: So I learned this Probably for our wedding photographer this is super common in the wedding industry So wedding photographer, we paid her thousands of dollars to come to our wedding take photos of everything She did a wonderful job at the end of the day she retains the rights for those photos They're her photos at first glance. It might sound odd that she retains rights to those photos.

[00:13:35] Brian: but when she sat down with us, before we worked together, was in our client agreement. And expectations were met ahead of time.

[00:13:41] Brian: So in some industries, this makes a lot of sense. In other industries, it may not. But essentially this, what are the client's rights to the thing that you were creating together? You were birthing something. Maybe if you're a designer, it's the branding package or the logo you're creating. For music production, you're birthing a song together.

[00:13:55] Brian: For photos, you are creating the photos with your hands, your cameras, your expertise. the video world, you're [00:14:00] creating some sort of videos. What are the client's rights to this? What are your rights to this? And then finally, what are your credit requirements? So in our client agreement, any time we share our wedding photos, we're required to credit our photographer in the post.

[00:14:13] Brian: This is a wonderful marketing tool for her. It's something that's easy for us to do. It's not overstepping bounds,

[00:14:18] Brian: and it's something that I never did with my clients the past. It was such a missed opportunity. some of the bands I produced went from very first recording to where they're getting millions and millions of streams on Spotify like Massive growth as an artist and all along the way I could have and should have been getting credited on Announcement posts or in music videos even on Spotify I'm not credited on half the stuff that I did or probably more than half of the stuff that I did and it's because it Wasn't my client agreement.

[00:14:43] Brian: I failed to do this

[00:14:44] Brian: next kind of section for your client agreement is cancellation policy. For those who are counting, this is the seventh section.

[00:14:50] Brian: And there's kind of three areas within the cancellation policy you need to make sure you cover. The first is what happens if the project is canceled before it begins?

[00:14:57] Brian: In my world, in music production, all the time what would happen with [00:15:00] bands because my schedule was booked three to six months in advance, the date would come and the band would be broken up. Or the date would come and the songs weren't ready. Or the date would come and they wouldn't have the funds. So what happens in those instances?

[00:15:10] Brian: It may be that They lose a deposit. it may be that the project is just canceled. the project's rescheduled and they have to pay another deposit for those dates. There's a million ways this could go,

[00:15:18] Brian: but essentially before the project begins, if it's canceled, what happens? The second section to cover is in the middle of a project. So if you're halfway through the project and they decide they're done for whatever reason, maybe it's partially done, maybe it's incomplete at all. What happens in those scenarios?

[00:15:32] Brian: This can be called a kill fee and some niches. I've heard it called that. don't really use that fee But essentially what does it cost to kill this project?

[00:15:38] Brian: This usually compensates you for the work you've put in

[00:15:40] Brian: And there can be some nuance depending on the niche. For example, in my niche, the way I handled this was if clients came in, they prepaid for a certain amount of studio time, which covered a certain amount of songs we were going to produce together. And if they came in and they finished early because they were prepared, they knew their instruments well, they knew their parts well, they just smoothly got through the process in less time than [00:16:00] expected.

[00:16:00] Brian: I usually put a caveat where I would refund unused days. Rarely happened, but I would do it. What happened more often if they finished early is because they came in with fewer songs than discussed because they weren't prepared in those circumstances. I would not refund for the unused days.

[00:16:11] Brian: I put that clearly with my clients that if you finish early because you do less songs than we had discussed and schedule time for the remaining dates are not refunded. So that was essentially my kill fee is. I get paid full no matter what there is no kill fee,

[00:16:24] Brian: some projects you might feel like that. You're just not gelling Well, the project's not coming together. You're not feeling inspired or creative. You're just not a good fit for each other You've mutually decided this at any point you can kill a project together without any consequences if you both agree to this again Don't hold me to this There may be a world where that kind of agreement, trumps even what you two mutually agree on afterwards.

[00:16:42] Brian: I don't know, but that's how I would run things personally. And the third thing to look for on cancellation policy is what happens if you cancel the project? Aka you client and you can fire a client for a number of reasons. It might be that they are a pain to work with, that PETA tax, pain in the ass tax, is too high and you want to just end things.

[00:16:59] Brian: It could be [00:17:00] that

[00:17:00] Brian: Something happens, your studio burns down. It could be any number of things. But what happens if you end the project in this? Does that mean that you make up for it? You pay them for the unused time. You pay them for the full project. You credit them for future time with you. I mean, there's a million ways to structure this, but make sure something like this is covered or at least.

[00:17:17] Brian: Mapped out so that expectations are aligned the next part of this a client agreement is just making sure you're getting signatures from all parties as far as I understand you need to have signatures from anyone who's on the identifying info So for me if I'm working with a band I might have all band members on there and they all sign working with an individual or somebody that represents a company you can likely have one individual to sign for the company if they have The legal right to do so, but you also need a place for your own signature on this is called a counter signature. Once they sign, you countersign it with your own identifying information,

[00:17:45] Brian: but those are the major sections. There's always like little, bits and bobs that can go in there based on maybe something pops in your head. Like, I really want to cover that sort of potentially nuanced situation to make sure expectations are set ahead of time. Every niche is slightly different.

[00:17:57] Brian: So take this as just like a skeleton framework for you to go [00:18:00] off and do more with. But I do have an example. If you want to check this out. example client agreement you can get by going to six figure creative. com slash agreement.

[00:18:07] Brian: And this gives you an example of what I consider. a good looking, if you're a designer this will not be impressive to you, but to anyone except designers, if you want a good looking, client agreement, that's not just a gross, all caps, Word document. Which they tend to be. You can go to sixfigurecreative. com slash agreement. That'll also be in our show notes if you just like going to our show notes pages here.

[00:18:24] Brian: And that way you have kind of an example of what one could look like for you. If you want to know how to send one now, though, this is, Most people use something like PandaDox or DocuSign.

[00:18:31] Brian: Those are the two most popular. They're easy to set up. They're easy to send. I've used PandaDox. I like it a lot. But generally the one that I recommend. And in my opinion is infinitely better and it's a better experience for the clients and allows you to collect deposit After they sign things like that.

[00:18:45] Brian: You can get by just going to that again that link I sent you sixfigurecreative. com slash agreement. That's actually created in the tool that I use so you can get all that Signed up check it out

[00:18:52] Brian: it's something I have, been using since 2016, 14, I don't know, it's been a long time. So that is it for this episode. Uh, We will continue our [00:19:00] infinite client series next week. walking us through the onboarding process right now. This is like the very first step in onboarding is the client agreement.

[00:19:06] Brian: Well, There's some other steps in onboarding the client the right way to make sure we're aligning our expectations, making sure things are all, all the ducks in a row before we even start on the project. Right? Because if we start a project without everything done. During the Albany face correctly, it can be an absolute downhill train wreck from there.

[00:19:19] Brian: So that's where we're going to pick up next week. Thank you so much for checking out the six figure creative podcast. See you all next week.

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