Talk It Out Tuesday: Coffee Chat
Protect Yourself While Staying Aligned with Your Business
with Guest Host and Lawyer, Suzanne Quinn
She will be diving into the TOP LEGAL TIPS for wedding creatives and how to protect yourself while still staying aligned with your business goals.
Episode 17 Coffee Chat Replay
Episode 17 Podcast
Our coffee chats are now available on iTunes! Listen to the episode by clicking the link below and be sure to subscribe to stay up to date on new episodes.
Lauren Dragon-Cook: Good morning everyone! Today we have Miss Suzanne Quinn with us. She is a very dear friend of mine. We met last year and we basically made chicken salad out of chicken shat and so here we are!
Suzanne Quinn: That is one way of saying it!
Lauren: Yes! Let’s dive in really quickly and from there we can answer some of your questions! Suzanne is a lawyer, she is a dear friend… Primarily what kind of law do you work in, Suzanne?
Suzanne: I have been practicing for 18 years. I do small business, corporate, estates, and real estate. I used to do family law as well but I do not do that anymore. I have a lot of knowledge, but it not something I practice anymore. Now I mostly shift my focus to working with business owners and entrepreneurs. So many people don’t have what they need to be operating their businesses.
Lauren: It is so true and I feel so many people see hiring a lawyer for X, Y, Z as a luxury. It is something they always put off, so I am so excited you are here!
Without further ado Suzanne is going to talk to you all for a little bit and then we will dive into your questions!
Suzanne: I just wanted to talk a bit about why it is important to talk about contracts. The reason we need contracts is basically any time you have an agreement with anybody, it should be in writing. It is to protect yourself, protect your client, and to make sure you are both speaking the same language and understanding each other. Sometimes you have a conversation with a client about what it is you are going to do for them and there can still be misunderstandings. In the old days everything was on a handshake, but the reason the practice of law and contracts have developed the way they have is because people stopped honoring those handshakes or there were too many misunderstandings with what was supposed to transpire. The best thing to do is have everything in writing so it outlines what you are giving and what you are getting.
What happens if you cancel? What happens if they cancel? What is the refund policy? And there are other clauses that go into every contract to protect yourself. There are many things you should have.
If you have a website, you want to have website privacy policies, especially if you are exchanging private information. What is your policy on what you do with that information? Who do you share it with? Do you even share it with anybody? There are also liability waivers, especially if you are in health, nutrition, fitness, you want to have disclaimers on your website saying “consult your doctor before doing anything”. You don’t want to have that additional responsibility.
On your website you want to be able to protect your intellectual property. People should understand what is expected from them and what is expected from you.
Maybe you need to have a client service contract. If you have a customer or a client, this contract will outline what the terms will be. What happens if you want to get out? What happens if they want to get out? Both of those things can be in there.
If you have very specific things you need to put into your contract, a basic contract template you find online isn’t going to cut it. You can easily customize a contract to anything you need to include!
Another thing to keep in mind are releases. You want to be able to show people your work. Whether you’re an event planner or photographer, you want to be able to show all your people what you’ve done. You will want a release from your clients stating you can use their photos or testimonials on your website.
You might also need a contractor agreement. If you are working with someone or someone is doing some work for you, you want to make sure it is clear that they are not an employee of yours. This is for the government. You want to make sure the IRS doesn’t accuse you for not reporting taxes because this person was an employee. It helps to fortify your position and this persons position. This again is to protect yourself, your family, your money…
Owning a Business
If you own your own business you want to have an estate plan. It is not that hard. It is just never at the top of anyone’s to-do list. What would happen if… You want to have a plan for the future! Often we avoid things that we don’t see as being a priority right now… but planning for your business’ future is so important.
Lauren: Yes! It is just like doing your taxes… you don’t want to do it, you don’t look forward to doing them… but it is a necessity. Sometimes in this business we find ourselves exhausted and overwhelmed and we feel we don’t have time to make for these business essentials… but we have to recognize these are essentials! They need to get done. And finding a way to balance it all will help.
Suzanne: Part of what I do is I have templates for business owners. I created these because I realized after practicing for 18 years that a lot of people couldn’t afford to go to a lawyer to get what they needed. My biggest concern, once I started my online business was the more people I talked to the more people said they didn’t have contracts. They were just starting out their business and they didn’t have the capital to pay $5,000 retainer for a lawyer. So they were not getting what they needed. My goal was to try to create an affordable way for people to get what they needed without breaking the bank.
Lauren: How do people find you?
Suzanne: I don’t have a group yet, but I do have a Facebook page called “Sisters Guide to Law”. If you go to that page you can book a free 20 or 30 minute call where we talk about what your business is and what I think you need for your business and we can take it from there. Depending on your budget I do everything from selling you templates, (start at about $197), to customizing a package for you, to doing it individually. It just depends on what you need and what you want to pay for.
Lauren: Suzanne is definitely different that most stereotypical lawyers. She brings the element of compassion and empathy. She is going to not only tell you what you should do for your business, but she also values what is right. This is something Suzanne has been doing for years now, but something she is finally tapped into a little but more. I want her to talk to you about universal law, but I think it is very important as business owners and creatives to find people that you can hire for your team that guide you. Find a lawyer you resonate with! It doesn’t have to be weird! They are humans, not robots!
Employees vs Subcontractors
Suzanne: I just want to go back toe talking about contracts for people who are helping to run your business. Some of the things the IRS will look for come tax season are things you want to be prepared for. So if someone works for you and you only, that sometimes is a problem. Are you giving them a paycheck? Or are they paid hourly? They look at whether or not it is task based. Are they coming to your place to do the work? All of these things factor into whether or not they consider them to be an employee. If you are having one of those subcontractor agreements you want to have an end date. You can always contract them constantly or renew it as many times are you need to, but having an end date goes a long way to showing they are not an employee. If it is open ended they might still look at your contract. If they see they are being paid hourly, works at your location, and there is no end date, and they don’t work for anybody but you… they could still view them as an employee.
This is something I always incorporated in my own practice. When I talk to people about the law there are a few things we need to consider. The laws of man are very black and white. There are always gray areas of course when you get into the nuts and bolts of it. But when you have laws that are drafted on the books they say “this is what is legal and this is what it not”.
The thing about where you are and what the law says, it doesn’t take into consideration what is right. You might be entitled to something by the letter of the law, but it might not necessarily be the right issue. Let me give you an example:
You are a photographer. You have a wedding booked and they agreed to pay you X mount of dollars, you save the date, and its probably too late to book another wedding then. One of the people dies. Technically, your contract probably says they need to pay you in full or at the very least the deposit is not refundable. So legally, you are protected. Now… what would you do if you were that bride and your fiancé suddenly passed? Would you not want your photographer to refund you that deposit? Of course! And as a photographer you probably would want to refund that deposit, but you are really tight on cash and you are not going to be able to book another wedding during that period. What do you do?
This is really a conundrum. Maybe you really need the money. Universal laws are pervasive through all time and all religions. Doesn’t matter whether you have faith or you don’t. If you go back through Ancient Greece or Egypt, there are common themes. Certain things are universal truths. These are universal laws. Depending on what source you use there are either 7, 12, or 12 with 21 sublaws, but I like to go with 12 because it is simple.
12 Universal Laws
Law of divine oneness
Law of vibration
Law of action
Law of correspondence
Law of cause and effect
Law of compensation
Law of attraction
Law of perpetual transmutation of energy
Law of relativity
Law of polarity
Law of gender
Law of rhythm
So we have all of these different laws… which one would apply in the above example? I believe it is the law of cause and effect. Kind of like karma… and the other laws I would say apply are the laws of attraction and vibration. The law of vibration says that everything you are and everything you think and everything you say is energy. All of our thoughts are energy. We are constantly in a state of worry. We are worried about a lack of money and in a scarcity mindset. All of that worry, just will keep us in a low vibration. The law of attraction says all of that will attract more. You will keep attracting the negativity because you are vibrating at a very low point.
If you are presented with this situation and you are in that scarcity mindset, I don’t think it is going to bode very well for you. Right? If you don’t use your compassion and you only think of yourself and you go to a very negative place, then you will stay in that negative place.
You have to balance all of universal laws and what you think is morally right for each situation.
This example came up the other day in a group I am in. I stated that no matter how much you feel you need the money, I would give it back. Whereas other business owners said “why don’t you keep the deposit and explain why” or “why don’t you keep some of it and give some of it back”. At the end of the day I don’t know what she decided to do, but if she could just let go of the worry that I need the money.. I think all other things would fall into place.
Lauren: This is why I freakin’ love you Suzanne! You bring your expertise to the table and your candor and your professionalism, but at the same time you provide this entirely different perspective. It is a beautiful thing.
Suzanne: You will always find a lawyer that will fill your head and tell you stuff and they will fuel you to move forward because it lines their pocket. I hate saying that because I am a lawyer and lawyers already have a bad name, but there is a reason for that. I have been up against a lot of lawyers who egg their clients on. They fill their clients head with all the things they could get or what they should get because they know they will make $50,000. I am not interested in making $50,000. I am interested in your keeping $50,000 and making $5,000. That is why lawyers have a bad name, lawyers are not interested in moving forward your life forward in a positive way. They are reading what is right in front of them.
When I talk about the laws of the universe they really do intersect so much with our laws. The law of action says the universe is not going to give you what you want if you don’t take steps to make it happen. That vision board isn’t going to do anything for you. The law of action says if you want your business to succeed you need to start to take steps. Even if they are baby steps, but you have to move forward. This is where I come in… you want to have a business and protect your family and what you have… the law of action says get your ducks in a row. Get what you need and do it properly.
Don’t go to someone else’s website and copy their contract. You don’t know if a lawyer looked theirs over. You can take the right steps and it doesn’t have to be taking all the money out of your pocket. It is a matter of finding the right person. Do your homework.
Lauren: I see this a lot with people just starting out on their businesses. They may not have a whole lot of money to play with. The idea of spending money on something that you may or may not need isn’t appealing. You can only put it off for so long until the inevitable will come in some shape or form. I hear more and more business owners that have situations where they do need a lawyer and they don’t even know where to begin. It is not something they’ve educated themselves on. They just put it off. And to be totally honest I did too.
Suzanne: And then you met me!
Lauren: Yes it is so true! And if I hadn’t, I very well could’ve needed a lawyer!
Suzanne: And the truth is… not all lawyers are terrible. We all have bad experiences. I’ve had bad experiences with hairdressers and photographers… but it doesn’t mean all photographers or all hairdressers are bad! So not all lawyers are bad! It might just be a greater percentage that shows a little bit because of the nature of the business we do. It is adversarial by nature. To find one that is not as condescending might be a bit challenging… but we are out there!
Lauren: She is a beautiful unicorn! She really is! The other great thing about Suzanne also is she is everywhere! She knows people from all over the place. Even though she lives in Canada she has a lot of connections in the states.
Suzanne: Someone has stated that morality wins over legality in the example from above. Obviously the groom dying from that example is an extreme case, but there are so many instances that can come up! What if you had an event and they lost their job and the ability to pay for it and they had to cancel? What if their father had a stroke and they had to move in with them and they have to divert the funds to that? There are so many situations that aren’t so cut and dry! That is where you have to think about… put yourself in that person’s shoes. What would you need at that point?
And there is always the risk of people lying to you. You have no way of knowing what is true and what is not. I do believe in the law of cause and effect and karma and if they lie to you to get out of a contract and you let them out… you didn’t do anything wrong. That is what they have to deal with… later it will come back to them.
Retainer or Deposit?
Lauren: One question that just popped into my head because I’ve seen it time and time again… is it retainer or is it deposit in the contract?
Suzanne: I don’t know how many people work on retainer. Lawyers typically work on a retainer. The way that works is you pay me $5,000. That is your retainer. That is paying me up front and as I do the work, I send you a bill and then take the money out of the trust account. Now unless you have a trust account that is separate, I don’t think it is a retainer. Everyone else works on a deposit. That is why I think your service contract has to be very specific.
Here is what the terms of the payment are… here is the full price, here is the deposit, the deposit is non refundable… these are when the payments are due. What happens in terms of a cancellation? When are they allowed to terminate?
If you haven’t done any work yet or haven’t finished the work yet, then I think there is room for a refund. It really depends on the type of industry you are in.
Lauren: I think that is probably the variable. As long as you do not use the word retainer, you are good! But make sure you use the terminology “nonrefundable”. Really drive home the fact once they make that payment, they will not get it back… unless something tragic happens and then it becomes a universal law and morality.
Suzanne: You never have to put the “unless” in your contract. You have protected yourself and then you have the discretion to give it back or not to give it back. Otherwise it gets too complicated to put that language in. There are too many variables there.
Lauren: Another thing that just popped up for me. This might apply more for photographers, but if I’m a wedding photographer and I got this stellar dance shot of a whole bunch of people dancing or it’s a photo of the bridal party and I want to showcase that. How would you protect yourself if someone were to hop on the website and say “well I never gave you permission to let you us that photo of me”. Because obviously you cannot have 150, 100 people sign a model release. How would you go about that?
Suzanne: Its an interesting conundrum. Theoretically you would love to have whoever is in that picture sign a release. I would put it into the contract for the couple. I would state “on behalf of the invitees to that event they are giving consent to use any photographs”. Now will it hold up in court? Maybe not, but that is the best you could really do.
Perhaps if you take a great photo and you recognize it at the time, perhaps you chat with the people in the photo and ask.
Lauren: And how will a verbal consent hold up?
Suzanne: You could record it on your phone. We have so much technology now, so instead of having it on a piece of paper you could have a release on your phone and have them sign it electronically.
If you are doing an event like a grand opening of a restaurant or something and you take a photo of a man with someone other than his wife and you post it. That could be an issue. So in that case you might want to bring some releases with you.
Suzanne: Being in a situation where your client doesn’t pay you or doesn’t pay you on time… this will happen to everybody in the business industry. It has happened to me. I have a client who gives me a retainer but then the retainer runs out? What do I do? “Oh well I won’t be going to court for you”. Here is family law the court will not allow us to do that. So if your client’s retainer has run out, you can’t get off the file because it would prejudice the client.
You can be screwed in a couple ways and it does suck, but it happens.
Lauren: But in the end… cause and effect. It will always come back at them in some shape or form.
I feel a question of the hour some people may have but could be uncomfortable to ask… if someone already has a contract but they just want you to look it over for them, what is your flat rate?
Suzanne: I think it about $197 to review a contract. That is if its about 5 pages or less. But if it’s a 30 page contract, we will have to talk. Most contracts though are not that long. That goes the same for when you are signing a contract for someone else. As much as we are all business owners, awe are also clients. I can also review other contracts for you that you are signing as the client. It is always excited to get a second opinion.
Lauren: Suzanne is just such a plethora of knowledge, especially when it comes to verbiage. Because as we all know with emails… it is a paper trail. You have to be careful what you do say in emails. Not to the point where you worry yourself, but know you should be doing most of your corresponding via email with regard to things related to the contract or may need documentation.
Wrapping Things Up
So Suzanne, thank you so much! This has just been so amazing to have you here to answer our questions and give us your knowledge.
Suzanne: It has been so lovely to be here. I have added a little blurb below about how to create your will, since that is something I do. I do not create templates for wills, since they are more personal. Or you can use this information and use a local lawyer to get it done.
Having your estate plan in place is essential. You need to have a last will and testament. This will direct your money and assets to people after you have passed on. What you are talking about is a living will. A living will states your wishes that you want carried out when you are still alive, but unable to make decisions for yourself.
All of this is stuff you should have if you have a family and a business. It explains what you need to think about when you are drafting that. And I’ve also posted a blurb about the top tips for entrepreneurs.
Lauren: I love you! Thankyou so much for being here and answering all of our ridiculous questions. Please check out Suzanne and her website! It is under construction currently but you can find the link below so you can connect with her!
Thank you for tuning it! Next week we will be chatting with Casey, so don’t miss out!
Q + A
Q: I’m a photographer and I use cake in some of my photos. What would I do if I have a client who has a good allergy?
A: There are writers you can put right in the contract. Sometimes I tell people if there is something particular you want to focus on, you not only have them sign the contract, but you have them initial that paragraph. Some people might say down the line that they didn’t read the whole contract and you just told them to sign the last page. You want to be able to protect yourself against that.
Q: I’ve been stuck trying to find a lawyer to create contracts for my photography business for many months. I’ve done searches, but none seem to do business contracts from their websites (as far as I can tell). I’ve asked a lot of local business owners, but none of them seem to use lawyers to create their contracts. I had one lawyer from out of state tell me the starting price point to create contracts is $800. What are some tips to finding a local lawyer to create my business contracts? What is a starting price range I should expect to pay for creating contracts?
A: Price range is a very individual thing. You will get some lawyers that charge you $500 and others that will charge you $5,000. So what are you paying for? Generally in lawyer terms you are paying for that lawyers experience and you are paying for their location. Are they downtown or are they in the suburbs? You are paying for how big their cliental is. I have a HUGE client base and I have more work than I can handle, therefore I am going to increase my price because I can. There are so many variables and it is hard to say what the starting price would be.
In my case, it is an hourly amount. It depends… sometimes I do flat rates. If it is something I am custom drafting it depends on how long it takes me. Now I have templates. This is a whole other thing… you can go online sometimes and find templates yourself. Way more economical. Once you’ve done that… I would always recommend finding a local lawyer to look over it. That consultation process could save you a lot of money.
Now to find a local lawyer that does this… sometimes we cannot put everything on our website. It can be difficult to figure out. Any local lawyer who does corporate law should be able to help. A lot of lawyers who are general practice lawyers will do a lot of things, but they might not do individual contracts because of time constraints. But I would say if you are searching local, look for a lawyer that does contract law.
Q: I had a florist’s friend who had a client pay primary fees, signed the contract, and then kept putting off the final payment which was due prior to the wedding. The contract stated that if the amount is not paid in full, then the flowers will not be provided for the wedding. Consequently, the florist did not deliver the flowers. This client also did not pay some of her other vendors as well. Was the florist correct in what they did? Can you withhold delivery upon non-payment?
A: Yes, the florist was well within their rights to do that. Once she delivers them and then they don’t pay? She is screwed. If people don’t pay and then she delivers the flowers, she is chasing the money. On the other hand, she could get the payment paid in advance and the not deliver or provide a lower quality and then the people are stuck chasing her. But it sounds like in this case it was clear in the contract the terms of the agreement and therefore she was well within her right to make that decision.
Some people I know have a term in their contract that states all payments will be paid in full four weeks prior to the event. That way it gives them a buffer in case something happens in that time frame.
Q: Do you know any creatives in the wedding industry who have been sued?
A: (Suzanne) I don’t know any wedding creatives who have been sued. But I do know several business owners who have. When people are unhappy with their particular situation they just sue everybody, including their lawyers. Nothing ever stuck, but it still means you have to defend and go to court.
A: I can’t really speak to there’s, but you might want to have someone else look at it to make sure it is covering everything it is supposed to cover. You want to make sure it will cover everything for your business. Its not necessarily one size fits all.
Q: Should you talk to a lawyer in order to figure out social security and retirement?
A: You will work with a lawyer for your estate plan to get your documents in place. Maybe you also work with a financial advisor. You want to make sure as a self employed person you are thinking about the future because the benefits from the government won’t be sufficient when you retire. You want to make sure you are putting away money for your future.
Q: What is it when it is called when you have someone who works for you and you have them sign something so they cannot take any information when they leave?
A: Non-disclosure agreement. I have these templates too.
Q: What is the difference between a non-compete and a non-disclosure?
A: A non-compete means they are not going to steal your clients or operate a business in the same regional area as you and compete with you. Non-disclosure means they are not going to share your client list or other proprietary information you have.
Q: What documentation do you need to have for an LLC? What should we as the general creative realm be?
A: The problem with sole proprietor is you are creating your business in your name. They will be contracting with you as a person. When this happens it opens you up to liability. So if you own a house or a car or have money in the bank, they are suing YOU and all of that can be touched. When you have an LLC corporate then the corporation is an entity unto itself. You will be contracting with the company not Lauren. If they sue anybody it’s the company. They can only attach the company assets in the lawsuit. An LLC limits your liability when you are contracting with other people.