One of my students Jason F. sent this in the other day. I cannot believe the nerve of his customers to do this:

Oh boy did I get screwed. I sent my contract to a customer in word format – they signed and initialed as needed and I thought everything was fine. Day of the wedding I pulled out the contract to see the location address and noticed that my 8 page document somehow turned into a 9 page. (just by about 4 lines bleeding onto page 9).

So I read my contract from start to finish and these guys actually made changes to the contract!!!!!!! Not horrible, but bad enough. Since we both had signed the contract and both had copies I didn’t fight it, but lets just say that I lost 500 dollars in profit, making 2000 rather than 2500 because they added prints in the contract, and revoked the model release and a few other small issues.

Lesson learned – only send the contract in PDF format, or Fax the document. That way the customer cannot make hidden changes. I cant believe that they sunk to that level. As soon as I got to the shoot they actually had the nerve to tell me when they expect their free prints! – Jason

Lessons learned:

1. Always, always check the contract if you have sent it to them before hand. Even if you get something back that looks the same, make sure nothing has “changed”.
2. Try to send PDF’s when possible.
3. Be extremely careful when customers “change things” in the contract, even when they tell you about it up front. This is a huge red flag in my book. (Obviously there are exceptions, and this wouldn’t apply to businesses who are over killing their contracts.) Probably best to say: ” I am sorry then, I will have to send this to my attorney for review.”
4. Only sign it after the customer has signed the original and has made a down payment.

When I hired my new programmer last week, I sent him a Non-Disclosure and a Work For Hire agreement. While I had sent him PDFs straight off of Contract Maker Pro, he went as far as to re-type them and re-print them. When he mentioned he had “changed a few things”, I immediately asked him what he changed and why.

As much as a wanted to hire the guy, there was no way as his future employer I would allow him to dictate my terms and was a hairs width of standing up and leaving. After some very tense “negotiations”, he relented and we were able to re-word the contracts on the spot into language we could both agree. Would have been better if we had our lawyers present of course, but that isn’t always possible. Ultimately, if he doesn’t get it done, he will be out of a job, so most of the pressure is still on him.

But yes, if you have a contract, especially if it has been written by your attorney (all of the contracts in Photographers Contract Maker and Contract Maker Pro were written by one of mine) and a regular everyday person decides to alter it- it’s a good indication to walk away.

Jason says he has more of the story coming and I will post it as an update when I get it.

UPDATE: (The Rest of the Story):

Short quick version – I usually underpromise and over deliver. Per my contract all editing is at 75 dollars an hour. I usually do not bill them and call it a wedding present because their wedding really was special and I felt like a special guest – like part pf the family

So, i charged her as my contract states – at 75/ hour – for 8 hours. So the 500 they stole from me actually cost them 600, And i was there 45 minutes extra at their request – which I normally also throw in for free – contract states 125 per hour in 30 minute increments, so you guessed it – an additional 125 so their attempt to trick me out of 500 cost them 725 dollars.

I teach a lot of my students to have these “contingency plans” built into their contracts, things such as overtime, editing, prints, etc should all cost a little more, and if the customer is a “good” one, they can all be waived and their expectations exceeded (which is very important). No matter how careful you are though, there will always be the one customer who will want more, to pay for less and try to take advantage of you in little ways. Having these contingency plans are a great way to be prepared for them and it is something I cover in my Business Crash Course DVD.