Contracts for Creative Entrepreneurs - Part 1: Deliverables

Contract advice for creative entrepreneurs

One of the main reasons I started working as a Negotiation Consultant was to help small businesses and entrepreneurs sign amazing contracts. I think of it was taking the ‘corporate magic’ I work with other clients and making it accessible and easy-to-understand for everyone.

In the time I’ve spent working with entrepreneurs, I’ve learned so much about new industries and arts – web development, graphic design, photographers, artists – and when I think of the contract work they’re doing with clients, I'm both excited...and nervous.

In my Negotiation Consulting work, I help firms negotiate massive documents, filled with all sorts of legal language and confusing turns of phrase. When a file arrives, it can take a fair bit of work to wrap my head around all of the elements at play and see how they effect each company involved.

So I can only imagine that when some of you receive a proposal or contract that has been through a 'corporate machine', it can be a bit daunting.

In this 3 part series on Contracts for Creative Entrepreneurs, I'll provide you with some guidance on things to look for when you're reviewing a document. In Part 1, we'll look at the idea of Deliverables, in Part 2, Exclusivity, and in Part 3, everyone's favourite element - Payment.

Enjoy!    Devon


One of the fundamentals of a new client or project is the definition of what exactly you'll be providing in the relationship. Even if your expertise is quite focused and the request seems clear, it can be helpful to read through the contract and answer the following questions for yourself before signing.

Tip: Take a piece of paper and divide it into quadrants. As you review the questions below, record your answer in one of the sections. This way, you'll have a clear, 1-page document that captures the important details of your contract review.

1) What are you responsible for delivering? 

Exactly what are you responsible for?

Is it an article? An illustration? A website? Just one? Two? Several? Will those 3 sketches be in colour? Black and white? Does it need to be a day look, an evening look and a weekend look?

If the firm is asking you to provide a set of 3 original sketches for their project, that's what you'll need to deliver. Not 1 and not 5. And while you may have impeccable taste and an artistic eye, when you're under contract to another firm you'll need to deliver exactly what they're looking for content-wise- and if you can't do that (or don't want to) then don't sign the contract.

2) When is it due?

Knowing your timeline is important - everyone works to tight schedules these days, and having your work show up late doesn't bode well for future business. Make sure that you can identify in the contract when your proposals, drafts and final versions are due. There may be several steps in between the initial concept and the final product - each with it's own delivery date - so make sure that you can map the process from start to finish. Even better, include that schedule breakdown in the contract itself.

If you're not going to be able to promise delivery to the schedule proposed, speak up! A lot of companies will be able to accommodate some changes to the plan if you're up front about it and your requests are reasonable.

3) Who has creative control?

You've been approached because the publication loves the way you write, or because the brand sees your art as hitting the right notes with their target market - if they didn't like your work they wouldn't have offered you this contract. prepared for feedback. Look in the contract for what level of creative control you have, and what alterations the firm can make after the fact.

If it's important to you that your photographic vision remain whole and un-retouched, then signing a contract that allows a publication to photoshop or otherwise alter your work may not be the right move for you. Two key terms to look for are ‘waiver of moral rights’ and 'work for hire'. The contract terminology glossary from the Graphic Artist's Guild does a great job of explaining what the various pieces of legal jargon mean.

4) Who owns it?

This is a biggie. Sometimes, artists retain ownership over their work. Many authors still own the copyright to books, even though a publishing house may be bringing it to market. Other times, artists sell the work and the copyright to a firm in exchange for a single payment (we'll delve into the payment details in Part 3).

Are you comfortable with the firm using your images, words or music without restriction? What if it is re-purposed in order to sell a product or send a message that you don't personally believe in? Creative copyrights are a difficult subject, but even basic contracts cover ownership (Intellectual Property or Proprietary Information are the words to look for - the glossary linked above is a great resource for additional guidance) - make sure you understand how this impacts you.


There's a lot of excitement that surrounds a new business venture or a new client - but it's important to take a step back, calm down, and make sure that you've got all your ducks in a row before signing. The company you're working with should respect your need to take a few days (or weeks, for a large document) in order to review the contract. If they're pressuring you into signing without review...that's a definite red flag.

Taking the time to ask these questions, and document the answers is time well spent. Especially when we’ve been talking about a project, or exchanging emails, we can sometimes assume what the content of the contract will be – but double checking to make sure it reflects those previous agreements can make the difference between a smooth sailing business relationship, and one that hits the rocks.

Next week, we’ll be looking at exclusivity in contracts, the different forms it can take, and the pros and cons that will help you decide what works best for your business.


Note: Although I work with contracts regularly, I am not a legal professional and my advice is not intended to take the place of that of a lawyer. I recommend that you seek professional legal advice regarding any contract that you are considering.