Bring Your Business Clarity With Plain English Contracts
We’ve all seen them – and we’ve all been asked to sign them. Contracts that are apparently written in English, and yet we can’t understand any of it.
Whereas. Heretofore. Aforementioned. Nothwithstanding.
What does it all mean? What are my obligations? How does this work? Am I protected?
Making sure that you’re covering your legal bases when you’re an indie business owner or entrepreneur is critical, and a big part of this is setting up contracts with your vendors, customers and partners. But here’s the deal: Contracts don’t need to be in legalese to be real…
Yes, there are some legal terms you’re going to want to incorporate (confidentiality, liability, proprietary information & indemnification come to mind) and get really familiar with, but for the most part, plain ol’ English (or Spanish, or French…) will do the trick.
Scratch that – it will more than do the trick, it will actually improve your vendor and client relationships because everyone will understand what’s going on. No one feels like the wool is being pulled over their eyes – and when it comes time to actually ‘do’ the business, no one is surprised by what their responsibilities are. You’re on an equal footing and that’s when negotiation and relationship magic can happen.
Avoid being cutesy or sassy
There is a very big difference between the language you should use when writing a business document and the language you’d use in your marketing or blog posts. Kicking off an article with a sassy “Hey Girl!” might speak directly to your dream clients, but loses its charm when it appears in a non-disclosure agreement. Over-doing the personality in a contract can hurt you in two ways: 1) you look unprofessional (how much trust do you have in a contract with winky faces?), and 2) using popular phrases and expressions will date your document. If you’re investing in pulling together a legal document, you want it to have longevity. Think ‘elegant and timeless’ when writing.
Use your own words
It’s important that if you have terminology that you use in your business, that you use those terms in your agreements. Not a highfalutin’ expression that you heard someone else use. These unique specific terms are best suited to describing what’s being provided or received, whether a product or service. Do you provide your clients with a Custom Wardrobe Equation at the end of their styling session with you? Say so! There’s no need to call it a ‘Strategic and Scientific Optimal Garment Combination System’. But a word of caution: be careful not to replace all of the legal jargon with equally difficult to understand business jargon.
Nothing substitutes for legal advice
I may have worked with a whole ton of legal documents and negotiations over my career and I may be a pretty smart cookie, but one thing I am not is a lawyer. I know my limits and when to ask professionals for advice – this is especially important for when you’re working with contracts. If hiring a lawyer to help with your drafting is out of your budget, check in your local area for legal clinics or indie business/entrepreneur support centers. Many university law schools will have clinics where you can obtain legal information to guide your decisions, and the cost is likely minimal. For your foundation building documents like Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policies, a resource like those at the Freelancers Union can help get you into shape.
I've also got the following articles that'll help you whip those contracts into shape:
Keep these tips in mind to ensure that your contracts are crystal clear for you and your clients, vendors and partners. Switch that legalese for something that reads with ease.