You have a new client who is ready to sign on the dotted line. Congratulations! Before you start popping the champagne, make sure that you get your contract signature ready and know how you will store your signed contracts. If you or your client are ever uncertain about a specific detail (price, product or service details, payment, timelines, etc.) you can take a quick look at your contract and verify the details. In the really unfortunate-let’s-hope-this-never-happens scenario, that you are sued, your lawyer and the court is going to need to see what was in writing. Read on for a few quick tips on the best way to ensure your contracts are ready for signature.
1. Final format. Review the agreement and make sure the version that is ready for signature is in fact the final version of the agreement. If there was a lot of back and forth and negotiation, it is fairly easy to mistakenly circulate the wrong version for signature. One way to avoid this is that when the agreement is finalized, circulate the final version for signature by PDF or using a digital signature program where the agreement cannot be altered. DocuSign, HelloSign and Dubsado are all digital signature programs that I have heard positive reviews about but have not used them personally.
2. Schedules and appendices. Some contracts contain schedules and/or appendices at the back of the contract where further information is set out. For example, some service agreements may contain general information with respect to the process of payment, liability and termination but it is in the schedule where the exact services and prices are agreed upon. These make up the business terms of the agreement and should not be overlooked! These schedules and/or appendices are part of the agreement so you need to ensure that everything is included in them. I had a photographer client who realized that she had been sending her photography contract to her clients without the schedules to the agreement completed. The schedules set out exactly what her client was buying – the package, the price and all of the really important details! Please, please, please make sure that everything makes it into the final signed version of your contract (including the schedule and appendices).
3. Fill in the blanks. If you are working from a template contract, ensure that you have entered all of the information for that particular client. For example, double check that the date, names and addresses of the parties, the payment terms, the term of the agreement are all inserted. This is especially important if you are working with a template contract that you use for many different clients. You don’t want to miss a blank or forget to replace information from a previous contract. One way to avoid this is to automate the fields in your contracts so that you can ensure each one is completed. Or go way less techy and just highlight what needs to be completed in your template and ensure that it is correctly entered for each client’s contract. You can also ask a team member to do a quick read of the agreement to ensure that you haven’t missed anything.
4. Signature. If you take only one thing away from this article, let it be this: ensure that the contract has been signed by all of the parties. Some agreements require one signature at the end. Others may be required to be initialed on each page. Whatever the case, make sure that both you and your clients have signed/initialed the agreement appropriately. Double check your schedules and appendices as well. They sometimes contain provisions that need to be signed. There are a few different ways to obtain signatures to contracts; make sure that you understand the pros and cons of each.
5. Copies for everyone. Ensure that all parties have a fully signed version of the agreement with all schedules and appendices for their records. Typically this would be an electronic version (PDF) or however it is processed through your electronic signature program. Whatever the case, make sure that everyone receives one that they can keep for their records. If the agreement is signed in ink, decide who will keep the original version and ensure the other party has a photocopy of the full agreement. If you are going with a paper copy, I suggest you scan it and save it electronically. Keep the original in a fireproof safe.
Following the steps above will ensure that you and your client have signed exactly what was agreed upon in your negotiation. It will make you look much more professional and in the know. And then you can get to the fun part of wowing your client with your product or service!
How do you store your contracts once they are signed? Please let me know in the comments!