In the world of online business, one of the BEST feelings is signing a client. Whether they say yes on a discovery call, after a few social media messages, or after a free training or challenge you hosted, seeing people say YES to you is truly amazing.
BUT. All of the champagne, glitter, and rainbows can quickly disappear once you realize you’re actually taking someone’s money, and that person has expectations of what they’re going to receive. Anxiety-based thoughts start creeping in, causing you to wonder if you’re actually ready for this, if the client is going to be happy, and if you can actually charge that much.
When it’s time for the new client to pay, most coaches and consultants know they need something in place to confirm the agreement – some kind of contract that includes how much was paid, what they’re getting, what you’re providing, and what happens if something goes wrong. But what most don’t know is that you can’t just google “contract,” copy/paste a few things, and expect it to be a legally binding agreement that actually says everything you need to protect your individual business based on your individual offers.
So what DO you do?
You need a client agreement drafted by an attorney, specifically for you (or a template that has been confirmed to protect your business) who knows the online coaching and consulting space. A contract is not one-size fits all, even in the online space. For example, what a health or wellness coach needs in her agreement is different from what a business coach, virtual assistant, or social media strategist needs.
“My coach gave me her agreement to use.”
I hear this a LOT. And what most people don’t realize, is that doing this is very likely ILLEGAL. WHY? First, if you are going to use anything drafted by someone else, you need their permission to use it. Most likely, your coach did not draft the agreement herself (if she did…you don’t want any part of that agreement anyway!) but had it drafted by an attorney, or purchased a template specifically for her business. If you don’t have permission from the attorney who wrote it, there’s a good chance you may be committing copyright infringement by using it. Not to mention, if your coach shared it when she wasn’t supposed to, she may land in hot water as well.
Second, there’s a good chance what your coach needs in her agreement is going to be (at least slightly) different from what you need in yours. Using this agreement without confirmation that it will even protect you and your business is not what we want to do!
Since this will likely be the only document that defines your relationship with your coach, and the one document that will matter if there’s any kind of dispute, it HAS to be good. You’ve worked too hard to skip the part where you protect your business (and yourself!) I WON’T LET YOU DO IT!!
Friends don’t let friends operate legally exposed businesses. Deal? Ok. Good.
So what DO you need in your client agreement or contract? While I aggressively oppose you drafting your own agreement, (you can get your template HERE) I DO want you to understand what needs to go in one, so when you get your contract that has been drafted by an attorney, you understand the important pieces, and you can make sure everything is completed on your end, and you’re ready to sign clients.
(Let me tell you – they make us attorneys go to school for A LONG TIME, and then make us pass a test that lasts multiple DAYS to even complete, just so we know how to properly draft this stuff. Don’t try to do it yourself.)
Here are my TOP 3 THINGS that should be in EVERY coaching contract or client agreement:
- Program or Package information
This is one of THE MOST CRUCIAL parts of the agreement. When you talk with a potential client, chances are you told them what was included in the package you offered them. BUT – there is a very slim chance they wrote it all down, and if they did, there’s a good chance they missed something, or may have written it down wrong. SO, when you send them the client agreement, this section is the one they will review, to make sure they understand what they’re purchasing.
And THIS my friends, is how you can avoid a LOT of headache with unhappy clients. The vast majority of cases I see with disgruntled clients, stems from the fact that there was something unclear about the coach’s program, or something the client misunderstood. Outlining absolutely everything the package or program includes, in as much detail as possible, is a great way to help your client gain clarity, and reduce the likelihood of misunderstandings.
- Payment Information and Refund Policy
It’s all about the money. Your agreement needs to be crystal clear about how much the program costs, and how / when they are to pay you. If you’re allowing the client to pay with a payment plan, this needs to be outlined in detail as well – how many payments? When are they due? What happens if they miss a payment? This is the second way I see many client relationships break down – the client misses a payment or falls off the radar, and the coach doesn’t know what to do. When your contract is properly drafted, all of this will be taken care of. Instead of scrambling and panicking about how to get the person to pay you, what you should do, and whether you have the right to take action, you can simply start implementing the steps outlined in your contract for what to do when a client misses a payment. The best part, is that your client already agreed to all of this when he/she signed the contract, so there’s nothing to fight about. (You’re welcome.)
- Dispute Resolution Information
Similarly, if something does go wrong, you also don’t want to panic about where the dispute is going to be located. If your client is in another state or country…there’s a good chance he or she will be able to file a claim against you where he or she is located, not where you are. If this happens, you’ll end up needing to hire a local attorney, and incurring a whole lotta travel, legal, and other similar fees before you even get to costs associated with the claim itself. It can get really expensive, really fast! So how do we prevent that?
While we can’t prevent all lawsuits or claims, we can control what has to happen if a client would like to file something against your business, by confirming in the contract that any disputes must be resolved using YOUR state’s laws, in YOUR city. Your agreement can also have language indicating that any disputes will be resolved using something called arbitration, which is a form of dispute resolution that happens out of court, and functions more like a meeting. This brings the stress level waaaaaay down if there’s any kind of dispute, and helps resolve the issue quickly and relatively painlessly.
So there you have it – my top 3 things your coaching contract needs! To grab your client agreement template, click here!
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Christy Westerfeld, Esq. is an attorney and legal resource for online entrepreneurs and coaches. She helps savvy business women cut through the confusion and overwhelm of legal and create an easy and affordable plan of action to legally protect their businesses. While legal may not be #1 on your list of exciting topics, understanding the basics is VITAL to your success as an entrepreneur, and Christy will help you learn what you need to know, in a way that is easy to understand! When she isn’t working, you’ll find Christy chasing after her toddler, binge-watching “Suits,” or signing up for the latest beach city half marathon.