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What Bloggers Need to Know About Contracts

by Sara Hawkins

what bloggers need to know about contracts

Whether it’s from a brand, an agency, or a blogger network, paid work for influencers is more and more common. Along with that paid work, influencers are presented with contracts they’re being asked to sign. For many, though, reading through a contract is a daunting task.

As a blogging professional, and business owner, it’s important to understand what you’re signing. I understand that contracts are often full of legal language that’s confusing to follow. Most of us at this point in our lives have signed contracts, some which may have turned out to have unintended consequences. If you own a home or have purchased or leased a vehicle you’ve likely just signed off on the contracts either because you trust that what you’re signing is right or because you figured there’s no way to change it so may as well sign it. I’m a lawyer and I’ve signed off on things without reading them, so you’re not confessing to something shameful.

My friends at One2One Network asked me if I’d share a few insights and tips to help my fellow influencers gain confidence in reviewing contracts and being aware of key items to look for before signing. My goal is to empower you to understand what you’re agreeing to and make decisions not solely based on getting a few bucks or other compensation but on the impact this agreement will have on your business.

  1. Read the contract – I know this sounds very basic, but I have had many clients come to me when something goes wrong and tell me they never read the agreement. Again, I know they’re not easy to read. I also know that contract language isn’t something everyone understands. However, having a basic knowledge of the terms is an important first step. Just making sure the compensation and deliverables is correct can make a difference. If you read it and truly don’t understand it, ask for help so you aren’t agreeing to something you didn’t intend to.
  2. Exclusivity – For brands, this can be a big deal. For bloggers, it definitely is a big deal because it’s about who you can work with in the future. The contract may not have an exact term called “Exclusivity”, but that doesn’t mean it’s not in there. Look for language that limits who you can work with and for how long. Exclusivity provisions aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but you need to know if you’ll be able to work with another brand in a few months or if you’ll have to pass on their offer. In addition, if you’re already working with a brand you’ll want to know if this new relationship will have an effect on your existing brand relationship. If there is an exclusivity term and it’s not working for you, negotiate what you need. If your conditions don’t work for the brand or agency try to find common ground, accept the limitations, or walk away.
  3. Payment Term – This seems like a no-brainer, but many people skip over it once they confirm that the payment amount is correct. Some contracts may require you to send an invoice while others will generate payment automatically. Make sure you know if you need to send an invoice so you’re not the one holding up your own payment. In addition, understand the time frame. They may pay 30 days after the end of the campaign, or 15 days after receipt of your invoice. Maybe they will pay half at signing but the final payment after the last post 6-months from now. Not only will this help you with your budgeting, but if you need something different you can try to negotiate payment terms that work for you.
  4. Copyright – For many bloggers this is not a big concern. For brands, and their agencies, copyright is a big concern. This is one of those areas where the language can get tricky and, if not written correctly, not do what the parties think it’s doing. If brands are wanting to own your work, look for “work for hire” language. This means that the work you do in fulfillment of the contract belongs to the other party, not you. Sometimes this bothers people, not owning their work, but it’s not all that uncommon. A brand doesn’t want to pay for work and not be able to use it for whatever they want. However, you may have a different idea and not want your work used other than in the sponsored post and social shares. Copyright can get very complicated. However, if it’s a concern make sure you understand this term of the agreement. If there is no copyright provision, you would maintain all rights if it’s something that could be copyrighted. I have found ways to craft language so that the brand gets the rights to the work they need and my client keeps rights in their work as well. It can be tricky, but it’s possible. The key is to understand what’s written and compare that to what each of the parties need.
  5. Termination – I’m always surprised that people skip over this provision. We don’t want to think about having to get out of the contract. The brand thinks about it and likely has written the provision so they can back out at any time, with or without any good reason. But what about you? Is there a way for you to get out of the contract if you need? And what about being paid? I’ve seen many contracts that allow a brand to terminate an agreement for whatever reason and not need to provide any compensation. For my clients, it’s important that I ensure their financial needs are considered should the contract be terminated. Imagine giving up opportunities to participate in what was supposed to be a big project only to have the project cancelled a short time in.
  6. The parties – Often overlooked, if you are operating as a company you may want the contract to be in the name of your company due to liability and tax reasons. Some brand and agency reps don’t understand the tax and legal issues related to how you enter into a contract or are paid. And, honestly, it’s not really their area of expertise or their job to know. However, if you’ve taken the time to establish a company talk with your accounting or legal professional about the importance and significance of entering into contracts on behalf of your company as opposed to entering into them as an individual.

In the end, the most important takeaway I have for you is don’t fear contracts. They’re a necessary part of doing business and can be very helpful in giving you understanding and control in your business relationships. A contract is like the rules of the game. We’ve all played games where someone else started changing the rules so they’d win. It’s annoying, right? If you’re a parent, you may have had to mediate some of these disputes. Think of those situations when you’re exasperated trying to read a contract or just wanting to sign off and get the contract back to the other party. A little understanding goes a long way. And if it’s for enough money, consider hiring an attorney. You may not be able to negotiate all the things you want but when you sign the agreement at least you’ll know that you understand what you’re getting yourself into.

 

sara hawkinsSara Hawkins is a leading business and intellectual property attorney for entrepreneurs, content creators, online professionals, and bloggers. She been a lawyer over 15 years and has been practicing as a social media lawyer long before the term “social media” was coined. Her expertise is working with small to medium-sized businesses and entrepreneurs. She was one of very few attorneys back in the mid-90s who fully embraced the web and how it was changing the way businesses worked. As the dot-com boom was in full swing, traditional laws were being stretched by this new forum called the world wide web.

The intersection of the law, technology, and business is where Sara’s passion comes to life. Her philosophy as a lawyer is to help clients do what they need for success, while steering them clear of roadblocks. Sara believes it’s possible to be ethical and successful.

Sara is also a blogger! She maintains two sites: Saving for Someday, where she writes about saving money along with other anecdotes from her life, and SaraHawkins.com, where she shares legal tips for online influencers. She lives in Arizona, is married, and has one daughter. Sara loves to travel and her favorite vacation destination is Disneyland.

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Image provided by Sara Hawkins

7 Comments

  1. Thanks, Sara! Very helpful info!

  2. This is GREAT! Thanks!

  3. This was so helpful, however, I have a question. What do I do if a client doesn’t pay me within the terms stated in the contract? I can’t even get them to respond to an assignment I’ve turned in, and it’s been 3 weeks now. Is there something I can do legally?

    • This is always a challenge, Heather, especially when the other party is a bigger company. Often, there may be an oversight on their part so it’s best to keep a positive perspective. If your contact is not replying try getting to their boss or the accounting department.

      It’s possible your contact is out of the office, terminated, or left the company so the ball got dropped on a number of projects.

      It’s often best to send in a “Past Due” invoice or if it hasn’t been 30 days submitting the invoice again may be helpful to push the payment along.

      We often rely on email for our communication, but sometimes a friendly phone call can get things moving.

      If after 60-180 days past due you still haven’t been paid, you have to look at the terms of the contract to see what remedies are available. Many will have arbitration clauses so that limits the ability to sue. Contracts often have jurisdiction clauses that state where a lawsuit is to be filed if instituted.

      Depending on the value of the contract, arbitration or legal action may not be financially feasible. If that’s the case, it’s more of a matter of finding a way within the company to get paid.

      Remember, though, that nonpayment on their part may not be grounds for your not fulfilling your part of the contract unless the nonpayment has passed a significant time period.

      Hope this helps.

      ::Not offers as legal advice. For information purposes only.::

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