How to Create an Event Contract

Creating event contracts can be intimidating.  For most, it’s easier to pass that task off to an attorney.  But what if you are a new event planner, and don’t have the funds to pay a legal professional? 

Don’t fret, this article will help you create a basic event contract that will include clauses to help protect your event business.

Before going into the meat of what a contract should contain, it is important to know that you should never agree to provide event services without a contract. 

Your contract is a tool that will protect your time, reputation as well as your bank account.  Contracts can serve as a tool to keep you on task, and to set the perimeters of what services you will or will not be offering to the client.

I’ve heard my share of event planner horror stories, (especially new event planners who are eager to build their event portfolio, and get their name out into the event industry,) planners who have taken on clients without having them sign a contract.  Relying only on a word and a handshake, these planners ended up out of hundreds of dollars. 

One story in particular that comes to mind.  The story of a shifty bride. A bride that a planner was working with kept changing the date and color scheme of her wedding.  This bride was referred by a family member. Therefore, the planner felt comfortable not using a contract. The planning experience ending up being a catastrophe, resulting in wasted time, and money. 

Every time the bride changed the date, the planner had to spend countless hours looking for a venue that would accommodate the client’s guest list.  Since there was no contract, and the planner gave the client a set price for services based upon her word, and a handshake, the extra hours were not billed to the client. Nor did the planner get paid for the centerpieces that she had created for the wedding that could not be used, because the bride changed the concept of the whole look of her wedding at the last minute.  Had a contract been in place, the client would have been informed that she would have been responsible for the payment of any additional hours and/or charges incurred related to her event.

Side note: It is imperative that family and friends should always have a contract.  They are usually the ones who will cause you grief and/or try to take advantage of the services that you offer.

The body of a contract should contact four basic elements:

  1. General Information (the who, what, when, where, and how)
  2. Payment Policy (Deposits, payment schedule, how payments will be made)
  3. Clauses (exclusions)
  4. Cancellations

General Information

In addition to including basic client information such as full name, complete address and phone, this section is where you would include specific details of the event; 

  • Type of event being planned
  • Event date/time
  • Location with complete address
  • Venue contact person
  • Event start/end times
  • Type of services being provided

When detailing the scope of services provided for the client, do not take for granted that they will automatically know what is not being provided.  Those things should be listed as well for clarity

We’ve all heard stories of event planners that ended up being the personal assistant to a needy bridesmaid because the full scope of services rendered to the client was not fully spelled out. Or worse, the event planner that had to serve as janitor, stuck with cleaning the reception hall, because that service was not provided by the venue, or catering company.

Payment Policy

Deposits:

The purpose of the deposit is to secure a date on your calendar.  Deposits can range anywhere from 25-50% of the total cost of the event.  Always require a deposit for your services.  It sends the client a message that your time and services are valuable.  Planners get burned when they don’t require a deposit.

I’ve seen clients request everything from a taste testing, to a mock up of how their wedding decor will look, just to turn around and hire another event planner to perform those same services cheaper. Without a deposit, there is no real commitment on behalf of the client to use your services.

Non-Refundable:

Your contract should state that deposits are non-refundable.  In the event world a deposit can mean two different things.  For example, some venues will require a deposit to rent out their location.  After the event is over, and the venue operator has verified that the client has left everything clean and tidy, some venues will return the deposit paid back to the client. This is why I like to use the word “retainer” as opposed to the word “deposit”.

At any rate, it is important to communicate in print that once the contract is signed, the deposit/retainer will not be refunded.  Another benefit to having non-refundable deposits is that you chase away flaky brides, who are not sure if they even want to get married.

Payment schedule

The payment schedule portion of your contract should be determined by what the client is comfortable with paying and the duration.  You and your client should decide if the payments will be made monthly, weekly or, half of the total cost up front, and the balance being due anywhere between 15 and 30 days before the event date. 

List the due dates and the amount due on the contract so there is no confusion.  Some planners charge late fees for payments received after a certain date.  In the event of immediate need, being 45 days or less within the date of contract all funds for that event should be paid up front, and the total amount paid should be non-refundable.  Also note that additional fees will occur if planning services exceed agreed upon billing hours, or stated price quote.

Sidenote:  If possible avoid day of payments.  Too many planners end up chasing run-a-way clients for their money.

If you need help deciding on how to create your pricing we have a great article and video about that.

Forms of payment:

This is a topic that needs its own article.  Your contract should state what forms of payments you accept (cash, check, credit card, money order, Square, PayPal, CashApp, Venmo, Zelle).  Please research the policies of third party payment providers.  I am a part of an event network and we have found that there are brides who will hire you for services and insist on paying you through PayPal or CashApp.  These brides will later try to get all of their money back by filing a dispute 30 days after their event.  In many cases the brides received a full refund.  So do your homework before listing the forms of payment you will receive from clients on your contract.

Clauses

What happens if you get sick and can’t provide services?  Or what if there is a tornado, or in our case today, a global pandemic?  How will you protect your event planning business from going under due to unforeseen events that are out of your control?  Clauses is the answer.

Illness/Tragedy:

In the event you get ill or experience a tragedy, your contract should state that you will provide replacement services with a provider of either equal or superior capabilities/experience.  In other words, always have a backup person who can carry out services to your client in the event that you can’t.  Or offer an event credit for a later date, or a refund all together.

Please note this clause is very important during this time period during COVID-19. Hopefully we get past the pandemic and this becomes less of an issue in the future.

Force majeure (Act of God):

In the event of a tornado, earthquake, pandemic or any other type of natural disaster, your contract should state whether you will be willing to offer the client an event credit that can be used at a later date.  Or if you will be offering a refund, full or partial.

Indemnification Clause:

This clause protects your company from all liability of negligence caused by guest attending the event, and release and forever discharge your company and its officers, board and employees, jointly and severally from any and all actions, causes of actions, claims and demands for, upon or by reason of any damage, loss or injury, which hereafter may be sustained by participating in an event that you have planned. 

In a nutshell, this clause protects you from being sued by a third party due to negligence of your client/client’s guest.

Abuse Clause:

I call this the Bridezilla Clause.  This clause states that at no time and under no circumstance will you or anyone assisting you tolerate abusive, violent, destructive, menacing, or harassing behavior from the client or any party acting on behalf of the client.  If such behavior does occur, you have the right to respectfully inform the client and/or member and handle the situation.  If the abusive behavior continues, your event planning company will consider it a breach of contract and the event will be automatically cancelled. No refunds will be given. 

I love this clause, because it has allowed me to dodge many bullets.  I’ve had brides, who knew that they had the tendency to act a fool, not contract with me after reading this clause.  I would find out later that they’ve contracted with a fellow planner, and gave that planner an extremely hard time.  Never be afraid to not contract with a client who exhibits difficult behavior during the initial meeting.  As they say, “All money isn’t good money”.  This abuse clause will save you from the hassle.

Photo Release Clause:

The client agrees to give you permission to take before/after pictures or videos of the event to be used for promotional purposes.  You’d be surprised how many times clients see pictures of their event on the event planner’s website, and request that those pictures be removed.

Cancellations

We all understand that life happens, and things don’t always go according to plan.  In the event your client may need to cancel their event your contract should state that the cancellation should be in writing, and received two weeks prior to the event date.  State what charges/fees will be incurred as a result of cancellation.

Having a contract can make the difference between you working for free, or getting paid for the services that you’ve provided.  Never feel shy about using a contract as a new event planner it is your shield against monetary loss.