It's here-- the Walking Dead pandemic that hasn't quite led to the Zombie Apocalypse, but you might think so given the amount of concerned client requests you have piling up in your inbox.
I know we're all sick of hearing about COVID-19, or Coronavirus, but the reality is we're living through an unprecedented global health event that is having immediate consequences on us as small business owners.
I'm here to help you unpack the gracious, professional way to tackle these issues as they come up with your clients.
As a reminder, I'm an attorney, but I'm not your attorney, and The Contract Shop® is not a law firm-- this article is for your educational and informational purposes only.
Here are the five things you MUST keep in mind to get you and your business through this pandemic in one piece:
Your clients are freaking out. That's a given. Maybe they're worried about catching the virus themselves, or more likely, they're dealing with the forced curfews from cities that limit the number of people at a gathering.
I've heard as few as 10 people are allowed in one spot in states like Maine.
Cities are also revoking permits for events, cautious to allow large gatherings to occur.
And, of course, people are outright panicking about flying on planes to travel to events and weddings-- those tiny tin containers of germs and airborne illnesses.
Maybe you also fall somewhere on this spectrum, and that's okay too.
It's important for you, as a parent, caretaker or individual, to determine what makes you feel safe and comfortable during this virus outbreak.
Set your boundaries according to what feels right for you, then continue on to the next few parts of this article to determine how to best proceed.
More than ever, it's important to show up as a professional ________________ (wedding photographer, planner, designer, etc).
I've already heard countless stories of wedding vendors outright cancelling on their clients for next week, leaving their clients scrambling to find a photographer, coordinator or other important provider for their big day.
If you provide services your clients are depending on, make sure that if you need to pull out of your contract due to your own safety or health concerns, you do so according to the terms in your contract.
And, it's important to not just follow what the contract says, but to also go above and beyond to provide a replacement, whether your contract calls for it or not.
Your clients are probably feeling just as scared or anxious as you are, and on top of that, they've shelled out thousands of dollars and stayed up countless nights to make their once-in-a-lifetime wedding or event happen.
Don't let them down in this critical hour. Now is your time to step up and shine, even if that looks like you gracefully bowing out to protect your clients from the spread of the virus.
Inside each of our templates is something called a 'force majeure' clause. This is a standard cancellation provision in nearly every contract ever crafted since... ever.
This clause allows for either party to get out of their obligations in the contract due to unforeseen, emergency events that are outside of either parties' control.
Typically, we see this clause come into play if there's a natural disaster, like a hurricane or tornado.
For example, if a client's wedding venue is destroyed by a tornado the day before her wedding, there's nothing that anyone could have done to stop the weather, and now there's no venue for the wedding to be held in.
It's no one's fault, it just is what it is, and the force majeure clause-- the provision that relieves the parties of their obligations in the event of this crazy, unforeseen event that could not be stopped.
In the case of the COVID-19 outbreak, some venues are getting shut down by cities, or large gatherings are being forced to either decrease in size, postpone their event or cancel altogether.
To use the 'force majeure' clause as a reason for cancellation, the event has to be entirely impossible, which in many cases-- even with this virus panic-- the event could still happen, it will just look a little different.
For example, it's the wrong clause to lean on if everything is good to go with the venue, the event or wedding can still happen, and it's just someone necessary for the event to happen-- like the groom's mother-- that is refusing to show up, citing virus concerns.
It's also the wrong clause to lean on if the event could be postponed, even at great hassle or cost to those involved.
In order to lean on the force majeure clause, basically, the venue needs to be destroyed by an Act of God.
It's unlikely, but possible, for you all to lean on this provision. Since it is a possibility, I did want to mention it.
I know there's some groans and eyerolls here. I know moving things around and accommodating events that have been planned for months or years is a crazy-maker.
This pandemic is unprecedented, which literally means there is no rulebook for how to proceed here.
Personally, I think this is the smart choice for most of us to make. It will buy you and your clients some time to host an event that's still thoughtful and meaningful, and ease the concerns of the attendees.
Yes, it hurts as a small business owner to do this-- it will eat up a weekend you could have used for another, second event. Or five, depending on how many weddings/events you need to postpone.
However, if your clients or you are having major concerns, this is a proactive, professional course of action to take.
I can only speak for our rock solid contract templates, but amending one of our client contracts is super simple-- we even give you a bonus tutorial at purchase on how to do this.
If you never want to have to worry about your clients through a crazy event like this one again, click here and get our free Rock Solid Contract checklist that walks you through exactly what you need in a solid client contract.
Our templates come with two cancellation clauses inside (in addition to the force majeure clause mentioned above).
The first deals with what happens if the client must postpone or cancel an event. There's specific language in there (that you get to choose-- I've prewritten a few choices for you).
If the client is requesting they postpone or cancel the event and you're using one of our templates, it's important to read the provision with the language you've chosen, then do what it says.
The second cancellation clause included has to deal with what happens if you as the service provider must postpone or cancel your services with your client.
Originally, I was thinking of all my pregnant friends when I wrote this clause-- you wouldn't believe how many of them were signed up to photograph weddings on their due dates (they didn't know they'd be pregnant when they signed the client!)
However, if the event could still happen (or is still happening) and you need to back out because you're concerned for your own health, this is the appropriate clause to lean on. You can read through it and apply what you've pre-agreed to determine the best course of action.
My contract templates allow you to choose several different scenarios in case you need to back out. Most people choose to find a replacement of equal or superior performance, which is one of the options written into the client contracts we sell.
If you don't have a client contract, or at least a contract you feel comfortable with, let this unprecedented event be the reminder you needed to get safe with a solid legal document to CYA in these types of unforeseen emergencies.
You can get one by clicking here, and using the search or navigation to find the template that best fits your needs.
And if you're not sure what that is, feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org, where our customer support team is there to personally suggest the template that best fits your services.
Inside each of our client service templates are all the provisions discussed here, with no guesswork on your part-- you won't have to do anything but fill in some super simple blanks.
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