Should You Change Your Contract For A Client?

I've shared my contract with a few decorators, and one of them uses it pretty much as-is since she's also in Virginia. She recently told me that a client wasn't happy with the liability section (of course) and sent it back to her with substantial revisions.

The client's argument was that the liability section basically didn't put enough of a burden on the decorator in the case of an emergency. I'm not going to get into the specifics because that would take too long, but she wanted to rewrite the contract so that the client could hold the decorator responsible for anything that went wrong, including situations like a tornado hitting the reception site, or if the decorator got hit by a car and was in a coma.

Well, sure, if that happened we'd all be able to be on the phone getting another decorator to make the cake at the last minute.

The thing about contracts is the client is usually going to feel like they're getting the short end of the stick. However, as someone who's done cakes for 16 years I know that my contract is there to cover pretty much any situation that could arise.

I know of a photographer who had a client scan a contract, then edit it somehow and return it with an entire section omitted. If he hadn't read it before signing it he wouldn't have noticed and probably would have ended up with the short straw.

Clients aren't going to understand why some things are written into the contract. Some things are there because we know what can go wrong and we want to avoid problems. I have an entire section in my contract about the place where the cake needs to be set up, including the temperature of the room. Sure, it may seem excessive, but it's all based on real-life experiences, either my own or horror stories I've heard from other people.

On top of that, my contract has been checked out by a real, live attorney. One who practices contract law in Virginia, so she knows what is and isn't legal in our state. Sometimes you have to phrase things in a certain way to have it be legal.

So what happens if you get a contract back and it's been changed by the client? You need to decide whether you're okay with that or not, and then make sure that everything is clear as far as what the new agreement entails. A lot of scribbling in the margins doesn't a legal agreement make.

I never sign a contract until it's returned to me with a retainer and the client's signatures. Changes need to be initialled by both parties and if the client has signed the contract you can't write things in after the fact. Depending on what the changes are, they may or may not hold up in court if it came to that. That's why you get an attorney to look at it and make it all nice and legal in the first place.

I told the decorator with the creative client that my advice would be to tell her that the contract is what it is for a reason, and that if she doesn't want to sign it she doesn't need to hire her. That's basically what would happen at any other business, unless they're in the habit of rewriting contracts on a case-by-case basis.

(I can't think of any profession that does that other than realtors, and they have attorneys crawling all over those contracts along the way.)

Be careful about altering contracts too much. Remember that you wrote it that way for a reason, so changing it had better be for a good reason as well.

 Kara Buntin owns A Cake To Remember LLC in Richmond VA, and cake supplies online at and