Doing business is not just about shaking hands on a deal and then celebrating. You might have an agreement now, but over time, people forget what they agreed to or change their mind and try to back out of the deal.
Things will go smoothly for you with a contract that spells out the terms and conditions of your agreement and clearly lays out the expectations for both sides, including specific details about timeframes, payments, materials and procedures for sorting out any disagreements. This way, both parties are on the same page, or at least have something to take to court if something goes wrong.
As anyone who has tried to write a valid contract will tell you, it isn’t easy. There are so many things that need to be included to make your contract binding. Here are some things to consider.
Read Through the Contract Carefully
Whether it is your contract that you wrote yourself, you are using a template or you have been given the contract to sign, make sure to read it first.
Check that all the information is what you have agreed to, Check that all names and details are correct and have been spelled correctly. Check any ambiguous language that may create confusion later. Check the fine print and make sure you understand the meaning of any terms that you aren’t sure of.
After the contract is signed, it is legally binding and you may find yourself stuck with something you didn’t want or facing a breach-of-contract. Some contracts have an indemnity clause, or other ways to assign responsibility for errors, check how it could apply to you and what you might be liable.
Essential Elements of a Contract
According to the University of New Mexico, all contracts need to include at least four things:
- Something needs to be offered (the “offer”)
- Something needs to be exchanged for it, usually money, otherwise it is a gift or a promise rather than a contract. (a “consideration”)
- Both sides need to accept the terms of the contract (the “acceptance”)
- Both sides need to agree to the conditions and understand that they have entered into a contract (“mutuality”)
Research Local Regulations
Even with a template, get advice about local regulations that might apply to your situation. There may also be union or industry association requirements that need to be included. Are there insurances or noise restrictions that apply? Perhaps there are fees or planning permissions that have to be in place before work can start.
Define Specific Details
Leave nothing to chance. Spell out in your contract all the information that is relevant to your agreement. What is obvious to you may not be so obvious to someone else. Define key terms and the exact products and services you will be providing. A term like “due in 30 days” might mean calendar days or business days, if you assume business days but the other party assumes calendar days you may find yourself arguing over a late fee.
Make sure to cover:
- All of the information for both parties
- The start and end times of the contract
- Any key terms used
- The products or service that you will be receiving or providing
- Payment terms, due dates and any milestone payments or part payments that may be needed
- Any fees or interest for late payments
- Any insurances or liability requirements
- Dispute resolution process or breach-of-contract process
- Any special conditions
Signing the Contract
Make sure to look for all the places you need to fill in, and cross out any blank spaces to prevent them from being filled in later with something you didn’t agree to. Make sure to keep a copy of the contract — if you can, have two original copies that you both sign. At least ask for a photocopy and check that it is accurate. This way, you both have a signed record of what was agreed to in case it is needed later. Keep it somewhere safe for future reference and hold on to it for longer than you think you might need to in case there is a dispute in the future over what happened.
Do You Really Need a Written Contract?
While some verbal agreements can be enforced in court, a written contract shows what both parties had agreed to. If you are going to go without a contract, you will need to keep as much evidence as possible about what you both had agreed to and what actually happened. Keep your emails, any quotes or invoices, notes from discussions, logs of phone calls, and copies of any documents to help prove your case. With all that work, you will be better off getting it all down in writing to begin with. Using a contract will give you peace of mind that what you agreed to will actually happen.
You need a written contract when:
- Your work or the product you are receiving needs to be of a specific quality, size or material.
- You aren’t sure the client will pay you after you have done the job.
- You have to purchase insurance or materials, or hire staff to complete the job before getting paid.
- You are working to a timeline where milestone payments are made at certain points, or there are bonuses for early completion.
- You or your client has to keep certain information confidential, such as a non-disclosure agreement, business information or personal information.
- You are required to have a contract by your insurance company.
- You have a legal obligation to have a written contract (check your local laws and trade associations).
- You want to prevent misunderstandings between you and your client by making things clear from the start.
- You want proof in writing for the court to enforce, or to at least consider, if there is a dispute.
Here you will find 32 contract templates. These contract templates are ready for you just fill in your details and go, or you can edit them to suit your situation.
Service Providers and Vendors
These templates are for service providers offering their services for a limited time or a single event. There are fields for the start and stop times, the scope of the project, and payment terms. Customize the details to what the client is paying you for and get them signed.
Wedding Photography Contract
This wedding photography contract sample is for the fictitious company AAA Photography Studios and spells out the responsibilities of each party and details the limited liability of AAA Photography Studios. It accommodates the signatures of both the bride and the groom and protects the interest of the company and the company’s photographer.
Event Vendor Contract
This sample contract can be used for virtually any vendor or event. It includes room for expansion, allowing you to customize the form for your particular event.
This DJ contract sample outlines all the essentials of the event and includes a section for the agreed upon logistics and fees from both parties. Most professional DJs make this contract or something similar the standard form by which they operate.
This sample is drawn up under the assumption that a band will be playing at an event such as a wedding reception or birthday party. You will find that this performance contract sample is quite flexible and can be modified to suit a variety of different needs.
Event Planner Contract
A standard contract between an independent event planner and somebody who is planning a major event such as a wedding. The terms and conditions of this event planner contract sample are transferable to most other situations with only a few minor changes.
Construction and Renovation
This category of contract templates is for contractors who will be providing a service over a period of time that includes materials. The contracts allow for defining the scope of the job, and for the dimensions and quantities of materials purchased or supplied by the contractor. It is easy to add in the details specific to the project agreed to with the client.
Project Manager Contract
This project manager contract sample is for a salaried project manager who is expected to assume total control of assigned projects and to communicate the status of the projects throughout the implementation process.
This painting contract sample can be used for a residence or a business. It includes space for multiple painting areas. The contract details the responsibilities and obligations of both parties. It protects the contractor from loss in the event the client cancels the contract after materials are purchased.
This landscaping contract sample spells out the obligations of the Landscaper and the Client. It is easily amended to include multiple projects on the same property or multiple projects with a different start and stop date. It covers items that might result in significant costs, and the party responsible for the costs, including damage caused by negligence or oversight.
In this flooring contract sample a homeowner would like to replace the carpeting in his home with real wood flooring. The homeowner is purchasing the flooring from a company that provides installation services. The contract includes a provision for moving furniture, clean up and the removal of the old carpeting.
This sample is best suited for a residential or smaller commercial building project. It contains basic elements and provisions and a clause that specifies the amount of insurance the Builder is expected to purchase for the project. The contact contains financial clauses that protect the client from delays in project completion and the builder from a delay in client payment.
Ongoing Maintenance Contracts
Templates in this category are for contractors who offer ongoing services; this sets the contractor apart from regular employees. These contract samples outline the tasks that are included and how frequently they will be performed.
This sample maintenance contract is between the owner of a single property and a maintenance contractor. The contract specifies the service provider is not an employee of the owner, but rather, an independent contractor who is responsible for his or her own employment taxes and insurance.
Website Maintenance Contract
This sample is for general, ongoing website maintenance. It outlines an hourly rate for work that is out of the scope of the basic agreement. The responsibilities are divided into client and service provider sections for clarity.
Computer Service Contract
This sample is written for a corporate client who wishes to have multiple computers serviced on a regular basis. The contract specifies the number of computers covered under the original contract and includes a price for adding additional computers, overtime charges and for computer parts that are not under warranty. The contract is specific and lists the services covered under the basic agreement.
This sample is for a homeowner who wishes to have interior cleaning services performed by an independent cleaning contractor. The contract outlines what services are to be performed, when they are to be performed and under what circumstances the contract may be canceled by either party.
An example that follows the general format used in many locations throughout the United States. This daycare contract sample is for a family whose three-year-old is entering daycare until the child is old enough to go to school. The contract assumes an area that tends to get hit hard by cold and flu season, and thus an additional clause about illness is included.
Education and Academia
This category of contract templates are for educators in a school or academic environment to use with students, and they have spaces for the parent or guardian to sign where the contract is between the school and a minor.
This sample outlines an academic scholarship provided to a student from that student’s college of choice and focuses mostly on academic achievement. An athletic scholarship would replace some of the clauses about academic performance with physical health and athletic dedication.
Child Behavior Contract
This contract is designed for a child who has not been respectful in manner and who has been shirking duties. It outlines all expected behaviors and then provides a space for customized rewards that can be negotiated upon between the adult and the child.
The sample form below represents an attendance contract that is similar to what many schools use. The form is brought out if the student has five or more unexcused absences. Absence because of illness or parentally excused absence is allowed as the goal of this form is to avoid truancy and irresponsibility and not to punish students who get severely ill or have other major issues.
This form is a school contract that is attached to a scientific lab that a student will be taking part of. Note that this safety contract sample doesn't specifically go over all the dangers of the lab. That is part of the supplementary materials handed out, while the contract itself is simply an affirmation that the student and parents have read that information.
This internship contract sample details the terms and conditions of an unpaid internship and offers one academic credit for every 45 hours worked and runs for a period of three months. Assuming a minimum of 20 hours per week, the employee will earn a total of five academic credits over the course of the internship.
Finance and Business
Contracts in this category are for people looking to make a financial investments or business deals. They have all the standard terms and conditions as well as additional guidelines for fees and charges, late payments, and dispute resolutions.
Personal Loan Contract
This is an example of a typical contract offered with a personal loan. When creating your own, you could use this sample as a guideline but also make sure that any unique terms in your case are emphasized. This way, both parties are aware of how the loan differs from the norm.
This investment contract sample is something that is usually drawn up by the business or legal team at the company whose stock is being purchased. The contract is then signed and witnessed by a representative of the company as well as the shareholder(s) who are making the investment.
This franchise contract sample includes the details about establishing the franchise, the duration of time the franchise will be active, and other business essentials. In this case, the contract is assumed to be a new business beginning as a franchise. Additional language may be needed for established businesses that are joining a larger company.
Business Termination Contract
This sample business termination contract is between two companies. One company regularly transported products and merchandise for the second company, and the second company paid the other company a mutually agreed upon fee for the transport services. The first company agrees to provide some monetary compensation to the moving company:
Business Purchase Contract
This sample business purchase contract is for a cupcake shop that is purchasing another establishment that makes cupcakes and is located in the same town. The buyer of the shop is acquiring the building and all appliances and equipment, and the buyer will be changing the name of the shop.
These contracts are for employers wanting to hire employees. These contracts spell out the parties involved, and terms and conditions of employment or in the case of the Non Compete Contract, what will occur after the employment ceases.
Non Compete Contract
The contract below is a standard non-compete contract sample and uses a default term of two years. It can serve as a template for many businesses, although you may want to consider adjusting certain language to fit the exact type of company that will be using it.
This nanny contract sample covers many of the basics involved in hiring someone to care for your children. It includes space to write instructions as well as general fill-in-the-blank items. It is always a good idea to refer to www.IRS.gov for information related to tax and employment eligibility laws.
This manager contract sample is for a mid-level manager who is responsible for managing a division within a large organization. The manager is given certain perks because of his or her position level. However, the manager is charged with a demanding list of duties that require a high level of skill and expertise.
This basic employment contract sample can be used for hourly or salaried employees. It can be customized by adding information, such as dispute review and litigation, or by deleting clauses that do not apply.
Contract templates in this category are for people wanting to employ an agent to sell their house, or want to rent their house out, or who want to share a tenancy with other renters.
This roommate contract sample is designed for 2 to 4 roommates. It includes the statement “legally binding” and “binding agreement” to protect the interest of all parties, including the property owner. In the event one of the renters defaults on the contract, the remaining renter(s) will have a written agreement to bolster their attempts at damage recovery.
House Rental Contract
This house rental contract sample covers the basic agreements usually entered into by the property owner and the renter. The sample follows a simple, easy to read format. This type of contract is the last step of the property pre-rental phase and is usually preceded by a thorough background check of the renter.
This agent contract sample outlines a standard framework for basic agreement about the dates, the commission to be paid, and the requirements for termination.