When people think about a day in the life of a social media influencer, they’re probably thinking about bikinis on beaches and streetstyle selfies but behind the scenes, more often than not, we’re bogged down in paperwork – things like pitches, negotiations, accounting, invoicing, contracts etc. Not exactly the dreams hashtag #goals are made of.
Lately, I’ve been getting more and more questions about what I do and how I do it, so I thought I would start a monthly column about the business of blogging – a look behind the scenes if you will, at the nitty gritty behind what it takes to succeed in today’s world of social media and influencer marketing.
Why Every Content Creator Needs A Legally Binding Blog Contract
Today’s post is about the importance of a legally binding, airtight blogger contracts. If you’re looking to partner with brands or already in the early stages of sponsored post collaborations, its crucial to have a contract in place. Why?
Contracts Define Expectations for Both Parties
There have been many, many times that I’ve had long back and forth discussions with a brand about a project where I think they’re asking for x and y and we settle on a project + rate… only to discover that in the contract they’re expecting x, y and z.
Email, phone and even in-person discussions tend to talk high level details – the nature of the partnership, the expected goals, perhaps the number of images to create and social posts to share.. but rarely do they go into minute detail so a contract helps to outline the entirety of expectations for both parties in the partnership.
- how quickly the content will be created and a timeline for when content will be shared
- who will retain rights to product and images produced
- how, when and where payment will be issued
The ideal partnership is one where both parties feel like they got more value than what they put in and you can’t fulfill expectations if you don’t know the full extent of what each side wants.
Don’t Wait | It’s tempting to wait to have a contract until you’re “big enough” or “more established’ but the second that you accept a paid project, you deserve the legal protection of a contract.
Legal Protection | Putting an agreement in written form provides protection so that, if for any reason, one party fails to deliver, the other can take recourse.
Professionalism | Social media marketing and the state of the “influencer economy” is still relatively new and a bit of a no man’s land. From talking with brands, PR reps and influencer marketing agencies – one of the biggest concerns when working with bloggers and Instagrammers is a lack of professionalism. Being able to pull out a contract shows that you value your brand as a business, take partnerships seriously and intend to fulfill your commitments. It also prevents brands from taking advantage of you – say if they want full image licensing rights and 3 months of exclusivity in exchange for a men’s wooden watch.
What Should Blog Contracts Contain?
Now that you’re convinced you need a contract.. what should it include?
First, I have to state very clearly that I am not a licensed legal professional and you should absolutely consult with a lawyer in your business jurisdiction for the latest, up to date legal counsel. Ideally, you should find a lawyer who is familiar with influencer marketing in that they have either worked for an influencer marketing agency and have drafted various types of blogger agreements or they have experience as in-house counsel for a corporate brand that has worked with hiring and contracting influencers.
Here are some basic clauses you should absolutely include in your influencer agreement!
1 | Timeline: the period that the entire agreement covers, the exact date when content will be delivered and posted, and the minimum time frame content will be live
2 | Scope of Work: what exactly will you be producing? the more specificity, the better so instead of saying “4 social posts” it’s better to delineate “1 social media post on instagram, 3 tweets on twitter”. other examples of specificity include “(one) 300 word blog post” or “(one) 5,000 word e-book” or (two) 30-second videos”. Here is also a good place to list any required hashtags or brand tags that need to be included.
3 | Drafts and Re-shoots: will drafts be provided to the client? how many revisions will they be allowed? what time frame do they have to respond to the draft and provide corrections or changes? what should happen if the client does not respond to the draft? are there any quality requirements and if a re-shoot needs to happen, who bears the cost?
4 | Exclusivity: does the brand want a dedicated post or a non-dedicated post. If the former, no other brands are allowed to be mentioned. Sometimes the brand will go a step further and mandate that the influencer cannot work with any other competitor brands for a period before and after the project. best to outline which brands and for how long. if it’s excessive (generally anything more than a week), consider raising your rates to reflect lost income from the exclusivity period.
5 | Termination: any actions that would cause either party to terminate the agreement and the general termination of when the contract expires. what is the project kill fee? for example, if the brand later has a change of heart and decides to nix the campaign after all your work has been created, you will want to ensure that you are still compensated for your time and efforts.
6 | Signatories: both parties need to sign and date. in this section, it’s important to outline the key contacts at the brand that you will be communicating with.
7 | Payment terms: payment schedules, in what form payment will be made, any applicable taxes or fees and interest schedules for potential late payments. again here – specificity is key. instead of writing “net-30”, spell out “(company) will pay half upon contract signing and half on a net-30 basis of content published via check or direct deposit”. most brands require an invoice for their accounting departments to process payment – great partners will tell you this but inquire if they don’t; you don’t want it to be the 31st day and then you find out you need an invoice and it will take 7 additional business days to process.
In addition, I find it helpful to create a table or chart in this section that has two columns with key milestones on the left and corresponding dates on the right for things like: draft due dates, publishing dates, payment dates etc. It’s much more annoying to calculate “what’s 30 days from January 5th” when it’s written in paragraph form and easier for all parties if there’s a handy table that everyone can easily refer to.
8 | Rights: who will have rights to content produced? for images that you create, will the brand be able to re-post on social media with or without credit? will the brand be able to create derivative content from the influencer’s work by using images and content to create an e-book, corporate brochure or slideshare deck? will content created be available for use on a brand’s direct marketing channels or via paid advertising?
Typically partial rights to re-post on Instagram or Facebook with credit are fine, but full licensing rights to use across a brand’s website, newsletter, printed materials, etc will cost a pretty penny. Getty images has a helpful calculator to give you a ballpark for what various high-quality images are sold for.
How to Send Contracts Seamlessly – Must Have Electronic Tools
I’ve found that the easiest way to handle contracts is to use an electronic service that takes care of sending and signing electronically. Of course, you can draft a word document, pdf it and send that but I advise against paper contracts for three reasons:
1 | Extra Time Delay
Contracts via pdf attachments create a bit of a lag by requiring a brand to print, scan and re-send and then you need to print, scan and re-send.
Electronic contracts are handy because they can be opened and signed in one easy action. They can even be opened from a mobile phone and signed with a finger or a typed name so they’re very easy to execute even if you’re traveling or on the go.
After both parties sign, the final executed version is electronically mailed to both parties. A rookie mistake I made in the beginning was signing a contract first and then neglecting to ask for the completed contract that also had the brand signature.
2 | Difficult to Update
You’ll likely have a base template and modify the scope of work for each specific project. Perhaps one is a video creation project, another is a series of social posts. With a physical contract, you’ll need to constantly re-pdf and re-send the attachment and I never want to accidentally send an old version or incorrect document!
With most electronic services, you can easily update each template and access the most modern version of the contract.
Also if for any reason, project deadlines get pushed back – for example, a brand wants to talk about a new app launch and it was supposed to go live in February but gets delayed until May and they want you to push back your content accordingly, you can easily amend via electronic services. Just write out the proposed changes, send the amendment for sign off and attach it to the original.
3 | Clunky Experience
Finally, this last reason is more of a qualitative one but paper documents in this day and age are a bit clunky. I firmly believe that your brand is established throughout the entire project “experience”, much in the same way that Apple takes care to design not only its products but also its product packaging, user manuals, retail stores and shopping bags.
I think having a seamless on-boarding experience from the beginning is a mark of differentiation and establishes your credibility and professionalism from the onset of the project. There are both free and inexpensive services which I’ve outlined below. Also remember that legal and electronic services are tax-writable business expenses!
This is my current electronic contract and bookkeeping system:
Hello Sign – I use Hello Sign for sending contracts, as it has a beautiful electronic interface that makes contract sending, signing and record keeping easy. The first 3 contracts a month are free, which is excellent if you’re just starting out.
Quickbooks – After each contract is signed, I create an account and pending receivable in Quickbooks so that I can track each project’s revenues and expenses. I started off entering things manually in excel but over time it got overwhelming.. especially at tax season. Now I use Quickbooks, which automates everything. You can try a 30-day free trial of the software here.
Here are other electric contract services & tools:
DocuSign – this one is handy if you want certain clauses to get an extra “initals signature” as it guides each party to every section that needs to be initialed and signed. DocuSign will also email a signed copy for each party’s records upon completion. You can get a 30 day free trial of DocuSign plus 10% off here.
Adobe Sign – I actually don’t like this system as much as the others because you can’t just ping it back and forth for signatures.
Fresh Books – this one is nice because you maintain invoicing and contracts in one platform. you can build everything into this platform to auto sync invoicing and accounting in one easy system. It’s about $25/month but you can try a 30-day free trial.
Honey Book – another great platform for contracts. in addition they do give you a general services contract that is created by an attorney. the best part is, the brand can also pay right after. Because of this integration, Honey Book is more expensive, currently about $40/month.
One final tip – as a blogger or social media influencer, you’re essentially your own boss and running your own small business. Having a contract is a vital first step but you should be tracking timelines and payment on your own.
I’ve found that many brands rely on you to send an invoice before actually sending payment so don’t expect to automatically get paid on payment date. Set up a calendar reminder or alert to send an invoice and then set another alert to make sure the payment actually arrives.
Hope this helps! Feel free to comment below if you have questions or suggestions for what to cover in my next blogging series.
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