How to Negotiate the Best Event Planner Contracts

Include everything from services provided to payment schedules

event planner contracts

Four words should have their place in your event planning handbook: Get it in writing. Most of us have heard the phrase uttered at one time or another. With good reason. Promises made during the course of conversation can easily become a distant memory or forgotten altogether. Getting the agreed upon terms in writing serves to protect both parties involved and is a necessity in business. Knowing how to negotiate the best event planner contracts is an important step on the road to success.

Specify What Services You Will Provide

You may think that, as an event planner, it is fairly obvious what services you will be providing. All the more reason to describe these in great detail. Event planners offer a broad range of services; the goal here is to establish what you will be providing to avoid any confusion later on. Whether it is menu selection, floral arrangements or choosing the venue, clearly state the items that are your responsibility. Once signed, your responsibilities will be limited to the specific items included in the event planner contract.

Read Between the Lines

When reviewing event contracts, pay attention to the details. Read every line carefully. And then read between the lines. Be on the lookout for any language that is vague; items that are addressed in generalities will be subject to interpretation and that can wreak havoc for you and your event planning business.

Watch for any hidden fees or clauses that indicate there may be additional surcharges. Clarify those add-ons or negotiate to have them completely removed from the event contract.

Question, Question, Question

When you are in the process of negotiating event contracts, question every charge. If a hotel or vendor has an item listed in the event contract, they should be able to explain its presence there and justify the associated cost.

Sometimes merely asking for clarification can result in having the fee waived.

Don’t be intimidated. As youngsters, we are taught that the only foolish question is the question not asked. When negotiating, ask away. If something in a contract is unclear to you, ask. If you notice a line item has been omitted, ask. Better to ask now than pay the price for it later.

Don’t Accept What You Don’t Want; Ask for What You Do Want Instead

If free local calls are not important to your guests due to the availability of cell phones, then don’t accept that as an included amenity. Instead, ask the hotel to exchange this line item for something that is important to your guests. Lower rates or discounts may be far more valuable to you so make a list of those “freebies” that you don’t want and instead negotiate for something better that you do want. Amenities that are typically available include airport transfers, complimentary health club passes, room upgrades, Internet service, free shipping and receiving and more.

Payment Schedule

Be sure your event planning contract specifies your payment schedule. This includes the initial deposit or retainer, and details regarding how future payments will be made.

The schedule for payments may be tied to certain milestones in the event planning process or may be a set date on the calendar prior to the event. Develop the schedule that works best for your event planning business and your cash flow. Be sure to include any taxes and added fees. Most importantly, do not begin actual work on planning an event until after you have received the initial deposit. If the deposit never shows up, you did all of that work for nothing. Literally.

Event Cancellation

While you are focusing your time and energy on planning an event, the last thing on your mind may be cancellation of that very same event. However, if your client decides to cancel the event at any point after work has begun – for whatever reason -- your contract should specify what happens if the event is canceled.

This is a necessary step to protect yourself, your event planning business and your expected income.

The key point to include in writing is that the deposit and all previous payments made up until the point of cancellation are non-refundable. In event planning, most of the work is completed prior to the actual event. You deserve to be paid for work already completed. To that point, depending upon your payment schedule, you may also want to include a clause stating that clients will pay for services rendered up until the date you receive written notification that the event is canceled.

Termination Clause or Force Majeure

A termination clause – or force majeure – is inserted into a contract to absolve either or both parties from liability in the event they cannot fulfill the terms of the contract for reasons beyond their control, such as labor stoppages, war or extreme weather. The intent here is to protect you from any risk arising from uncontrollable circumstances. Be sure that you are protected by this clause and specify the terms and timeframe for termination. For example, “either party may terminate this agreement without liability due to one or more of these or similar reasons upon written notice to the other party within ten days of such occurrence.”

Indemnification (“It’s Not My Fault”)

An indemnification clause provides protection if the other party does something that causes you harm or causes a third party to sue you for damages. The clause is a promise that basically says the other party cannot hold you responsible for any claims, losses, damages, liabilities and expenses that are a result of their negligence, failure to perform or willful misconduct. Make sure your contract has this clause.

When Negotiating, Be Prepared

Before negotiating event contracts, do your homework. Determine what is involved in planning this event and know what terms and protections you want. Your contract should reflect shared responsibility so avoid any agreements that are one-sided. What is good for one party is good for the other. When negotiating, be a good listener. Pay attention to contract items that may be negotiable and those that make you uncomfortable. Be confident and do not falter under pressure. Stand firm. Do not sign anything until you are completely satisfied that the terms are fair and offer you the protection you need.