The Twisted Balloon Company
New York, NY, USA
Todd Neufeld entertains at private and corporate events in New York City and beyond. He has appeared on numerous television shows such as; Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, Late Night with David Letterman, The Today Show, Nightline and many more. He has performed at the White House, for MTV, ESPN, CBS, TNT, and many other acronyms. A former attorney, Todd retired from practicing intellectual property law and now helps freelance professionals manage their business and contracts via ManagerSal.com. He stays busy twisting balloons with the artists at The Twisted Balloon Company, helping entertainers via ManagerSal.com, and teaching the world balloon art at the Balloon Academy.
In your business, contracts are a normal factor to be considered. In fact, every one of your balloon jobs is a contract, even if you don’t realize it. A contract is simply your agreement with a client to exchange your balloon services for something else (usually money). However, a good contract spells out the minimum requirements of what you both need to know to ensure a mutually successful event.
Putting your clients at ease and keeping your word is one of the traits of all successful professionals. One of the easiest ways to put your clients at ease is to send them a written confirmation (in paper or electronic form) of what you will do, when you will do it, and what you need them to provide. A good written contract lists all of those things. Even if your client forgets the details of your agreement while focused on the day of the event, a quick glance at your paperwork will refresh their memory. In case things don’t go according to plan, a written contract gives you the legal ground to sue if you are not paid. Even when legal action is not necessary, having a signed contract increases the likelihood that you will paid by even those individuals who could be considered shady or unsavory.
Your contracts can be as formal or as idiosyncratic as you like, but these are the top ten components that all balloon artists should include in their agreements.
The most important part of your contract is you! Though this may seem obvious, it is still an extremely important detail to get right. The client may think they are signing an agreement with the person they spoke to over the phone, but that is not always the case. If your business is incorporated, you must name your company in the contract, otherwise you won’t have the protection of your corporation. Likewise, you must let your customer know who to make the check payable to, or you may have trouble at the bank. Contracts should also be printed on stationary that includes your branding and contact information.
The second most important part of your contract is them! This may also seem evident, but you want to make sure you have the correct person. The person on the phone or planning the party is not always the key figure. If they represent a business, then you want to make sure the contract is with the company and not the person. This is especially important when dealing with event planners and complicated organizations, as the group paying might be a few layers removed from the logistics folks who book you. This is typically easy to get right; nobody wants their name on a contract by mistake — in my experience, they will quickly correct you.
You want to make your agreements as time-specific as possible so nobody waits around in frustration. You wouldn’t want to say you will "entertain at the annual holiday party” or deliver the flowers “in time for the members’ Valentine’s Day dinner.” This is too vague, and you want to have clarity with an actual time and date. On the same level, let your client know when they need to approve the agreement. Leaving it open means that you will be keeping their event on hold with no resolution. Give them a deadline to sign it and pay the deposit (if required).
Once you have set up the events, and scheduled time for your agreement, your next step should be to spell out what you will be providing your client in the products/services line item section of your contract. These are the terms that tell you exactly what you will be doing at the event. These should be specific enough that a regular person could easily see that you did it correctly. A bad example would look something like this:
- Provide Balloon Decor
- Provide Balloon Entertainment
This is entirely too hazy. It does not answer any of the following: When you are finished? Do the balloons go on the tables, the ceiling, the walls, the floor, or somewhere else? Is the “Balloon Entertainment” going to be twisting for the kids, or a show? Is it table-to-table, or in one spot? And how long is the performance?
The more definite you are in your paperwork, the easier it will be for you and your client to know what to expect. You can choose to include balloon jargon if you like, but I recommend making it easy for one who is not used to the balloon world to understand. While you may know what “line-work” is or what “agate” balloons are, the common client will not. It is far better to simply explain what they are purchasing from you:
- Balloon Twisting: A balloon station where two artists will twist simple balloon hats and sculptures for the children at the festival.
- Balloon Birthday Show: A 45-minute show for a seated audience of children with a series of fun balloon routines.
Phrasing such as this makes it much more plain for you and your clients. You know what to do, and they know what to expect from you. I do not think that you need to go into extreme detail of what a “simple” balloon is, but your experience may differ. Similarly, I do not think that you need to explain the actual routines of the show. Those details should have been discussed during the sales process.
Never forget to include your fee! During the sales process you may give your client a price range, but the contract needs a number. Besides the total amount due, you have to clearly state when the fee is due. If you require a deposit in advance, establish how much and how early it is due. You must also clarify when the balance is due: at the party, in advance, or afterwards? It is inevitable that your pricing and timing will change for different clients and events. For example, most schools and libraries do not pay deposits, but other clients happily will. If you have to spend time and money before the party building balloons and framing, you may require the balance in advance. On the other hand, some organizations always pay 30 days after receiving a bill. The bottom line is that your customers should know when to pay you, and you should know when to expect payment.
Sometimes accidents happen. At any event, there is always a tiny chance that someone will get hurt or something will get broken. A balloon could pop in someone’s eye, a prop could fall and shatter a glass table, or worse. When that happens, who is responsible to pay for the damage? It could be you, the artist you sent to the event, the planner who booked you, the host, or the venue. Without a liability component in your contract, this is left unclear in the case of an emergency, and you will likely end up being the one writing a big check. Be sure to include language that explains what you are and are not willing to cover if there is an accident. It may be written in more legalese than the rest of your contract, but it is appropriate because it addresses legal requirements. Here is an example that you can customize for your business:
‘Client assumes the liability for all risks and agrees to indemnify, defend and hold harmless Company and all Company artists from and against any and all accidents, claims, judgments, costs or liability for damage, injury to any person or property during the Event, including time of set up and take down, by guests or staff. Liability of Company shall not exceed the total value of this Agreement.’
Most contracts you sign have much longer and more detailed sections that limit their liability. Have a look at the fine print the next time you rent a car, ride a roller coaster, go a zoo, or really do anything in the United States. You will see language that protects them in case you get hurt or your things are damaged. You and your business should be protected in the same way.
7. Force Majeure
On occasion, something will come along that makes it impossible for you to fulfill your end of the agreement. Not a childcare emergency, but an actual “act of god” like a tornado or Nor’easter, something that is completely outside of your control. Unfair as it may seem, this would technically make you a contract-breaker even though it’s to no fault of your own. Most contracts have a “force majeure” clause that cancels both sides of the agreement in these rare situations. Yours should too.
8. Choice of Law
Laws vary from place to place. For example, non-compete agreements are (mostly) not legal in California, but are legal in New York. If your client lives far away from you, how do you know what laws apply to your agreement? Also, if you have to go to court to decide something, do they come to you, or do you go to them? Most contracts spell out both the choice of law and the choice of venue. Look for it the next time you see a long contract. We hope that you never need to go to court to litigate a contract, but you should be prepared now in case it happens. In anticipation of that unhappy day you should absolutely state in your contracts that the law where you are based applies and that you will go to a court in your area.
9. Cancellation Policy
Clients who cancel are just another annoying but unavoidable aspect of business. However, the cancellation conversation is less awkward if they already signed off on your rules around canceling. If they cancel far in advance will you return their deposit? What about if it’s two days before the party? If they cancel the morning of the party do they owe you the balance? What about if they paid in full beforehand? What happens if you ordered custom balloons for their event and they cancel? These questions should all be answered or addressed in your contract. Before you send out a contract, take a few minutes and think about what would be fair for you and your client. Write that out clearly so there are no surprises when (not if) someone cancels the gig.
All of this work is worthless if you can’t objectively show that your client agreed to the terms. The best way is with a signature, either electronic or with a pen. The signature area is also a place to reinforce the first component, or ‘You.’ If you are signing as a representative of your company, you reiterate it here. The best practice is to also include the date they signed the contract. In ManagerSal.com, we also record the IP address of the client. All of this is just to show that your client read and agreed with your arrangement.
11. Bonus: Customization
Each event that you do balloons for will be slightly different. The themes change, the number of kids varies a bit, and other details differ from each other. A small detail might make a huge difference to you, such as an indoor or outdoor party. Sometimes those differences matter only a little bit, such as a unicorn theme compared to a Spider-Man theme. Other times they don’t matter to you at all, such as a party with 12 kids versus 14 kids. Some of the details matter a lot to your client but not to you, such as the difference between Rachel’s party and Elana’s party. Regardless of whether or not you care, it’s good practice to personalize each contract with details relevant to this party. It can be as simple as a note somewhere that looks similar to this:
‘Show Notes: This event celebrates Anna’s 6th birthday. She is expecting 12-15 kids from 2pm to 4pm. Anna’s theme is Mermaids and her best friend is Jaime. Her cousin Katie will be visiting from Ireland and will not know the other children. The referral is from the party at the Salem Montessori School.’
Armed with these components, you are ready to send out contracts to your clients. If you would like more examples and phrases, check out my book Sign Here! Contracts for Variety Entertainers. Also, there are professional contracts and invoices built into ManagerSal.com, which are customizable to suit your business needs.