Thursday, 6 August 2009

Production War Story of the Month: The Handshake Contract

It was the Friday before a large themed event that was to take place on the following Monday night at a conference center ballroom, and we noticed that the client had neither signed the contract sent weeks before, nor paid a deposit, although communications had been continuing up to that point with both parties having every intention of making the event a success. Wanting as a bare minimum at least a signed contract due to the complexity of the décor that would be provided, I mentioned this requirement to the client, a reputable businessman, who in turn replied with, “I only operate on a handshake.” Taken aback, I was ready to walk away but decided to check on the client’s financial position by means of a private investigation which discovered that there were more than ample funds in his bank account, so I approached the client and stated that the event would not take place without at least a deposit, which the client agreed to pay immediately. However, the contract never was signed and I was in constant fear that the remainder of the fee would not be paid if even one item were not to the client’s liking even though the written contract spelled it out. Fortunately, the event was a huge success and the bill was paid promptly.

Several lessons were learned from this scenario. First, I was remiss in not checking for contract signing and deposit well before three days prior to the event. Second, strange as it seems, there are still business people who believe that written contracts are not needed. A producer must have the confidence to walk away from business that may end up costing money if a contract is not signed. Sometimes, business success is only a “gut feeling.”


  1. On the flip side of this story is my experience with a 'friend' who waved off my contract, saying it wasn't necessary for her. I should have said it was for ME.

    After months, weeks, days, and hours of my work designing her retail interior, I submitted all of the plans, design resources, and final presentation binder that I had prepared. she took them from me, cut me a check, and then proceeded to tell everyone - including media - that it was her design. "Prove it. I never signed off on anything, or a contract." was her comeback.

    I do have dated files & copies of everything I gave her to prove my contribution (not to mention that the finished product reflects my design). I could fight this. But I know my work was used, I know what I contributed. And I know that the people listening to her and looking sideways at me right now will one day get burned by her - when she uses them, too.

    And you can be sure I'll never work without a contract again.

  2. Good story, Debi. Thanks for sharing. Most of us who are in small business are usually deathly afraid of two things: spending money on litigation and losing clients. After owning my own business for some time I finally became brave enough to turn business down if the relationship did not feel right, and I felt a lot more in control for doing it.