Proving Consent Under the GDPR

“Consent Is Sexy” by Charlotte Cooper from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect on May 25, 2018. According to this new law aimed at protecting individuals’ privacy and their personal data, all companies that send commercial emails to any person living in the European Union must obtain a person’s consent to collect and process their data – and be able to prove it. This applies to anyone who collects and processes data from persons living in the EU, including non-EU companies.

The key to compliance is specific explicit consent.

Double Opt-In Required for Email Lists

If you have an email list, the GDPR essentially requires you to use double opt-in when adding someone to your list. This will help resolve the problem of companies adding people to their mailing list without consent.

So many times, when I’ve sent a question, bought a product, or dropped my card in a company’s drawing for an iPad at a conference, my inbox has been bombarded with the company’s newsletter and “special offers.” We all agree this is poor form, right? If I want to be on your list, I promise I’ll add myself.

It happened just this week. A new connection on LinkedIn sent me an email to invite me to coffee. While we were exchanging emails to arrange a meeting time, he added me to his list! When his newsletter hit my inbox, I let him know that adding me to his list violated Wheaton’s Law and he blew his opportunity to have coffee with me.

Under the GDPR, you have to verify you’ve obtained consent to send someone commercial emails. This also avoids problems like someone adding you to a list without consent as a joke or to annoy you.

Written Declarations of Consent

If the data subject gives their consent in writing – perhaps at an expo at a conference or by filling out a form on your website, you must explicitly tell them what they’re signing up for. Their consent must be obtained:

  • On an easily accessible form,
  • Using clear and plain language, and
  • Distinguishable from other matters.

This means consent cannot be buried in your terms of service or some other process or fine print.

Right to Withdraw Consent

One of the requirements of the GDPR is it must be as easy to withdraw consent as it is to give consent. Companies that comply with the U.S.’s CAN-SPAM Act know that every email  they send “must include a clear and conspicuous explanation of how the recipient can opt out of getting email from you in the future.” Email services, like Mail Chimp, already have this feature by automatically including an “Unsubscribe” link in every newsletter its users send.

Here’s more on the consent requirements for the GDPR:

If you want more information about GDPR, please watch this site and my YouTube channel because I’m creating a substantial amount of content on this topic. You can also send me an email (Note: I can’t give advice to non-clients). I use my mailing list to I share my thoughts about being a lawyer/entrepreneur, updates about projects I’m working on, upcoming speaking engagements, and I may provide information about products, services, and discounts. Please add yourself if you’re interested.

You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

GDPR Compliance: Informed Consent Required

“Content Marketing” by Luis Osorio from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the new law aimed at protecting individuals’ privacy and their personal data. All companies that send commercial emails to any person living in the EU must comply with this law when it goes into effect on May 25, 2018 – including non-EU companies.

If you collect or process personal data from any natural person residing in the EU, the GDPR requires you obtain the person’s specific, informed consent that unambiguously indicates the person’s wishes or it must be given by a clear affirmative action.

When you collect a natural person’s (aka data subject’s) personal data, the GDPR requires you to do the following:

  • It must be done lawfully, fairly, and with transparency.
  • Data must be collected for a specific, explicit, and legitimate purpose.
  • The data collected must be limited to the data necessary for the purposes for which it will be processed.
  • You must erase or rectify inaccurate data without delay.
  • You must keep the data for a period that is no longer than necessary for the purpose for which it will be used.
  • You must protect the data subjects’ personal data with appropriate security measures.

Requiring specific informed consent, means you can’t hide the consent information in your terms of service. The data subject has to know what they’re signing up for and give their explicit consent to use their data. If you give people who visit your website the option to add themselves to your mailing list, that, since you won’t know where they live (especially if all they’re providing you is a name and email address), the sign-up form should comply with the GDPR requirements.

I suspect it also means that dropping your card in the bowl to try to win an iPad at a booth and a conference won’t be sufficient to establish explicit consent to add a person to your email list unless there’s verbiage adjacent to the bowl that doing so is a clear affirmative action of consent. Hmm . . . perhaps event organizers who have EU attendees should provide their expo vendors information about obtaining consent under GDPR.

If you want more information about GDPR, please watch this site and my YouTube channel because I’m creating a substantial amount of content on this topic. You can also send me an email (Note: I can’t give advice to non-clients). I use my mailing list to I share my thoughts about being a lawyer/entrepreneur, updates about projects I’m working on, upcoming speaking engagements, and I may provide information about products, services, and discounts. Please add yourself if you’re interested.

You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

If You’re Going to “Wing It” as an Entrepreneur

“Yay!!” by Subharnab Majumdar from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Plenty of entrepreneurs start out as a person or two, a business idea, and a shoestring budget. They know their craft but have limited or not experience starting or running a business. They don’t know what they don’t know – and that’s what gets them into trouble.

Many entrepreneurs employ the “we’ll learn as we go” approach to operating a business. Often times these are smart people, but if they get too focused on doing their business that they don’t take care of business within their operation, it can lead to costly mistakes: thousands of dollars in legal expenses and painful heartache to try to fix a problem that was completely avoidable.

Real-Life Facepalm Moments
I’ve had countless times where a business owner comes to me for help and I cringe and think, “We could have helped you avoid this if you had come to us sooner.” This is just a sample of my facepalm moments as a lawyer:

KAWS “At This Time” Sculpture by Guilhem Vellut from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

  • Owners who don’t create a business entity: put their personal assets at risk if the business gets sued;
  • LLC with multiple owners and no operating agreement: painful business “divorce” when things didn’t work out between owners;
  • Filing a trademark application with the USPTO that wasn’t trademarkable: the application might have had a chance if the description of the products and services was written more effectively;
  • Not filing a trademark and your competition files a trademark application that’s confusingly similar to or the same as yours: costly to make a claim against them and it may not be successful, which could force you to rebrand even though you were using it first;
  • Flawed customer contracts: doesn’t fully protect the company’s interests or address all likely contingencies;
  • Hiring a third-party contractor without a contract: if the person is hired to create an original work for the company, the company won’t own the copyright in what they hired the person to create and may have to pay to acquire it;
  • Working without a contract: so many problems. Whenever I get a call about a business deal gone bad, my first question is usually, “What does your contract say?” (Ideally, you want to be in a situation where, if the other side doesn’t perform as you agreed you can essentially respond with, “F*ck you, pay me.”)

If You’re Going to “Wing It”
If you are starting a business, my unsolicited advice is “Do your homework.” Invest the time to learn what goes into running your business and figure out what you don’t know. Reach out to established entrepreneurs to ask for their advice and avail yourself to resources in your community. In Arizona, we have dozens of these organizations like Arizona Small Business Association, Local First Arizona, and SCORE.

Even if you don’t think you can afford it, look into hiring a business and intellectual property lawyer for an hour. Bring them your ideas of what you want to do, and ask for their recommendations on how to make it happen. A good lawyer will respect your budget and tell you what you can do yourself and what you should hire a lawyer do for you. They can also recommendations resources to help you based on their experiences helping others.

If I’ve learned one thing as a lawyer it is that it’s easier and cheaper to prevent problems than to fix them.

True Story
Years ago, I worked with a new company where the owners hired me to create their operating agreement. I asked a lot of questions about things like intellectual property rights, compensation, and worst-case scenarios (e.g. disability of an owner) to create custom provisions for this document.

A few years later, the owners realized it wasn’t working out between then and decided to part ways. Their operating agreement dictated how they would address this situation, and they hired us again to revise the agreement to account for the exit of one of the owners. The process was professional, respectful, and cost-effective. I’m sure there were hurt feelings on both sides, but having this operating agreement helped the owners mange them and made for a smooth transition.

If you want more information about the legal dos and don’ts of starting and running a business, you can send me an email (Note: I can’t give advice to non-clients), and I maintain a mailing list where I share my thoughts about being a lawyer/entrepreneur, updates about projects I’m working on, upcoming speaking engagements, and I may provide information about products, services, and discounts. You can also connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

The 10 Legal Commandments of Entrepreneurship

“Stained Glass Window Full of Light and Color” by Stock Photos for Free from Flickr (Creative Commons License)
Link to www.stockphotosforfree.com/

Since becoming a lawyer in 2011, I’ve had the privilege of working with businesses on a variety of legal issues. Looking back at some of the most cringe-worthy moments I’ve experiences I’ve had and heard about from other business and intellectual property lawyers, I’ve come up with a list of the 10 legal commandments of entrepreneurship:

 

1. Thou shall have a business entity.

When you start a business, create a business entity – an LLC or corporation. Your accountant can tell you which option is best for you. By separating the business from your personal assets, you limit your personal liability if the business is sued. If you open a business without an entity (aka a sole proprietorship), you don’t have this layer of protection.

 

2. Thou shall maintain your corporate veil.

Creating a business entity is how you begin to limit your liability, and you perfect that protection with a “corporate veil.” This means having a separate bank account and credit card for the business, and the business accounts pay for business expenses and your personal accounts pay for personal expenses. This creates a clear delineation between where the company ends and the person begins in terms of your finances. If the company is sued and loses, it’s clear which assets belong to the company and your person assets are protected.

 

3. Thou shall have a signed contract at the beginning of a business relationship.

When you are hired by a client or hire someone, start with a signed contract. A contract is a relationship-management document. It is your master document that puts everyone on the same page regarding their responsibilities. This will help you avoid confusion and resolve problems. When a client comes to me with a problem with a customer, I often start by asking “What does your contract say?”

 

4. Thou shall be thoughtful and careful about looking online for a contract template.

Looking at templates online is a good place to get ideas about terms you might want to have in your contract, but don’t indiscriminately use any contract you find. You don’t know where it came from or whether it’s suitable for your needs.

 

5. Thou shall take the time to fully read and understand a contract before signing it.

Never be afraid to ask questions or request changes when considering a contract offered to you. Don’t sign anything you don’t understand, because if you sign it and later regret it, you may be stuck with it.

 

6. Thou shall respect others’ copyrights.
Do not use others’ work without permission. Create your own original content. It’s ok to be inspired by and quote others, but add something to the conversation. If we’re talking about images, do not pull any image you find using a regular Google search. Seek out sources that provide licenses for use, including images available under Creative Commons. If there is an image you want to use that’s not available, contact the copyright holder and ask for permission. To date, I’ve never had anyone say, “No.”

 

7. Thou shall check the USPTO before branding a company or product.

When entrepreneurs think “branding,” lawyers think “trademark.” The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has a database where you can see what company names, product names, and logos others have applied for and registered for their products and services. You don’t want to fall in love with, or invest a lot of time and money in, a branding idea to find out that it’s already been claimed by someone else.

 

8. Thou shall outsource your taxes.

Every entrepreneur needs an accountant. Let them do what they’re good at.

In the time it would take you to try to do your own taxes, you could make more than enough money to pay an accountant to do your taxes for you.

 

9. Thou shall consult thy attorney.

Even when you want to do things yourself, talk to your lawyer to make sure you’re not setting yourself and your business up for future problems. My most cringe-worthy moments as a lawyer have been problems clients created for themselves that we could have helped them avoid completely if they had told us what they were thinking about doing. It is easier and cheaper to prevent legal problems than to fix them.

 

10. Thou shall act with integrity.

Put your energy into your own business, creating quality products or services for your audience.

You don’t need to stoop to bad-mouthing the competing, using trademarks that are confusing similar to others, or ride other’s coattails by doing things like using a web domain that will allow you to pull an audience based on someone else’ popularity (e.g., cybersquatting). Be so good at what you do that you don’t need to use others to make a name for yourself.

One last note: If you’re an entrepreneur, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Accountants help you make money, lawyers help you keep it, and your peers will share their experiences so you can learn from them. If you are an entrepreneur, or have plans to become one, I hope you have people around you who can help you be successful.

If you want additional information about the legal dos and don’ts of starting and running a business, I maintain a mailing list where I share my thoughts about being a lawyer/entrepreneur, updates about projects I’m working on, upcoming speaking engagements, and I may provide information about products, services, and discounts. Please add yourself if you’re interested. You can also contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn.

Ultrasabers v. Phoenix Comicon | Contracts Matter

Lightsabers Long Exposure by Brian Neudorff from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Phoenix Comicon nearly started with a bang – literally. On the first day of the con, Mathew Sterling, arrived at the Phoenix Convention Center with a loaded shotgun, three handguns, and knives, allegedly intending to kill actor Jason David Frank and police officers. He was arrested and charged with attempted murder.

Following this incident, Phoenix Comicon changed its rule for the event and banned all prop weapons. Likewise, it instructed vendors who sell prop weapons to wrap them when completing a sale. This is where the problems between Ultrasabers and Phoenix Comicon began.

Ultrasabers sells replica lightsabers and was a repeat vendor at Phoenix Comicon. There was a dispute between the two, resulting in Phoenix Comicon demanding that Ultrasabers pack up their booth and vacate the premises on the Friday night of the con. It’s unclear exactly what transpired between these two companies. Ultrasabers and Phoenix Comicon each released a statement about this matter.

As a lawyer, one of my first thoughts when I heard about this situation was, “This is why contracts matter.” For full disclosure: I don’t represent either party in this matter. I didn’t write this vendor contract. I haven’t even seen it. I’m just an outsider looking in.

Contracts don’t exist for when things go right. Contracts exist for when things go wrong. A contract is a relationship management document; it helps prevent and/or solve problems between people in a relationship. It’s imperative that contracts are written with a thorough scope, and that the recipient review it thoughtfully before signing it, because if things take a downward turn, the contract will be the roadmap you rely on to achieve a resolution. Whenever a client or prospective client comes to me with a contract dispute, one of the first questions I ask is, “What does your contract say?” Footnote: The most common response I get to this question is, “We didn’t have one.”

In regards to Ultrasabers v. Phoenix Comicon, I don’t know what actually happened between the two or whether this situation is resolved at this point. I hope this issue was a reminder, or perhaps a wake-up call, to people who participate as a vendor or performer to read their contracts carefully before signing them. If you sign a contract and you later regret it, there may be nothing you can do to change the rules of that relationship at that point.

If you have questions about your contract needs, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Copyright Notice Done Right

Copyright Notice on Burn

Last weekend, I watched a documentary, Burn, about the Detroit Fire Department. (It’s an intriguing documentary film about these amazing people and how the economy’s crash impacted these firefighters and their community.)

As a lawyer, one of the things I liked about this film was the simplicity of its copyright notice. It had the standard FBI and Interpol warnings (which play through while I’m grabbing a snack), but this last notice caught my eye. It said, “This copy of ‘Burn’ is licensed for Private Home Viewing Only. Any other use is prohibited.” The notice went on to state how to request permission for other uses.

One of the complaints about the use of legal verbiage in everyday life is that it’s often too long to be worth reading, it’s filled with complicated legalese, and it’s in a tiny font. (How many times have you accepted the terms on a site without reading it?) This notice combats everything that’s wrong with the current systems:

  • It used plain language.
  • It was short.
  • It was readable.

A ten year-old could read this and understand what it means. I have never met a ten year-old that’s tried to read the FBI warning before watching a movie.

This notice made me smile. I wish more creators do things like this when declaring their rights and informing others how to seek permission for different uses. Sometimes complicated legalese is necessary, but generally not in mundane situations. Legalese in everyday life should use everyday language.

I’m an advocate of writing contracts and notices in plain English and keeping them as short as possible while still being effective.  If you have questions about your copyright and contract needs, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

B2B Contracts Don’t Work in a B2C World

“Rabo Bank” by bertknot from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Over the years, I’ve seen a number of entrepreneurs try to adapt a B2B contract template to use in their B2C business.* This is like using a hammer to tune a piano – they’re using the wrong tool for the job. I just doesn’t work. Entrepreneurs who have B2B clients or B2C clients have similar needs when it comes to their service contracts, but the nature of the relationships are drastically different. (The reverse is also true – don’t try to adapt a B2C contract for use with B2B clients.) There are several reasons to not use a B2B contract with B2C clients:

You’re Going to Scare Your Clients
If your clients are Joe Average people, not entrepreneurs, a heavy-duty business contract is going to scare the bejezus out of them. I would be worried that they will be intimidated or confused by the verbiage.

A contract is a relationship management document. The purpose is to put everyone involved on the same page. Ideally, your contract will have all terms outlined in a single document so that either side can refer to it when they have a question. And contracts don’t have to be in legalese to be effective; I recommend using plain English and keeping the terms short and simple whenever possible. The goal is to prevent confusion, not create it.

A well-written contract can build rapport with your client. An effective contract will lay out the value you’re giving them and provide security in regards to how you perform the scope of work. A poorly-written or confusing contract may make a client apprehensive about hiring you.

Unnecessary Provisions
There are provisions that may be essential in a B2B contract that would be absurd to include in a B2C contract template, such as an independent contractor provision. I’m pretty sure the Smith family knows when they hired you to take their portrait, that they knew they weren’t hiring you as an employee. Likewise, non-solicitation and non-compete agreement would be bizarre in a contract for consumers. The nature of the relationship often doesn’t warrant provisions like this.

When I write a contract template (B2B or B2C), I start by trying to envision the full relationship between the parties, how they’re going to interact, what each side is giving and receiving from the relationship, and what my client’s pain points and concerns are. That gives me a starting point for writing an effective contract that fits their needs and addresses common problems in advance.

The Value of B2B Contracts for B2C Companies
There’s nothing wrong with an entrepreneur using a B2B contract as part of their research for what they might need for their business. It can provide ideas for what terms or phrasing they may want to use. Additionally, there are some terms that are frequently found in B2B and B2C contracts, such as scope of work, payment, intellectual property, and dispute resolution. Note: even when the headings in the contracts are similar, how the provisions are written may vary vastly based on the needs of the situation where they are used.

If you need a contract for your business, don’t just use a contract from a fellow entrepreneur. Instead, if you get a template, have a lawyer review it to make sure its suitable for your needs. They can also fill in gaps in your provisions and ask questions you didn’t think to consider. And if you have business that does B2B and B2C work, consider using different contract templates to suit the needs of your clients.

A contract template is an investment in your business. If you sign a contract and later regret it, you may be stuck in that situation. If you have questions about your contract needs, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

*B2B = Business to Business
B2C = Business to Consumer

Make Sure Your Contracts Make Sense

Drawing on Parchment by Hilke Kurzke from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

One area where many entrepreneurs struggle is understanding contracts or creating custom contracts to fit their needs. Contracts are essential for every entrepreneur, but there are nothing to be afraid of. The best way I know to describe them is they are relationship management documents. They keep everyone involved in a project on the same page and hopefully are written in a way that lays out and meets everyone’s expectations and needs.

Map Out the Relationship
Before I begin writing a contract for a client, I ask them to explain the lifespan of the contract and the expected interactions between the parties. I want to have a clear mental picture of the relationships between the people involved and the expected timeline they will follow during their working relationship, including how they will address common problems in that type of work or industry. The better I understand the interactions between the parties, the easier it is to draft a contract that fits their needs, whether it’s a custom template or a contract for a specific situation.

I recommend everyone involved in a contract do the same – with a timeline, flow chart, or an outline. This will help you clarify for yourself what your expectations are, and you can use this as a guide to make sure your contract addresses all your needs and concerns.

Compare Your Vision to Reality
Once you have a contract that matches the way you envision the relationship working, compare the terms of the document to reality. If your contract template states that payment must be made within 30 days of sending the invoice but you know you’re working with a company that takes 60 days to pay invoices, no matter who they’re form, change your contract so it matches their process.

Likewise, worst-case scenario situations to make sure your what-if provisions make sense. In many contracts, I write a provision that states that disputes will be resolved in litigation. However, if you’re in a situation where a client didn’t pay for a project and owes you $1,000, it may not be worth it if you have to file a claim in small claims court, get the person served, and then go after them for payment if the court renders a judgment in your favor.

In that type of situation, it may be better to write the contract to state that the client won’t get the final work product until their bill is paid in full. The dispute resolution clause can still mandate litigation, but chances of you having to go to court to get paid drop if the client won’t get what they hired your to do until you get paid.

Contract Disputes – Your State, Your State’s Laws
Every contract needs a provision that states how the parties will resolve problems when they occur. This should include where the parties will resolve problems (e.g., Superior Court of Maricopa County, Arizona) and that the parties consent to this venue (in case you’re dealing with an out-of-state client). It should also include which state’s law governs the contract. Whenever possible, you want your contracts to state that all problems will be resolved on your turf and under your state’s laws.

Ideally, your contracts, especially your templates, will be written or reviewed by a business lawyer to ensure it is valid and complete. If you sign a contract that is legal, but has terms you later realize are not favorable to you, there may be nothing you can do to change them. Your contract should also be written in plain English so the parties involved can easily refer to it throughout their working relationship without needing their lawyers to translate the legalese.

If you want to connect with me and my experiences as a contract writer, you can contact me directly or connect with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, or LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Joy of Customized Partnership Agreements

Dúo by Hernán Piñera from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

A contract is a “relationship management document.” A well-written contract should put everyone involved on the same page and protect both sides. A contract should provide clear explanations to help the parties avoid confusion and prevent problems. It’s an effective way to document the priorities and goals in the relationship.

You can put anything you want in your contract as long as it’s legal. (I’ve written a legitimate contract where one party had to attest that they are “a sexy bitch.”)

The Roommate Agreement: The Epitome of Customized Agreements
One of my favorite contracts is the Roommate Agreement between Sheldon and Leonard on The Big Bang Theory. It’s a perfect example of how contracts can be customized (and how important it is to define words in your contracts.) Here are some of my favorite provisions of the Sheldon-Leonard Roommate Agreement:

  • Once a day, Sheldon must ask Leonard how he is (even though Sheldon doesn’t care).
  • No “hootennanies”, sing-alongs, raucous laughter, clinking of glasses, celebratory gunfire, or barbershop quartets after 10.p.m.
  • If one friend gets super powers, he will name the other one as his sidekick.
  • If one friend gets invited to go swimming at Bill Gates’ house, he will take the other friend to accompany him.
  • Once a year, Leonard and Sheldon take one day to celebrate the contributions Leonard gives to Sheldon’s life, both real and imaginary.
  • One friend has to put up with the other’s craziness. (Yes, we know: Sheldon’s not crazy. His mother had him tested.)

I love this contract. Not only is it hilarious, it shows what a contract can be.

My Partnership Agreement
If I owned a business with a partner, we would have the best owner’s agreement. Besides the provisions about how we were going to resolve deadlocked votes when a unanimous decision is required and the division of administrative tasks, we’d customize our contract based on our personalities and priorities. Here are some provisions I’d advocate for:

  • We won’t use vendors who are known to be sexist, homophobic, racist, or who treat their workers poorly.
  • No jerks. This applies to vendors and customers who want to hire us.
  • Our office will always be dog-friendly.
  • If we’re driving somewhere together, Ruth doesn’t have to drive.
  • There is only one way to say “data” correctly in Ruth’s presence.
  • If you’re sick and contagious, stay home. Keep your germs to yourself.
  • Neither owner is allowed to do their own taxes. Let the professionals do them.
  • We will have a monthly meeting to discuss the state and future plans for the company. If either owner is 10 minutes late or more, they have to buy the other lunch.

When I write partnership agreements, operating agreements, and bylaws for companies, I have a set of questions I make my clients answer to assist me in drafting a contract that fits their needs. One of the questions is “What else do you want me to include?” and I encourage my clients to be thoughtful and creative, based on their needs and their goals for their business.

If you’re interested in getting a custom contract, you can contact me directly or a business lawyer in your community. I regularly post about legal issues impacting entrepreneurs on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.

Time is Scarcest Commodity of Entrepreneurship

Shadow by Martin Lopatka from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Being an entrepreneur is one the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve done in my life. I have almost total autonomy over the type of work I do, and I get to hand-pick my clients. I get to write books, speak at conferences all over the world, and develop new products. Although my work allows me to be involved in creative projects, the one thing I can’t create is more time.

As an entrepreneur, I feel like I’m constantly running against the clock. There are only so many hours in the day, and every time I accept an invitation to an event or take on a new project, there are other opportunities I have to decline. I’ve also learned that I have to allow enough time to do basic things like rest; otherwise, I’ll get overwhelmed, short circuit my system, and crash-and-burn where I’ll need several days to recoup.

The older I get and the more complex my projects get, the more selfish I’ve become with my time. I’m grateful to have a receptionist who screens my calls and makes people contact me via email to set up appointments. The reason for this is simple: when it’s your turn, you’ll get my undivided attention; when it’s not your turn, you don’t get to distract me from my work. Every distraction is a potential delay. So, the fewer distractions, the more I can get done, and the more people I can help in the long run.

One of the biggest frustrations I have to deal with is people who waste my time, especially when I’ve set aside time for them, or worse, arranged my entire day around the expectation that they would meet a deadline or arrive for an appointment. I often run a “tight ship” when it comes to my schedule, so a delay can throw off the rest of the day. I’ll have to rearrange my calendar – and often not just for that day – and if I get angry on top of it, that can be really hard to shake off.

I had such an experience recently – a contractor working on my condo was more than an hour late for our appointment. He was supposed to arrive between 8:30 A.M. and 9:30 A.M. – and he didn’t show up until 10:30 A.M., and he didn’t call. While I waited for him, I channeled my frustrated energy into drafting a contract template where the parties agree to respect the other’s time and the penalty for wasting my time is paying me (at my hourly rate) for the time they wasted. (Yes, I had another lawyer put a set of eyeballs on this contract to verify it was legally sound. He said he was going to steal it to use in his life.)

This is a contract I want to use with all service providers moving forward. I wrote it to put everyone on the same page from the beginning of the professional relationship, where both sides commit to being on time for the other person. They acknowledge that I’m an entrepreneur, and as such, when they waste my time, they interfere with my ability to make a living.

This agreement is not as bitchy as it may sound on its face. I have to commit to following their policies for scheduling and rescheduling appointments too, and there are allowance for some delays – hitting every red light, etc. If it’s a situation where insurance is involved, it requires them to let me know two hours before my appointment time if there are any issues with getting the right approvals, so I’m in the loop, and perhaps it’s something a call from me can rectify.

Besides augmenting my service contracts with this mutual agreement to respect the other’s time, I want to bring the Law of Two Feet back into my life with a vengeance. If my needs aren’t being met wherever I am, or in whatever I’m doing, I have permission to peace out and do something different. It’s been a while since I’ve walked out of a meeting, but it’s something I may have to start doing more often.

One of the things I love about writing contracts is they can be customized for your needs (as long as the terms are legal). If you’re interested in getting a custom contract, you can contact me directly or a business lawyer in your community. I regularly post about legal issues impacting entrepreneurs on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and LinkedIn. You can also get access to more exclusive content that is available only to people on my mailing list, by subscribing here.