“Contracts. Ugh. Can’t we just trust each other and do the deal on a handshake?” – Coach Connie
You could. But should you? That’s a different question – and the one that really matters.
Coaches build a relationship with their clients based on trust – trust in the Coach’s experience and knowledge. Trust that the Coach has the right technique, method and soft skills to work with the client and guide them productively. Trust that when a client shares personal information, private medical or health information, sensitive or proprietary business information, that the Coach will respect and maintain privacy.
So, it should follow that the client-Coach relationship is one that they can each trust to go as is it should. Then why muddy that with a contract? Am I right?
Well, first, let’s be clear that “contract” isn’t a dirty word. A contract is the written form of an agreement between two parties. It serves to demonstrate what the parties agreed to – the bargained for exchange. In Coaching, that exchange is money for coaching services.
But contracts, or agreements if you prefer, do so much more than that – and for Coaches, that should actually excite you!
Because contracts actually align with so much of the core of your coaching business – creating clarity, boundaries, and expectations. Life and Business coaches, especially, are teaching their clients to do just that.
So, let’s talk about some of the kinds of agreements a Connie might need in her coaching business.
This is the most basic, and most essential, agreement that a Coach should have in her business. Whether you offer health & wellness coaching, business coaching, life coaching, or any other type of one-on-one coaching – you need a client service agreement (CSA). The CSA sets the parameters of the coaching-client relationship and services. Basic terms include fees & payment, the length of the agreement/services, a description of the coaching services, any expectations (such as cancellation & rescheduling policies, responsibilities of the client, and preferred methods of communication, for example), and refund policies. A more complete CSA will also state what laws apply, include a dispute resolution clause, and may include a confidentiality clause – if a free-standing nondisclosure agreement is not required. For IFC certified Coaches, the CSA should include compliance language and permission to include information about the client-coaching relationship to satisfy IFC credit-hours.
Offering group coaching? Maybe as an executive coach for a company, or running your own mastermind group coaching sessions? Your basic CSA won’t be enough. A group coaching agreement addresses the unique circumstances of a group coaching setting – participants need to agree to maintain confidentiality of any information they become privy to from the other participants. And the participants, might not be the paying client – it may be the company.
Workshops or Retreats
Workshops and retreats are a great way for coaches to offer a lot of bang for the buck to their clients, and to bring in revenue. But these types of events bring unique issues that should be addressed in a complete agreement. Because workshops and retreats can involve and rely on vendors, venues and other parties beyond the coach and clients, these types of agreements need to cover some “what-ifs” that don’t come up in 1:1 or group coaching.
- What if the venue has to cancel?
- What if a vendor fails to deliver an item or service?
- What if a participant is injured while attending?
Whether you offer business coaching, health & wellness coaching, or something else – addressing the “what-if’s” ensures you and your clients know exactly what to expect.
Here’s a “what-if” to consider: what if you are hosting a retreat without having a solid agreement in place with your participants and something does go wrong? Without clear written agreement in place, are you ready to take that gamble? OR, would you like to have the peace of mind of knowing your agreement has you covered? I am not trying to create a “the sky is falling” paranoia here – but a well-drafted (which does NOT mean complex) contract can prevent and minimize so many headaches. And that’s a GOOD thing!
Contracts to Protect Information and Intellectual Property
Sometimes included within the other agreements, and sometimes free-standing, Coaches should also have something in place to protect the intellectual property (IP) they work so hard to create – like worksheets, workbooks, handouts, journals, and such. Coaches who coach other coaches (say that three times fast!!!) certainly don’t want their clients taking off with their IP and competing with them. I am all for the more-the-merrier, and a firm believer that there is more than enough business to go around, but “borrowing,” “co-opting,” or otherwise using someone’s else’s original IP without permission to compete with them is stealing.
But Coaches shouldn’t rely on karma to right that kind of wrong – they should prevent it, and protect their interests with a contract that makes it easy to enforce their rights if and when that one bad apple crops up.
And on the flip side – clients who are sharing sensitive and private information want to be sure that they won’t’ be taken advantage of, unfairly competed against, or have their IP stolen either. Including language in the CSA, or other agreements, or having a mutual NDA in place creates confidence and trust so that a client can share more freely – which means are more transparent relationship and an easier path towards a successful client-coach relationship.