Contracts and Agreements 101

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Photo by Steve Snodgrass.

The more that you are actively working in your field — whether that means writing for magazines, playing music at clubs, hosting gallery events or building furniture for a hotel — the more you’ll find yourself needing to execute contracts with other businesses and people.

If you find contracts intimidating, you’re not alone. But when you boil them down to their essentials, most contracts are nothing more than detailed descriptions of what you and the other party are promising to each other. For most contracts, legalese is not essential or even helpful. On the contrary, the agreements you’ll want to put into a written contract are best expressed in simple, everyday English.

Don’t be afraid to redraft contract language. When reading a contract that has been presented to you, your first task is to make sure you understand all of its terms. It is just plain foolish to sign a contract if you’re unclear on the meaning of any of its language. If a clause is poorly written, hard to understand, or doesn’t accomplish your key goals, rewrite it to be clear. By waiting to sign at the “X” until your goals are clearly met, you’ll be less likely to find yourself in a breach-of-contract lawsuit later on. A breach of contract occurs when one party fails to live up to the terms or promises in the contract. (For more on changing contract language, see “Reading and Revising a Contract,” below.)

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Elements of a Valid Contract

A contract will be valid if all of the following are true:

  • All parties are in agreement (after an offer has been made by one party and accepted by the other).
  • Something of value has been exchanged, such as cash, services, or goods, for something else of value (or there is a promise to exchange an item for something else of value).
  • In a few situations, such as the sale of real estate, the agreement must be in writing. Of course, because oral contracts can be difficult or impossible to prove, it is wise to write out most agreements.

Each of these elements is described below in more detail.

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About Peri Pakroo

Peri Pakroo is the founder, Publisher and Editor of Pyragraph. Outside her work with Pyragraph, Peri is a business author and coach, specializing in creative and smart strategies for self-employment and small business. She has started, participated in, and consulted with businesses and nonprofits for more than 20 years. Her focus is on helping people build structure for their passions to find success on their own terms. Her blog is at www.peripakroo.com.

Peri received her law degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 1995, and a year later began editing and writing for Nolo, specializing in business and intellectual property issues. She is the author of several top-selling Nolo titles on small business and nonprofit start-ups including The Small Business Start-Up Kit, The Women’s Small Business Start-Up Kit and Starting & Building a Nonprofit

Peri accidentally started her first band The Moist Towelettes at the age of 40 with her husband Turtle O’Toole. Since then she has played in a number of bands including the blurts and her own downer-country project, Peri & the FAQs.

In 2012, Peri saw the need for a resource featuring the voices of a wide range of creative workers and the many different career paths they take. She founded Pyragraph to fill this need. Here’s the Pyragraph start-up story.

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