Contracts are confusing and stressful things. However, it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ll mention a solution later. For now I want to talk about one piece in the mechanics of contracts, specifically small claims court.
Small Claims- Big Pains
Small claims court is not somewhere any conscious wedding entrepreneur wants to find herself. Reading the forums I hear folks offering that as the first line of defense. Yes, if the amount owed, otherwise called the amount in controversy, is within the limit, you can pursue your claim for payment in small claims court. But just because you can jump off a bridge, would you?
Small Claims is not the useful tool you think, especially for service biz owners who trade hours for money. It’s an amazing microcosm of life, if you can believe that. All the same stories-love, revenge, longing, regret- played out in the court system. Certainly engrossing, but you don’t want to be there. You’ll waste hours away from your wedding business to purse it. Here’s the mini-rundown to what it’s like to ride this rollercoaster:
1. You’ll have to spend time finding and organizing all the relevant information and papers.
2. You’ll have to fill out & file paperwork at the courthouse. That won’t be fast, especially if you need help understanding the form.
3. Attend your court date and wait, and wait and wait. It can take hours to be called depending on how full the docket is that day.
3a. Return for a continuance if the other party doesn’t show. Which can happen. That’s another day sitting in court.
4. Possibly chase your money judgment. You don’t get the money at small claims. Just a judgment, which is the right to get the money. You still have to actually collect the money, and sometimes that means hiring help like a sheriff.
How do I know all this? Personal experience teaching a graduate level mediation course. I got to see the show up close. In Massachusetts, mediation is used in many of the small claims courts. I had the pleasure of working from both the Quincy and Cambridge courthouses, although Quincy was my favorite. John Dalton is a peach of a man.
Give Peace a Chance- Try Mediation
Litigation is never a good look for service professionals who rely on referrals. I’ve read posts on wedding forums from people who say they sue clients so other brides don’t think they can get away with it. What kind of crazy thinking is that? Yes, you’re sending a message. It says: Beware because I’m likely to be unfair and difficult to work with!
That’s harsh but true. When was the last time you automatically took the side of the business owner over the customer when you heard about a problem? We’re conditioned to think companies try to screw regular folks like when the bank charges you a huge bounced check fee because they paid the largest amount first and made the rest of the transactions fail. Prospective brides who hear about your troubles, and they will because court documents are public records, will think differently about you.
That’s why I always have a dispute resolution clause in my contracts. And tell my mentees to do the same. If you and I are working together, I put more faith in our shared commitment as teammates to work things out than I put in a judge, who is a third party and doesn’t know either of us. You’ll see a sample of my mediation clause in the Mechanics Guide.
Mediation is almost magical in the way it calls all the participants to be their best selves. Even after leading and watch the process unfold for 18 years, I still get amazed by what happens when people decide to have a meaningful discussion with a little help. (Next time you see me ask me about my favorite dentist mediation story. It’s so poetic and powerful)
What does this mean to you?
It’s time to think seriously about how you want to resolve issues that will inevitably crop up in your wedding business. Are you willing to mediate? Could you stand litigating? Do you need to brush up on how to say no firmly yet positively? My best advice to you is to handle issues at home.
PS One last mention…Wednesday- I’m talking more about the interplay between your thoughts, your contract and attracting more of the type of bride you’d like. Drop by