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Is An Email a Legally Binding Agreement? – Avoid the Deadly “No Contract” Mistake

Some clients have ants in their pants. You have your first meeting with a prospective client…you know the one where you think you are qualifying the client BUT they think they are kicking off the project. On one hand it is great because you already won the project with minimal sales effort. On the other hand, it can cause even the best freelancers and agency owners to skip a critical step…the contract!

In the early years of my agency, rushing the process and skipping a contract cost me money. It was enough money that I quickly made a rule that you should adopt.

“No work will ever be started without a written contract.”

Now you may be thinking, “But what about a cheap simple request?”

Yep, “Make a contract.”

Or you saying, “What if making the contract takes more time than it will take to even do the work?”

Yep, “Make a contract.”

The above image was generated using Adobe Firefly and this text to image prompt: “a court judge sitting at the podium with old style white wig and gavel and dozens of ants are on the walls and podium.” Takeway: AI isn’t going to be able to produce perfect images for any prompt any day soon, but you should start becoming familiar with it. No more hiding and hoping it will go away. Adobe just released a ton of new AI features in their software during Adobe Max.

Rule: No Work…Ever…Never Ever…Happens Without a Written Contract

However, for small requests and quick start projects IT IS OK to use a written email as your form of contract. Your “contract” doesn’t always have to be a formal document with a signature. If you trust the client and the client trusts you, you can get started quickly with a simple “email agreement” serving as your “contract.”

Will An Email Agreement Hold Up in Court?

I knew this already, but I did a quick search looking for a great quote stating that an email is a legally binding document. Guess what? The Google search revealed 78,200,000 results and at least the first couple pages of results all concur that an email agreement will hold up in court (at least in US and UK…and I expect it would be the same in most other countries, as well).

What Goes Inside a Contract?

A contract is a legally binding agreement between two parties. The core elements of a contract are offer, acceptance, and consideration.

The “offer” states what you will do for the client.The “acceptance” confirms agreement from your client. And “consideration” details the exchange of value (i.e. the amount of money you will charge for the offer).

As long as your email contains those three things, it will stand as a legally binding agreement between you and your client.

Your New Email Contract Template

If you find yourself in a situation where you trust the client, they want to get started quickly, and a formal agreement document may be a bit of “overkill” on the project, I recommend using this email template that fulfills the legal requirements of a “contract” namely offer, acceptance, and consideration.

Thanks for the meeting. Can’t wait to work on this. It is our policy to never perform work for our clients without some type of written agreement. Typically we would create a formal contract and have you provide and e-signature. However, because we are all eager to get started quickly, we can use this email as confirmation of terms of the project. Please please reply with your acceptance to this brief writeup so we can make sure we at least have something in writing for our project.
Project Overview:
​The client has requested our agency services to create _____________ with the goal of improving _____________ for their business.
Anticipated Deliverables:
​We expect the work to include these final deliverables.
• ____________
• ____________
• ____________
Agreed Upon Price and Payment Terms:
​The client agrees to pay $ ____________ which will be invoiced in the following manner _____________.
Approximate Date of Completion:
​It is anticipated that the project will be completed by this date _______ depending on client turnaround times for assets, feedback, and approvals.
Please reply to this email with “I accept these terms” and we will get started.

This Is the Minimum Contract

If you’ve taken any of my courses, you’ll know that this approach does not contain a lot of important clauses and content that I recommend to help protect both you and your client during a project. But, in a BARE MINIMUM situation, an email agreement using this format can suffice as a legally binding agreement. (And, “yes” be sure to get the client to reply with their acceptance AND “yes” make sure you file the emails in case you need them in the future.)

Michael Janda

I am Michael Janda, an executive level creative leader with more than 25 years of experience in both in-house creative departments and agencies working with some of the greatest brands in the world including Disney, Google, Fox, ABC and NBC. I create books, courses, workshops, lectures and other training materials to help creative entrepreneurs run successful businesses.