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What Contracts Do You Need For An Online Coaching Business

what contracts do you need for an online coaching business, sam vander wielen

When I left the law in 2016, I set out to become a business owner and start my own online coaching business (a health coaching business at the time!). I knew I’d be coaching clients and offering coaching services like 1:1 6-month programs, VIP days, and workshops. Luckily I had the whole Esquire thing going for me — so I knew what kinds of coaching contracts I needed to work with people. I just had to figure out the online coaching part, first 😉

Online coaching usually means offering coaching services or selling coaching programs via courses and memberships online. It doesn’t mean that you never work with or see clients in person — but the bulk of your marketing and work is done through your website, social media, and digital marketing. 

Between the rise in working virtually, and the desire for that laptop lifestyle (aka the freedom from the 9-5 behind a desk), you can find an online coach in almost every industry you can think of.

In the Ultimate Bundle™ alone, we have dating, career, health, wellness, fitness, life, mindset, money, nutrition, and business coaches (just to name a few!). They offer a diverse range of products and services: from group programs, to online courses, to digital products, and private coaching.

And part of what makes online coaching so enticing is just how simple it is to get started. Some of my most successful customers and friends started with a simple website or Instagram page to get their business up and running.

But just because it’s easier to start an online business than it is to open a bakery (but not more delicious, obviously) doesn’t mean that you don’t need legal protection. There’s this (false) myth out there that because you’re starting an online business, you don’t need the same type of legal protection that you would if you started a good ol’ brick and mortar business. 

That’s not only false — it’s dangerous. Because if you don’t get legal protection as you start your online coaching business, you’re putting yourself at serious risk.

And besides forming your business and taking the start up steps you need, you have to make sure you have the right coaching contracts to work with clients online.

Getting legit coaching contracts in order is probably the most daunting part of starting up your own business — but that’s because you’re not supposed to know how to write them. You’re going to wear a LOT of hats as a business owner (CEO, CFO, marketing manager, content creator, administrator, etc.) — lawyer doesn’t have to be one of them.

Not only do you want to have coaching contracts because they legally protect you, your business and your money — but you also want them to hold both you and your client accountable. 

After working with thousands of online coaches and helping them with their contracts, I can tell you that what comes up more often than not are the boundaries and terms in their contracts. Not the legalese 😉

If used right, contracts help you:

  1. Look more professional, potentially attracting more clients
  2. Weed out potential difficult clients who never intended to hold up their end of the contract.
  3. Clearly lay out your boundaries, avoiding awkward or unnecessary conversations.
  4. Communicate trustworthiness to your clients, since they know they’re protected by both of you signing a contract, too.

What Contracts Do You Need For An Online Coaching Business?

So now that you know how important it is to have a coaching contract, you’re probably wondering: which contract do I need for my online coaching business? I’ll break down which contracts online coaches need most and what they do to protect you.

You’ll need a different contract for each way you work with people online or each product you offer. Even though contracts are all unique depending on the service/product offered, all contracts should be:

  • Clear and easy to read
  • Consistent (not having any contradictory terms)
  • Have organized paragraphs with headings and labels.
  • Sent and signed the right way so they’re actually enforceable
  • Tailored to you and your business
  • Original to you — not copy and pasted from someone else, since they probably won’t cover you.

1:1 Client Contracts:

Anytime you’re working privately or 1:1 with a client, you need a 1:1 client contract. Your 1:1 client contract covers:

  • What’s included (in detail) so there are no miscommunications about what they get.
  • Late / no payments and what happens if someone doesn’t pay.
  • What kind of support is available and how often.
  • Disclaiming liability, so you can’t get sued by someone saying they thought you were their doctor/lawyer/accountant/therapist/financial advisor/etc.
  • The in’s and out’s of your policies, like what happens if someone doesn’t show up for her call, how long she has to reschedule/cancel calls, and who can cancel your contract or relationship altogether and why.

Obviously it’s important that the actual substance of your contract is solid (which is why it’s so important to seek legal advice from your own lawyer, invest in a legal template like these, or both). But it’s equally as important to make sure your contract is send and signed by your client the right way. If it’s not, it might not be enforceable.

With 1:1 client contracts, you want to make sure that your clients actually signs the contract, as opposed to “acknowledging’ it (I’ll talk about that later). I talk more about how to send and sign contracts correctly here

VIP Days or Intensives:

If you offer VIP days or intensives (like a 1-time 90-minute session, for example) you should still use a 1:1 client contract. If you already have a 1:1 client contract for your multi-month coaching programs, then you should duplicate a fresh copy of your contract and create one solely focused on these 1-off offerings. 

Your VIP Day or intensive contracts should include all of the same terms as your normal 1:1 contract. Just be mindful to include as much detail as possible about how long your support is, and what type of support is offered, outside of your client session.

Group Program Contract:

Like the 1:1 client contract, you use a group program contract any time you’re offering a group program or mastermind instead. Your group program might include weekly/monthly calls, coaching materials, and even private sessions. The main difference here is that they’re not only getting 1:1 sessions with you — there’s a group component as well.

In addition to everything the 1:1 contract includes, a solid group program contract will also talk about:

  • Confidentiality, because sensitive information might be shared in group sessions.
  • Keeping your materials safe, since you might be sharing course or coaching materials with group members.
  • Removal, since you might want to remove a difficult group member.
  • Payment plans and procedures, since you may offer different options based on the length and level of your program.

Just like your 1:1 client contracts, you want to make sure you actually have clients sign (or e-sign) your group program contract. You shouldn’t have clients “acknowledge” or check off a box if you’re selling a group program. When it comes to services vs. products, we want to be extra careful in making sure you’re legally protected.

Courses & Memberships:

The type of contract you use shifts a bit when you sell courses or membership programs. That’s because (hopefully) anyone can buy these at any time. So unlike a 1:1 client or group program offer where you’re probably onboarding the client yourself (or having a team member help you), online courses and memberships should be onboarding people automatically.

So as people are purchasing your course or membership as you sleep (that’s the goal!), we want to make sure we have them agree to important terms when they do.

For courses and memberships, I recommend using Terms of Use (wellness version) or Terms of Use (business services version) that people acknowledge at checkout. That means they check a box or choose from a drop down menu to acknowledge that they’ve read and agreed to the terms in your Terms of Use.

Terms of Use include many of the basic contract terms we’ve talked about already, but they have special sections dedicated to:

  • Recurring payments and being able to legally re-charge people’s cards without their consent every single month.
  • Protecting your intellectual property in your course materials and keeping them out of copycats’ hands.
  • Exactly what’s included and not included, including bonuses.

Contracts as You Scale:

As your online coaching business grows, you’ll need contracts along the way. For example, you’ll need a:

  • Independent Contractor contract when you hire a contractor to help you in your business (I.e., a virtual assistant, copywriter, social media manager, tech help, etc.)
  • Affiliate contract when you allow other people to make a commission on the sale of your course, product or programs.
  • Collaboration contract when you pair up with another business owner to run a program or sell a product together (but aren’t forming a business together).
  • Podcast guest contract when you have guests on your podcast and you want to make sure they know they’re not getting paid for their appearance and they don’t get the final say on the podcast edits.

These are what I call grow documents 🙂 If you’re growing, you need them! But that’s a good thing.

Which Contracts Do You Need for Your Coaching Business?

Feeling overwhelmed with which contracts you need in your online coaching business? Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Write out a list of all of your CURRENT offers: 1:1 services, programs, courses, products, etc. that you already sell or have for sale.
  2. For now, focus on getting a contract for just each one of those items. As you create new products, get a contract as you go.

If you’re looking for solid lawyer-drafted contract templates that you can quickly fill out and make your own, I’m here to help. You can get any of my contract templates:

  1. In my DIY Legal Template shop a la carte. Each template comes with a How-To Video Tutorial, teaching you how to fill it out in 15 minutes or less.
  2. In the Ultimate Bundle™ — that gives you 10 DIY legal templates (including your 1:1, group, course, affiliate, independent contractor contracts AND website policies) PLUS 35+ video trainings teaching you how to get paid, form your business, protect your intellectual property and content, send and sign contracts and safely work with clients.

Any questions about which templates you need? Or whether the Ultimate Bundle is a good fit for you? Send me a note and I’ll help you out!

Next Step: Watch my free legal workshop

If you’re ready to legally protect your business and have the legal knowledge you need to know what to do with difficult clients, watch my free workshop ‘5 Steps to Legally Protect & Grow Your Online Business’ right now by saving your seat here.

In that workshop, you’ll learn: 

  1. How contracts can actually save your (vegan, GF) bacon — if you have the right one.
  2. What your website needs to be legally protected.
  3. How to keep copycats off your content.
  4. The mindset shift you’ve got to make if you want to actually grow your  business without looking over your (online) shoulder.
  5. The only way to form your business so that you’re personally and professionally protected.

Ready to watch? Sign up for my free legal workshop right here:

And before you go – let me know in the comments below what questions you have about the contracts you need for your coaching business. I’m here to help! 

Talk soon!

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