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Hey there, I’m Danielle. Welcome to episode 19 of Simplifying Legal for Small Business Owners. Today, we’re focusing on group program agreements.
Disclaimer: As always, before we get into today’s topic, a quick disclaimer. This podcast is meant to provide you with legal information only. It’s not legal advice and does not create any type of attorney-client relationship between us. Please don’t take any action without consulting your lawyer first.
Now, let’s talk about group program agreements.
First, I want to review how I am defining a group program for purposes of this episode. A group program is typically hosted by a business and includes a small or large group who are receiving similar content. A couple of common examples are a mastermind or a group coaching program.
It might include some pre-recorded components, similar to what a self-paced course would have, but there usually some element that is live. This is what typically differentiates it from being an online course.
In my law firm, I work with a lot of nutrition professionals and group programs are extremely common. They will include recorded modules with video and PDFs with content. Then, there will be a weekly q&a call for any group members. There is also often a forum of some sort where the group members can interact. It’s really common to use a private Facebook group for this feature.
Some group programs have no individualized interaction between the facilitator and the group members. Their time with you may be limited to a q&a call with the group.
But there are times when a group program will include both individual and group interactions as part of the program. An example of this might be a group coaching program that also has individual coaching sessions between you and a member of the group. Sometimes, this type of individual session is an add-on, or upgrade, to the group program.
Now that you know more about what falls under the definition of a group program, let’s talk more about what you need in the agreement. There are a lot of similarities between a group program agreement and a client agreement, which I discussed in the last episode. But, there are also a few things that are very unique to the group program agreement that you won’t usually find in a client agreement.
First, let’s talk about the term.
The term of the agreement is when it is in full force and effect. In other words, when does the agreement start and when does it end.
Unlike a client agreement, a group program usually has a specific start and end date. So your agreement may state that the agreement automatically terminates when the program concludes.
As always, you can customize this to fit your program if it is different.
Next, let’s talk about termination.
The termination provision will determine if you can end the agreement prior to the planned end date.
For a group program, there is often flexibility to end the agreement early, but many will state that there are no refunds due if the client decides to terminate the agreement. Additionally, if someone was on a payment plan, I’ve seen many programs that state all payments will be due, even if the client decides to leave the program and terminate the agreement. Be sure to consider how you’d like to approach this as you review the termination provision in your group program agreement.
If you want to learn more about terminations, check out episode 11, where I talked in depth about ending a contract.
Compensation Terms Upon Agreement
Next, let’s talk about compensation
In a group program, the pricing will typically be the same for all members of the group, unless you offer add-on services or upgrades.
Depending on the price of the program, you may only offer an option to pay in full with one payment prior to the start of the program.
Some companies like to give an option for a payment plan, especially if the program is for a longer period of time or it has a higher price point.
If you are offering a payment plan, make sure your compensation provision offers details. For example, is the first payment due prior to the start of the program? Then are all payments auto-billed on a monthly basis after that? Make sure your client understands their financial commitment.
When I talked about termination a moment ago, I also mentioned refunds in the event of a termination. If you don’t offer refunds, make sure it’s clear at the time they sign the agreement. This is usually one of the biggest areas of disputes that I see.
Next, let’s discuss confidentiality.
In a group program, you may not need the same type of thorough non-disclosure agreement level confidentiality that you might see in a one on one client agreement. However, if you are offering individual sessions, like a coaching element, make sure you state whether or not the information will be kept confidential. This can vary depending upon your services, so think about what level of confidentiality you want to offer.
Next, let’s look at the status provision.
Often, the agreement will include a paragraph that talks about the status of your relationship to your client. Usually, this will state that you are an independent contractor and may include some aspects of being a contractor, like responsibility for taxes, etc.
Next, let’s talk about intellectual property.
In many group programs, you will be sharing your intellectual property with the group. This may be in the form of videos or workbooks that you provide as a PDF. In this case, make sure it is clear what rights they have to this content. It’s often a limited license for their personal use only. No sharing or selling, etc.
Next, let’s talk about groups run by professionals.
As I mentioned earlier, I work with a lot of nutrition professionals. These are often Registered Dietitians who are licensed to practice dietetics. However, in their group programs, they’re often not practicing dietetics or offering medical nutrition therapy. Instead, these groups are focused on nutrition education. For example, one dietitian may host a group program teaching people basic nutrition information regarding weight loss.
In these types of situations, it can be helpful to include language in the agreement to ensure that it’s clear to the client about the services you’ll be providing. Using the same example as above, your agreement could say that you’re a registered dietitian, but the program does not create a patient-provider relationship between them and won’t be customized for the individual. It might go on to say that it isn’t medical nutrition therapy or psychotherapy and that you are providing nutrition coaching.
This can offer you, as the business owner and facilitator of the program, additional protection and it ensures that your clients fully understand what types of services they will be receiving in the group program.
Next, let’s discuss disclaimers.
Your use of a disclaimer in your agreement may depend on the type of program you offer. They are very common to state that you can’t guarantee results. For business-related group programs, it may also state that you can’t guarantee future income based on their participation in the group.
Statement of Work and Specifics of Deliverables
One of the most important parts of your group program agreement is the Statement of work when you discuss the deliverables and what you’ll be offering.
Think of this as the place where you give the details on the program.
It may state how long the group runs, how often calls will be held, the duration of the calls, and whether or not the calls will be recorded. I personally participated in a group program that offered the audio from any group meetings as a private podcast for the group members. This type of detail is something you can include in the statement of work.
If you’re offering individualized services in addition to the group piece, you may want to give additional details about what you are including. For example, the number of calls, how to schedule, cancellation policies, and when they expire.
If you’re offering a program forum or Facebook group, you can state that it will be offered and that they are required to follow the group participation rules, which I’ll talk more about in a second.
And, of course, don’t forget to add the standard legal provisions to your client agreement, like indemnity, limitations of liability, assignment, etc. If you want to know more about the boilerplate clauses, check out Episode 15.
Everything I’ve reviewed so far generally governs the relationship between you and the individual client who is joining the program. One of the most important aspects of a group program, however, is the group. Your agreement also should have something that defines how the group participants interact with one another.
In the Businessese templates for group programs, I call this a group participation agreement and the focus is on how the group works together.
To me, this is one of the most important pieces of your group program agreement and it really differentiates it from a client agreement.
Usually, this section will include guidance on the type of behavior you expect between group members. I know it feels like we shouldn’t have to say things like this, but be nice, don’t harass, don’t post hate speech in the group, etc.
One of the things I always include here is a statement that says if someone violates the group participation agreement, you can remove them and immediately terminate the agreement with no refund due. That way, if you get a member who behaves inappropriately toward another group member, you have an easy way to remove them.
If you have a group where confidentiality is expected between the members, you can address it in the group participation terms. If you host a forum as part of your group program, I usually state that there are no screenshots allowed either.
If you’re using a forum or a Facebook group, you can list the rules of engagement for the group. One common thing is how long they can expect it to take for you to respond to questions, if that is a benefit that you offer. Most people say 1 to 2 business days for a response.
When creating or revising this section of your agreement, consider the types of things that might come up between members and the potential areas of those conflicts. Include anything that you think might be necessary.
For example, if they may be sharing business ideas, you may want to state that they shouldn’t be using someone else’s ideas. Or, in a business coaching environment, if someone is sharing their IP, you can address that it will still belong to the original owner and shouldn’t be used outside of the group.
This wraps up the overview of some of the most important parts of a group program agreement. Like client agreements, what you need from your group program agreement may vary depending upon the field that you are in. A business coach running a mastermind might have a very different agreement from a dietitian who is running a nutrition education program.
Now let’s talk about today’s action steps:
- First, Does your group program agreement have all of the components you need to govern your relationship with the individual group member? If it doesn’t, consider making this revision.
- Next, Is your statement of work particular and describes the most important details regarding the program? If not, consider adding this. And, if you offer individual interactions with each group member, make sure you include these details.
- Next, Do you have terms that govern how the members of the group interact with one another? If you don’t, this can be really important, so again, consider adding it.
- Next, If you don’t have a group program agreement, this is an important part of your business, so it’s something you should definitely consider. We offer a couple of options for group program agreement templates in the Businessese Shop and I’ll link them in the show notes.
- And, last, it feels like this is becoming a very common final action step. As always, if you are not sure if you have everything you need for your group program agreement, please reach out to a lawyer. A plug for my firm, Liss Legal – if you need help with your group program agreement, check out lisslegal.com. I regularly draft this type of agreement for my clients, from business coaches to wellness professionals. I’d love to talk with you more and see if we’re a good fit to work together.
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