How deals go down

Things to watch out for before you sign on the dotted line.

One of the best ways to get visitors to your web site is to team up with other companies to cross-promote each others’ sites. For small web sites, such agreements are little more than handshake deals – an agreement between online companies or personal friends to exchange links to each other’s sites. But once there is significant value that could be attached to advertising, sales income, content licensing, or other aspects of a relationship, it’s time to get all the details of the agreement down in a contract.

But what should actually go into such a contract? How do you make sure that you will be getting back as much as you give? How detailed should the contract be, and what specific guarantees need to be built in? What escape hatches should be in place?

Ultimately, you will need an attorney to make sure your interests are covered. But the whole process will go more smoothly and cost you less in legal costs if you are aware in advance of how such deals are typically structured. Getting that information is a lot easier than you may suspect, too. Although most companies aren’t likely to give you samples of actual contracts, you can find samples of real contracts online at

What you’ll find there are actual comarketing agreements made by large publicly held corporations. The dollar amounts have been crossed out as have details such as the guaranteed number of page views, but reading through the agreements is a great way to gain an understanding of the key points that should be in a contract to cover your interests – and what you might be asked to do to ensure the other party’s interests are met, too. For instance, you’ll see examples of how companies specify placement of advertising on a page in exchange for some specific deliverable such as money or content. Just knowing how the deals get set up can go a long way to speeding your agreements with other companies.

Online agreements aren’t the only deals you’ll find listed there, either. The site has examples employment agreements, offer letters, stock options, and more. These aren’t just canned samples you’d find in a book of contracts sold in bookstores. These are actual agreements with most of the “I’s” dotted and “T’s” crossed. You just don’t get to see the actual numbers.

A word of caution: Don’t try to use these samples as templates to write your own agreement. And don’t try to negotiate the final draft of contracts without an attorney. The document you sign can come back to bite you in the future if you don’t understand it, or accidentally violate the terms of the agreement. For instance, one writer lost a contract for a magazine column she had been writing for ten years because she signed an agreement to write for web site. The magazine claimed writing she was doing for a web site violated an exclusivity clause in the contract. So they cancelled the contract and gave the column to one of the writer’s competitors.

One final tip: be sure to let your attorney know in advance which items in a contract would be deal breakers for you, and which are of less importance. Otherwise he or she could waste a lot of time (and your money) nitpicking details that are of little interest to you.

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