Do You Really Need a Contract for Design Work

Well, yes, really you do.

A lot of designers, that’s myself included, jump head long into business full of enthusiasm, bright ideas and a nitro fueled ignition in the rear end only to find that the unexpected really does happen, and you’re not going to like it, and you’re not going to want it.

It’s not just that something may go wrong, it’s that something will go wrong, and you need to be as prepared as possible.

A contract offers a certain level of security, not only for your client, but also for yourself. It lays down the rules so that embarrassing and frustrating events can be avoided, so that it’s clear what and from who certain things are expected. It explains responsibilities; those you are willing to take and those you expect from the client.

After scanning reports and reviews of bad experiences, and having some of my own, came this list of ten top reasons why you really do need to be thinking about and drafting up your own contract for design work.

1. Getting Paid

Yes, you love designing, it comes from the heart and you strain to make people happy and you know you can do it. But let’s face it, 10 years on, with your own family and financial responsibilities, getting paid is an absolute must and nothing that you can “take or leave” as it comes. No-one, including your client, is going to step in and help – no they’re not!

Put it in your contract, how you expect to be paid, with up-front percentage payments or monthly payments till the end of a project, or publish on payment – just do it, you can’t afford to work for free. At least, I didn’t find a free supermarket till now.

2. Don’t Take the Flack for a Clients Mistakes

Specify sign off points, this can sometimes be a hassle, but without them you stand a chance of being left in a sticky situation without a leg to stand on, word against word. Stick to your sign off points, when the client gives an OK, get a signature to prove it.

3. Sticking to a Deadline

Deadlines are difficult to deal with, many times there’s not only you or your company involved, but also other people working on the job. Deadlines can run over but you don’t want to be paying with your time, and neither does your client, for events that are out of your control. Cover what will happen in these situations.

4. Client Data

Always specify that the client is responsible for his/her own data. Sounds pretty obvious, but it’s not always the case. You need confirmation that this data belongs to them or that they have the right to use it so that you’re not risking having to pay the bill in a copyright case.

5. Please Note – This is Only a Quote

I really don’t like this part so much, but it just has to be covered. You really need to specify that you’re offering a quote, flexibility is the key word. Why? Unfortunately, this is one of the most oft occurring problems that I’ve come across; scenario – a client asks for a small 7 page web site, you do the basic research and ask the basic questions that you need for the draft work and you propose the costs, simple. Not simple. What the client really wants is ten pop-up information blocks on one page, and a full image gallery on another etc. etc. Because you gave a fixed price, you’re now in a difficult situation that can easily become explosive.

6. Take responsibility for your own mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, make sure that you specify that you’re fixing them in a timely fashion, no quibbling, no exaggerated pride. Give an “After completion” date or time span, so that your client can proof and request error fixes.

This time span is also important when dealing with lazy clients who just can’t be bothered to proof and check, and decide they want to make corrections one year later.

7. Revisions, Revisions, Revisions, Revisions …….

The client with the most revisions that I know comes to the proud number of 32. Yes, that’s a lot. Some people just don’t know when enough is enough. And, ashamed as I am to say, the worst clients for revisions seem to be of the female species, ouch, clearly explaining why the shoe industry makes so much money. ;)

Specify how many revisions are included in your estimate and stick with it, otherwise you can sign on at the benefits office, you’ll get better paid there. If more revisions are required, then charge for your time.

8. Specify who owns the copyright of the design

Usually, design work is the copyright of the creator. It’s your art or design work and you can reuse it later, although it’s not a good idea to blatantly reuse a full design piece. Make sure this is specified in your contract. The client does not have the right to give away your graphic design, he does not have the right to allow someone else to use your design or copy, he does also not have the right to give someone else the full website for republishing. If the client wants the copyright, he/she have to buy it. Make this clear.

9. Specify which Browsers you Support

If web design is your business, you need to specify which browser support you include in your estimate. Planning and structuring to allow for browser compatibility takes a lot of time, especially if your client has special wishes which are going to require extra adjustments and style sheets depending on these. This also applies to Ajax or other programming functions which are asked after your estimate has been accepted.

10. Last, but for Sure Not Least

Make sure you include a back-out clause. Design is one of the most subjective areas of business in which you can work. Despite your portfolio, things are not always going to click, whether it’s you or your client, sometimes things just don’t work out. Ensure that you have a back-out clause stating that any completed work will be invoiced, this is for the sake of both yourself and your client, so that occurrences can be dealt with in a civilized manner.


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