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Freelance Contracts: Do’s And Don’ts

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In the world of freelancing, the entrepreneur has to take on a number of tasks for themselves that would normally be handled by a separate department at a bigger company. Most of these tasks are not part of the creative processes that freelance workers are used to, but rather are more tedious, left-brain paperwork. Right-brain creatives often shudder at the thought of these forays into linear domains. Such detail-ridden tasks would strain any freelancer who wears multiple hats, but they must be completed.

One such task is contracts. Drafting a contract that covers you, and doesn’t just enumerate information, is more than important: it is a must. Freelancers do not have the benefit of a legal department dedicated to protecting their interests with a watertight contract. Nevertheless, a freelancer’s contract must be comprehensive, concise and clear. It should outline the scope of the job, scheduling demands, the expectations of both parties and more.

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In this post, we’ll help you identify the information that should be included in your contract and make sure you have a concrete agreement that leaves little chance of things getting out of hand… as can sometimes happen to those of us in the freelancing crowd.

These do’s and don’ts will hopefully remove a lot of the headache and guesswork that comes with drafting a contract. By understanding the rationale behind various contractual elements, you will be able to better customize your contracts to fit the specific job you have been hired for.

The Basics Link

Include the basic information, obviously. The “who” and the “what” of the project. Who is contracting you to do what kind of work? This is standard stuff included in every contract that defines the job as a whole. While this information is probably well known by both parties, put it in the contract anyway so that everyone is on the same page about their roles and responsibilities. Because it is such basic information, freelancers often overlook how important this section is for establishing the framework of the project.

Do’s and Don’ts Link

K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Simon (your name may not be Simon, but it is nicer than the traditional “S” in the phrase.) Do be sure to clarify your role in the project from start to finish and exactly what it entails, so that the client doesn’t try to put a hat on your head that you do not want to wear (for example, trying to make you switch from designing to providing tech support once the project has launched).

You know who you are and what your strengths are; don’t leave room for the client to change your role in the project for their convenience. Be specific about what roles you are and are not willing to play.

Time Frame Link

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This simply establishes the time that the project will take and the duration that the contract covers. Sometimes a freelancer has to leave time open after a project’s completion to help integrate the product into the client’s existing media stream. But not always. Determining that time frame at the beginning and formalizing it in the terms and conditions of the contract will ensure you are not taken advantage of.

Do’s and Don’ts Link

Many people do not like deadlines, and some freelancers are no different. Whether you love or hate them, including deadlines in your contracts is important. Don’t overlook this detail simply because of the pressure it may bring. Give yourself enough time to properly complete your tasks, while keeping the client’s timetable in mind.

Being vague about how much time the contract covers will give your client room to find things for you to improve after the project has launched. Also, do be sure to include time frames on when the client needs to respond to your submissions with their questions and concerns, so that you are not endlessly strung along waiting to hear back on how to proceed.

Delivery Details Link

Putting this in the contract further clarifies expectations at the outset. The client knows up front what the final product will be and how you will be delivering it to them. This frees you from having to guess later on things like what file types they can access, and it gives the client peace of mind knowing that you are both on the same page.

It also gives you an indication of the depth of the client’s knowledge in this area of work and how well they will be able to work with the product once you hand it over. And being able to anticipate the client’s need for assistance in accessing and integrating your product will help you formulate other parts of the contract.

Do’s and Don’ts Link

Once again, keep it simple. Once you’ve assessed the client’s needs, don’t send them more files or file types than are needed to satisfy the project’s requirements. Don’t try to impress them with a ZIP file full of extras that show how professional you are. This will overwhelm clients who are not design-savvy and encourages needless pestering. Keeping it simple will move your client happily along their way, not only giving you peace of mind from a job well done but freeing you from future distractions as you move on to your next client.

The Financials Link

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For most design work, billing by the job, rather than by the hour, is easier for everyone. You may have already come to an agreement on financial matters, but include them in the contract anyway for good measure. Just because you have an understanding about payment, the client could always conveniently “forget” the amount or change the terms.

Do’s and Don’ts Link

Agree on an initial deposit (whatever seems fair) before doing any work, to protect both parties if either wants to back out. Make sure the client understands that this deposit protects them as well by committing you to the project and keeping you from being sidetracked by other clients. Also include a Cancellation Clause in the financial section of the contract. This isn’t Santa’s less famous brother; it actually protects you, the freelancer, in case your client backs out by stating the financial obligations of both parties should the project terminate before completion.

Revisions And Alterations Link

You can also protect yourself by including a clause that states how many alterations and revisions to the product are covered by the fee. You can set the pricing for changes requested by the client that go beyond the number specified in the contract, thus preventing the client from abusing their privilege.

Be clear that this is not a commentary on either party; by including this, you are not implying that the client will be hard to please or that you will need multiple attempts to get it right. It simply recognizes that we sometimes need time to fully process something before making a decision and that we should have the freedom to change our minds about whether an idea works or not once we actually see it in action.

Do’s and Don’ts Link

Remember that professionalism should win out at all times, so don’t let this part of the contract be any different. Yes, it can be aggravating how some clients come back to you over and over with requests as a result of every whim that moves them, but do be reasonable. Don’t punish all of your clients because of one that burned you in the past. And don’t let pride keep you from accommodating a modest amount of revision by the client, even if they don’t suit your taste. After all, the design may be yours, but they are paying you to create it for them.

The Fine Print And Bottom Line Link

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In the end, make sure the contract is professional and clear throughout, and be as detailed as possible in defining the roles of both parties in the project.

Further Resources Link

Here are some further articles and related resources:

  • Terms and Conditions for Design Contracts
    An extremely helpful post by Shel Perkins that seeks to inform designers about the terminology and general conditions of contracts.
  • Web Design Contracts – The How and Why’s of Contracts
    This is another post full of great information that talks about the reasons why designers need to use contracts.
  • What goes into a good web design contract?
    It is a question that every designer should ask themselves at one time or another, and this fabulously informative post from Idea15 answers that question.
  • Using freelance graphic design contracts
    An article by David Airey dealing with the whys and hows of using freelance design contracts.
  • Business of Design Online Forms
    The Business of Design Online offers a number of useful forms free for download and use.
  • Freelance Contracts
    A great contract template which makes it easy for freelancers to fill in their own information.
  • Logo Design Contract of Agreement
    This is an actual contract drawn up by Logo Designer, Joni Solis, and is a good example to look at when you start drawing up a contract of your own.
  • Work for Hire Agreement
    A form necessary to ensure copyright transfer and protect your creative firm when you outsource work to other freelancers. Guaranteeing that you will retain all rights to the work.
  • Freelance Design Contracts & Templates
    A fantastic resource full of free downloadable design contracts and alterable templates for easy customization.
  • AIGA Standard Form of Agreement for Design Services
    This agreement allows you to create customized terms and conditions for different types of design engagements.

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Rob Bowen is a staff writer for Web Hosting Geeks and Top Web Hosting, a longtime freelance designer, and burgeoning videographer and filmmaker whose creative voice and works can be heard and found around the web.

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  1. 1

    Good..

    3
  2. 2

    love the idea of a Cancellation Clause, but it’s not always liked by clients …. Nice article

    1
  3. 3

    It would be cool to see a generic contract to get a feel of the kind of verbiage used and layout etc.

    4
  4. 4

    K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Simon (your name may not be Simon, but it is nicer than the traditional “S” in the phrase.)

    My name is Simon, and I’m upset by this. That saying is known to just about everyone, and when you use it like that and they notice it has been changed, they’ll build an association between the word replacing and the word replaced. I don’t want my name to be seen to be a synonym for stupidity. It’s not a nicer alternative at all – not for us Simons!

    -17
  5. 5

    Nice article :)

    0
  6. 6

    I’ve been looking for something like this, thanks.

    0
  7. 7

    Joram Oudenaarde

    October 6, 2009 6:40 am

    Nice article. I’ve been asking around a lot with freelancers ánd small/medium designcompanies in Holland about this subject, and the suprising thing I found out is that most companies/freelancers don’t work with these kind of contracts at all in Holland.

    No idea why, but from what they told me clients rarely like these kind of contracts, and the law in Holland is already very protective to both parties when it comes to work. Even an email from the client approving the quote/offer about a specific job is usually enough to secure both parties of the work.

    I would love to see more people use these kind of contracts in Holland though, even if it’s just a written/signed (per email or manually) security for both parties.

    0
  8. 9

    Thank you! I’ve been searching for something like this for a long time…

    0
  9. 10

    Woow its great,
    thank you so much sir, you are awesome

    Best regards,
    Jawad
    psd2wordpresss.co.uk

    0
  10. 11

    Thank for this – most of the points i cover in my contracts, but the article had definetely some new information that will keep me safer….

    0
  11. 12

    @Joram Oudenaarde – A lot of small design companies in the Netherlands user their price quotes (Offertes) as the contract. That’s what my company does. As did my previous employers.

    0
  12. 13

    This article is a start, but a good freelance design contract needs to spell out a lot more details. Check out the Further Resources to flesh out what you need.

    0
  13. 14
  14. 15

    It’s definitely worthwhile creating a solid contract. I’m in a situation now where the client is refusing to pay for a website and has in fact requested a full refund because he’s changed his mind. Fortunately I have a cancellation clause and a good solicitor!

    It’s always worth trying to resolve issues amicably before they get out of hand but don’t be shy to make your point if you’re being exploited.

    On a different note, I refuse work if clients are unwilling to pay a deposit to for my time. Recently lost a potential client because they were unwilling to pay a deposit until I’d created the work. It’s a clear sign at the beginning of a project that the client sees little value in what you do. That’s the point you need to ask yourself “is it really worth spending my time on something I may not get paid for?” if the answer is “no” walk away.

    Incidentally having contracts, cancellation clauses and taking deposits clearly demonstrates you’re a professional and that you’re business focussed which a lot of clients particularly bigger ones will like. You can also demand more money at that level too!

    0
  15. 16

    nice starting block

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  16. 17

    Thanks for the comments and sharing. Like David and Matt say, this is just a starting point. The additional resources are excellent tools for filling in the rest.

    I really appreciate the feedback. I understand some clients do not like the idea of a contract, but as others have pointed out, this demonstrates that you are a professional. A professional who knows how to look out for themselves.

    0
  17. 18

    The best thing to do is to pay an attorney to draw up a custom contract document for you. To all the new designer out there, please get a proper contract document and make your clients sign them even if you make logos or web templates for 50$. I have learned it the hard way.

    0
  18. 19

    Nice and thank you.. :D

    0
  19. 20

    Helpful article. Thanks for the section on Revisions and Alterations especially. This always ends up being the unintended expenditure of time on any project.

    0
  20. 21

    Perfect timing for me as I’m just getting in to freelance on a more professional basis. Does anyone have a sample of an excellent contract that includes all this? Or even a template?

    0
  21. 22

    Always ask for 50% up front before start and 50% before launch (Website) or delivery (Print etc..)

    I still have clients that owe me money Ugh!

    0
  22. 23

    Really helpful post! I am currently in the process of formulating default Terms & Conditions for my freelance works and this is some decent information. Thanks!

    0
  23. 24

    Contracts are important but this article overstates the security they provide. Say you have a water-tight contract and the client still refuses to pay. Do you have the time and money (often much more than the value being disputed) to enforce it? Even if you get a decision in your favor can you actually recover the money? If you choose to sue your client you run the risk of losing in which case you will be stuck with massive legal fees. Unfortunately, the situation is not as simple as just having a good contract.

    The best safety net for a freelancer is to keep the amount of money owed to a minimum thus minimizing your risk. Deposits and weekly invoices are great.

    3
  24. 25

    Cool. But i was looking for something that will tell weather i should give my client the finish files like html and css files after the completion of the project. Cause my client is asking me for a backup.

    0
  25. 26

    Richard Croasdale

    October 7, 2009 12:53 am

    “Do’s” shouldn’t have an apostrophe.

    2
  26. 27

    I agree with Liam’s comment above; keeping the money owed to a minimum reduces the risk of having a large chunk of your pay suddenly become unattainable.

    Especially for Australians; even if you successfully sue to have your clients contractual obligation to pay you enforced, there is an extraordinarily low chance you will ever actually see the money.

    0
  27. 28

    Great Post, I’m a designer and had to learn the hard way at first. People get a design, don’t respond, try to use it, or just don’t pay. A contract is helpful and gives legal structure to “your job”. It takes management and great customer service, whether by email or by phone. Just make sure you’re not bullied, dont commit to a contract just because it sounds nice, and don’t lower yourself just for the money. I promise once you serve a hand full of clients, they will help bring more, only if you provided a great service. I started as a graphic designer for album covers and nightclub flyers, now I’m into everything that has to do with advertising, hoping to get my company launched soon for Social Media, Design, & Web Development. Great Post, I will be checking back for more great resources like this!

    BT

    2
  28. 29

    This is great info. I would also like to see how to charge for data driven websites.

    I’m on staff at a web development company and people sometimes approach me to do side work. I don’t know how to quote for custom web apps from a freelance standpoint.

    0
  29. 30

    Floris Fiedeldij Dop

    October 6, 2009 10:10 pm

    Glad to read I am doing it right, and it motivates me to revisit the way I do things. :)

    0
  30. 31

    Thanks for sharing such a great and informative post.

    0

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