As all freelance designers and creative entrepreneurs know, contracts are a necessity when working with clients, no matter how big or small the project is.
- Contracts provide you and the client with a description of responsibilities. It helps you both understand who is responsible for what.
- Contracts secure payment.
- Contracts protect you if you encounter problems with your clients.
Most designers do have a contract in place, but it's usually either (A) an unprofessional contract they wrote themselves (B) a contract they created from bits and pieces of other designers contracts, or (C) a template they found on some shady website they can't even remember.
Do any of those scenarios sound familiar?
There's nothing wrong with writing a contract yourself or using a template (I do!) but you have to make sure of two things:
1. That you know and trust the person who created the template.
Most designers Google 'contract template' and use the first one they come across, but they don't really know who wrote it.
Is the creator qualified to create contracts? Do they know what they're doing? Will their contract template stand up in court?
If you're unfamiliar with the person who wrote the contract, you probably won't know the answer to these questions. If that's the case, you're leaving your businesses safety to chance. You're putting faith in the unknown, hoping that your contract is legit enough to save your butt if anything bad happens.
That's not good enough. I don't know about you, but I like to know that I'm totally covered in Nightmare Client situations.
2. That your contract covers all the common concerns faced by designers.
Most contracts on Google aren't specifically made for designers. And the ones that are barely cover everything a web, graphic and print designers needs in their contract.
When I was a newbie designer, I used a template I found on Google as my contract. The template said it was specifically for designers, so I was confident it covered everything I needed. But when I encountered my first scary client situation and needed to turn to my contract for backup, I realized my contract didn't say a single thing about the problem I was up against.
I don't want you to go through the same frustrating dilemma.
There are lots of things you should include in your contract but I want you to pay special attention to these 4 things all designers should include.
4 things all designers should include in their contract
01. Minimize client delays
One very effective way to make sure your clients stick to project deadlines, hand in homework on time and give you their feedback on time is including a clause in your contract that outlines all your deadlines, how long your client has to provide you with XYZ, and what will happen if the project goes over the deadline due to your client's lateness.
Surprisingly, many designers don't think this can be included in their contract but it absolutely can.
Late files and feedback are one of the biggest problems graphic designers struggle with. The first step to stopping the problem is being specific in your contract about what will happen if your client keeps delaying the project.
02. Getting paid on time
If late files and feedback are a designers no.1 struggle then I'm pretty sure getting paid on time comes in second. There's nothing more frustrating than a client running away with the money they owe you, or telling you 'they'll pay you next week' but never coming through on their promise.
Obviously there are things you can do to prevent this from happening, like making sure you don't hand over their final files until the client has made their final payment.
But just in case payment does become an issue, your contract should cover what will happen.
03. Avoiding scope creep
Picture this: Your client asks you to add something extra to their project but they don't want to pay extra for it. You're feeling generous and you don't want to disappoint them so you agree to do the extra work for free. But then they want another extra, and another, and another.
Has that ever happened to you?
It's called Scope Creep. It usually happens because you don't feel like you can say no to the client, or you don't want to sound unreasonable or greedy.
But if your contract outlines the process for adding extra work to the scope of the project and tells the client they have to pay for it, you don't have to feel bad about saying no to doing it for free. You just have to point them towards your contract and remind them of what it says.
04. Establish your right to copyrights
Have you ever wondered who owns the copyrights to your final designs?
How about the mockups you made that your client rejected? Who owns the copyrights to those?
If you don't establish your right to copyrights in your contract, you could find your client using one of the drafts they turned down. That's not very good if you went on to use that mockup in a different project.
Make sure your deal with copyrights in your contract to avoid difficult situations like these altogether.
If you're worried about your contract now then don't be, because I have a FREE live webinar to help you!
My awesome friend (and kickass Attorney At Law) Annette Stepanian and I are hosting a free webinar this Friday to help you set up an ironclad contract for your graphic design business.
Designed specifically for graphic designers, stationery/print designers and web designers, this 45-minute workshop will walk you through some of the top legal issues facing you and your design business.
Friday’s workshop is called ‘How to set up ironclad contracts for your graphic design business’ and it’s PERFECT for you if:
- You’re a graphic designer, web designer, or print/stationery designer.
- You don't have a contract. (BIG mistake!)
- You wrote your own contract.
- You threw together a contract using bits and pieces of other people's contracts, or templates you found on Google.
In Friday's workshop, we're going to talk about common legal concerns faced by designers + how to address them in your contracts. We're going to discuss:
- Getting paid on time.
- Minimizing client delays.
- How to avoid scope creep.
- Understanding your right to copyrights.
- PLUS there's a live Q&A session at the end where you can ask any legal questions you have!
See you at the workshop!
*Disclaimer: I am not legally trained and I am not qualified to give you legal advice. The information in this article is not a substitute for working with a trained lawyer or professional.*