When I started thinking about having my own creative business, I didn’t think that contracts were necessary. I knew that having a terms page is necessary, as well as making sure that customers know how payments, refunds, and cancellations are handled, but a contract seems a bit scary. Things have changed, and now working without a contract sounds scary.
If you are like me, you probably worry about upsetting your clients when you ask for payment or when you tell them that they want something that wasn’t included in your agreement. A design contract helps you take care of the unpleasant part of the business so you can focus on what you do best. When something comes up, you can just point to the contract, remind your clients about what they’ve already agreed to, and move on.
Writing a contract is tricky, you have to make sure that you don’t forget anything important and have all your bases covered, but you also have to be sure that your clients understand what they are signing. You can always hire a lawyer for this, but I found out that the long, jargon-filled contracts are often scaring clients and are hard to understand for those who don’t have a lawyer.
For this reason, I have decided to use a simple, one-page contract that covers the most important points. Since I know a lot of you have creative businesses, I wanted to share a few important contract terms to help you protect your business in case something goes wrong.
Details of the design
Instead of sending different proposals to clients, I have decided to offer design packages and only make small adjustments depending on my customers’ needs. This way, the basic design elements are stated on the website and I only write the most important elements in the contract: if it’s for WordPress or Blogger, the number of pages, and any other design elements that are not listed on the website.
I also add the number of revision allowed for every stage of the design. Installation is included with every design, but if the client wants me to transfer their website or offer maintenance I include that in the contract.
Payment schedule, refunds, and termination
Asking for money is always hard. It’s actually the hardest part for me and makes me feel very uncomfortable. That’s one of the reasons I decided to write the costs of custom designs on my website. This way people that can’t afford your services won’t contact you.
You also have to decide how to handle payments and refunds. Most small business owners ask for 50% up front and 50% before the design is installed or the files are delivered. Asking for a down payment is essential for booking serious clients and it might also prevent last minute cancellations.
How you handle refunds and cancellations is also very important. Since I’m running a creative business, I spend a lot of time on a project, not only working on designs but also talking to my clients. For this reason, and also because I work with digital products, the initial payment is non-refundable. I also reserve the right to cancel a project if payment is late. I only offer refunds if I am responsible for canceling the project.
Make sure these things are clear and don’t forget to state how you take payments. Using an online payment system like PayPal instead of checks will speed up the process.
Rights of ownership
Typically, a work created by a designer is theirs until they transfer the usage rights or ownership to the client. That usually happens when the design and payment are final.
Make sure you tell your clients what they are allowed to do with your work. Will you allow them to alter your work? Don’t forget to mention what right you’ll retain. I always retain the right to post about the projects on my blog, in my portfolio, and also use it for promotional materials if it’s not in direct competition with them. Also, be sure to add a clause stating if a link to your blog must be displayed on your site.
You will often receive images or logos from your clients. The client should be responsible for clearing any materials against copyright infringement before using them, not you.
If you are transferring a website, the client should be informed that all sorts of things could go wrong and you are not responsible for that.
You will also have access to their websites, hosting accounts and maybe even social media accounts. Let your clients know that their private information is safe with you and you will erase their passwords once your work is complete.
Think about what you do and what can go wrong and make sure to add all those details in your contract.
Contracts are often seen as something negative, but they are useful for both the service provider and the client. It is hard to write a design contract if you are a new business owner, but you should start with the most basic things and add other terms or adjust the existing ones as you gain more experience.
Note: It should go without saying that I’m not a lawyer and I’m not giving legal advice. I wanted to share my experience because I had a hard time writing a design contract, but if you don’t know what is best for you and your business, you should consult with a lawyer.