Contracts are one of the most talked about and most written about topics on freelance and design sites. It’s no secret that we should all have them and use them. They protect us and they protect our clients and keep everybody happy.
When I started freelancing it didn’t take long for me to be convinced that I needed a contract. I felt like it was being beaten into my head from every other designer I talked to: “Use a contract!”
Something that wasn’t nearly as easy to find out though, was what to put in it. I knew I needed a contract, but what should it say?
I struggled with that question for quite a while; until I watched a talk that Design Director Mike Monteiro gave on the topic. He explained a lot of the key contract concepts that a good agreement should include. To keep you safe, to keep your client safe, and to make sure that both of you know exactly what is expected of you, even in the case of a project that doesn’t reach completion.
This article is only going to cover some basic concepts and explain how they work. You should of course talk to a legal professional when it comes to the actual process of writing the contract. I don’t aim to replace your lawyer, just make it easier to tell them what it is you need.
If you’re serious about learning all about contracts, you should also read Contracts for Creatives here at GDB.
Quotes, Revisions and extra charges
Define what is included in the quote. How many revisions and options are included and beyond that, what will be the charges for more work. Having this nailed down from the beginning will avoid the awkward conversation when you are on revision 99 and start feeling like you’re losing money.
A deposit is an amount (often a percent of the total project estimate) that is paid up front, before you begin work. This is a great way to gauge how serious your client is about a project and gives you a level of security. ( A client who doesn’t want to pay a deposit might be one who’s going to fight you on the final bill as well. ) If you never work without a deposit, you will always get paid, even if a project falls through. This bring us to the next point.
Including a kill fee in your project insures that you get paid for your work even if the project falls through or the client cancels it. The kill fee is often the deposit, or it can also be the deposit plus the cost of any work completed above that amount. This will make sure that excuses like ” we got someone else to do the work” or “we didn’t end up using what you made” don’t leave you with empty pockets.
Intellectual Property transfer
By default you own anything you make. It’s important to work out with the client who will retain ownership of the work. If they are buying or leasing rights from you, the contract needs to say when the rights are transferred (ie. after final bill is paid in full) and how much is being paid for those rights. If they are only buying display rights and not ownership that should be spelled out as well. How much is being charged for display in what medium for how long, etc.
Depending on the project size and length you should set a payment date or schedule and define it in the contract so you and the client can agree to it and stick to it. Get it in writing and it will be a lot harder for clients to stiff you on payments than if it’s just a verbal agreement.
With all of these the idea isn’t to get a legal advantage over your client. The goal is to have an agreeable plan for you and your client no matter what happens. It sets expectations from the beginning, and that keeps you both happy
Have a contract idea that I didn’t cover? I’d love to hear what you guys are doing to keep clients happy and yourself safe.