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Welcome. My name is Janna Hagan, a designer from Toronto. Thanks for stopping by.

The Basics of Writing Your First Web Design Contract

The Basics of Writing Your First Web Design Contract

Having a design contract is something that all freelancers need. It’s definitely boring to talk about, but it’s necessary for success as a freelancer. A web design contract, is a detailed project document that defines the scope of work to be completed and delivered over the course of the project. Contracts allow you to put forward a recommended action plan for the client, that needs to be adhered to by both parties.  

I’ve used Andy Malarky’s Killer Contract (with a few modifications) and it’s worked great for me and my clients. Instead of trying to scare off your clients with business-y jargon, it’s nice to put everything in plain English. Even if you never have to actively use your contract (which we all hope for), it’s important to cover yourself in the event that your client refuses to pay or forces you to do extra work outside the intended amount.

If you’re writing a contract between you and your customers it doesn’t have to conform to the seemingly standard format of jargon and complicated legalese –Andy Clarke


Why Do You Need a Contract?

There are a few reasons why you’re going to want to maintain a solid contract. The main reason for a contract is to make sure both parties hold up on their side of the bargain. Since you’re obviously going to want to avoid ever having to encounter this kind of situation, having a contract is a way to define your work and set expectations with your client. Contracts can also be a great point of reference in the future. They are good for describing the scope of work and specific objectives for the outcome of the project. In the worst case scenario, it’s always a good thing to fall back on in the event your client refuses to pay up. 
 

What Should Be Included?

Many young web designers have a hard time using a contract because they don’t know what should be included in a contract. The formal structure of your contract will almost always be the same regardless of the client, but there are some small details that will need to be changed depending on the type and length of the project. There’s a bit of planning that must go into drafting the first document for your clients. In this example, I’ll discuss some of the more important aspect of a web design contract.

1. Summary

A summary is like an introduction to who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish. An introduction to your contract is important for setting the tone for the rest of the project. This also outlines that fact that it’s important to have things in writing, so that both sides understand what you do, what is expected of both you as a designer and your client, and what happens if something goes wrong. Giving an overview shows you have a grasp on the immediate goals that need to be addressed and the target outcomes.

2. Project Timeline & Deliverables

  • Timeline

Project timelines are important because they help you help you determine project phases and milestones. Many times, deadlines and timelines are general estimates – you never know when something may come up. Either way, always allow yourself a buffer of time to accommodate for these unexpected changes. For each individual phase, spell out what the client needs to do on their end, and what they can expect from you. If you need content by a certain date, let them know as soon as you can(it’s often like pulling teeth to get content from clients). But, if you don’t tell the client upfront how they will be integrated into the process, it may be your fault that you didn’t discuss it from the beginning. 

  • Deliverables

Deliverables are what you will be providing the client following the completion of the project. This could be either services or digital media that will be delivered to the client from the designer. Once you have handed over the deliverables, this often means the client owns the copyright and can do whatever they please with it. Be sure to only hand over the deliverables once all outstanding fees have been paid. 

3. Expectations on Revisions

Setting a cap on the number of revisions is very important. You don’t want to get caught in a never-ending project with so many revisions that you are working too many hours for no pay. It’s almost a guarantee that your client is going to want to make changes at some point, so only allowing them 2-3 revisions is ideal. If, after the 2-3 revisions are completed and your client still has changes to implement, you must bill hourly. Even if its small changes, it’s important to let your client know that your services and time are not free. Another good idea is to provide a deadline for feedback and suggestions. For instance, if you complete the first iteration of a design, you can tell your client they have to submit changes by 4-5 business days. This also keeps the project timeline on track. 

4. Copyright

Who owns the copyright for content, graphics, code, multimedia, etc. should always be specified in your web design contract. Once you hand over your deliverables, the copyright now belongs to the client.

5. Confidential Information

In this section, each party acknowledges that it will not disclose any information or material to an unwanted outside third-party. Most clients will want confidentiality agreements because they don’t want their product or software becoming known to the public without their permission. Especially if clients have specific launch dates, they don’t want their product being leaked before this date.  

6. Payment Schedule 

This is an outline of the invoice amounts and when they will occur during the project. If you’re charging hourly, state that you’ll be tracking your hours and billing accordingly. I usually submit time sheets for payment every 2 weeks, just so the client isn’t left with a huge sum of money to pay all at once. Give the client specific times that they need to pay their invoices by. Do not continue work if they haven’t paid. This is why keeping a strict project schedule is important – so the client is used to expecting an invoice and paying by a certain date to keep the project on track. Communication about payments is very important. 

You can download this sample contract here. I highly recommend you modify it to fit your own needs, and the tone and personality you’d like to convey to your clients. Last but not least, always get a signature from the client to make sure they accept and agree to the terms you have laid out. 

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