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Do I Need a Contract as a Freelance Graphic Designer?

Do I Need a Contract as a Freelance Graphic Designer?

You did it! You decided to start your own freelance graphic design business! You’ve chosen your name, designed your business cards, and have an incredible website set up and ready for your potential clients to find you. 

You might be ready to dive into figuring out Instagram Reels, or even Tiktok so you can start attracting those clients but before you do … have you considered what you’ll do once you actually have those clients? Or, how you’ll protect yourself legally? 

Don’t panic - we’re here to help ensure you have only the best client experiences right from the start!

Common Client Scenarios as a Freelance Graphic Designer

When it comes to client projects, you’ll soon learn that nothing ever goes quite to plan. You may have an idea in your mind of exactly how a project will be laid out, and how it will flow, but when you’re working with another person, it’s best to expect that things will change and problems will arise. Two common issues that you may run into in the freelance graphic design space? Project Delays and Scope Creep.

Project Delays

Even if you do everything on your end on time, this is a collaborative effort. Which means that you’re often going to be at the whims of your clients. You may request specific elements from your client, only to not hear from them again for a week - leaving you stuck in limbo, with no way to work on their project. 

Scope Creep

The opposite of the silent client is the client who has constant requests. They may ask for revision after revision, or maybe they even ask for you to create another deliverable - one that wasn’t originally quoted for in their contract. 

You do have a contract ready for your clients, right? 

No? Let’s change that. Having a contract for your clients is an important part of having healthy working relationships with your clients, because it provides boundaries and guidelines for expectations for both parties. You might think these would be self-explanatory, but remember that you’re being hired as the expert. If your future clients understood all of the things you did, they’d be creating their own designs instead of hiring you. 

Key Elements of a Freelance Graphic Design Contract

In regards to the two common client issues we talked about earlier, you’ll want to make sure you have clauses in your contract that cover Scope of Work and Revisions and Change Requests.

Scope of Work

In this clause, you’ll want to make sure that you clearly outline the specific services you’re providing, including the deliverables, limitations, or exclusions. For example, consider including if your design agreement will include search engine optimization, or integration of additional functionality, or if it’s simply customized branding and website design. Will you be including content integration? Is it your job to provide the navigation and structure, or is it the client’s responsibility?

When you’ve clearly outlined exactly what you’ll be doing (and what you won’t) within your design agreement, you can point clients back to their contract when they request something outside of the scope of the project.

Revisions and Change Requests

While you do not have to allow your client unlimited revisions, you must let them know upfront what number of revisions or iterations are included in their project. That way, when they surpass the accepted amount of revisions, you’re able to send over a new bill for your time.

You also want to make sure that within this clause you outline the process for requesting and approving design changes, including any additional charges for excessive revisions (excessive being defined by how many are included from the start). This way, when it comes time to send over a new bill, you have each and every change request documented, and easy to hand back over to your client to showcase they hit their limit.

Other key elements of a freelance graphic design contract include payment terms, ownership and intellectual property rights, confidentiality agreements, liability limitations, and termination clauses. You will want to learn what to include in your design agreements or contracts.

Tailoring Your Contracts as a Freelance Graphic Design Artist

Once you’ve got your freelance graphic design contracts written, great! Now it’s time to ensure you know how to tailor your contract to each prospective client, because no two clients are the same. 

While you’ll want to review your contract in its entirety for each client, there are three clauses you’ll definitely want to change and make unique to each potential client: Scope of Work and Deliverables, Timeline and Milestones, and Rates and Payment Terms.

Scope of Work and Deliverables

Every project that you’re hired for will have different needed elements. Your scope of work will cover whether you’re creating a logo, a brand identity, marketing collateral, or something else for your client. Be sure to specifically outline exactly what you’ll be handing over - will they have one logo design or two? Will there be a full brand palette, or just the logo? The more specific you can get, the less likely your client will be disappointed by what you hand over at the end of the project. (AND it gives you a better opportunity for surprising and delighting them with bonus deliverables!) 

Timeline and Milestones

Just like every set of deliverables will be different, every timeline will be different for your clients. A project that needs just a simple logo will be much shorter than a quarter’s worth of Instagram posts. When you hand over a timeline that details exactly how long each phase will take, you’ll avoid client emails asking when they can expect to get the next phase of their project for approval. 

This is also a great place to include the need for timely feedback from the client, as well as what exactly timely means if they want to stay on top of the timeline (and that delays may cause changes to the timeline). 

Rates and Payment Terms 

Along with the fact that your deliverables will change from project to project, so will your payment terms. The exact payment amount will be different, as well as the payment schedule. Some clients might want to pay in full, and some may need to break things up. So, be sure to update this clause before sending your contract to each client! 

Now you can finish preparing for your clients to be - you know you need a contract, you know what you’ll likely want to include, and you know which clauses may be important to tailor to each client. It’s time to get to work! Or, if you’d rather not do the work of writing your own contract, you can snag our template for graphic designers, and get your contract ready to go in 10 minutes or less!

Amanda Warfield
Amanda Warfield

Amanda Warfield is a simplicity-focused content marketing and launch strategist, author of the book Chasing Simple Marketing, and host of Chasing Simple - a podcast to help creative entrepreneurs uncomplicate their marketing and business. She traded in her classroom lesson plans for speaking and educating creative entrepreneurs on sustainably fitting content marketing into their business, without it taking over their business - so that they have time to grow their business.

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