“This project isn’t even worth the money!”
If that phrase hasn’t left your mouth yet, it probably will at some point. In fact, you might end up in a situation just like our friend, Bristol. Bristol is a website designer, and when she first started her business, she was eager to accept any client that was willing to work with her. Unfortunately, she learned quickly that not all clients are alike.
One of her first clients was someone looking for a website redesign. They were involved, enthusiastic, and didn’t hesitate to work with Bristol. At first, it was a dream. But quickly that dream turned into a nightmare when Bristol began getting email after email from the client full of new ideas - many that contradicted what they’d requested previously. Bristol couldn’t get through designing an entire page without having to go back in and make requested changes! When she did finish a page? Her client scrutinized it to the point of micro-management, and she’d have to spend hours making all of the changes requested, and essentially completely redesigning that page.
The promised delivery date came and went, and her client became angry that the project wasn’t anywhere near complete despite all of the hours Bristol was putting into it. Couldn’t they see that their continuous change requests were the problem?!
This nightmare client led Bristol to realize that she needed to stop ignoring client red flags, and also set better boundaries with clients from the very beginning of their relationship. And the best way to put firm boundaries in place? You guessed it - with a contract. To ensure that you don’t end up in a similar situation as Bristol, you’ll want to make sure that you include five specific clauses in your next design agreement.
Scope of Work and Deliverables is one of the most critical sections of a design agreement, so you’ll want to be sure not to skip over this one in your own contracts. 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.
Without establishing a timeline and milestones, you’ll end up in hot water like Bristol when her client was upset about the project delays. This clause should clearly define estimated start and completion dates, as well as any important milestones throughout the project. You’ll also want to include that changes requested may cause delays so the client knows that you’ve only budgeted for a specific amount of time for their project and its milestones.
When it comes to milestones, give your clients an idea of all of the big celebration points of your time together. Within this clause, you’ll want to outline roughly how long you expect each milestone to take to reach. By including milestones, your clients can easily see how things are progressing, whether or not the project is falling behind schedule, and where the hold up may be.
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.
While we all hope every client is the perfect client, those nightmare clients are inevitable. When you do end up with a nightmare client that is draining your time (and not worth what they’re paying you), you’ll want the ability to terminate your contract. This clause should establish the conditions and process for terminating the agreement by either party. Be sure to specify any associated fees or penalties, such as the payment for work completed up to the termination date.
In the event that there is a dispute between yourself and a client, you’ll want to make sure that you’re covered in your contract. In this clause, you’ll want to define the procedures for resolving any disputes, such as mediation or arbitration. Also, outline the jurisdiction and governing law that will apply to your design agreement.
Protect yourself, your time, and your clients by ensuring that you have these five clauses clearly outlined in your contracts. That way, expectations and boundaries are clear from the beginning - making it much more likely that your client will turn out to be ideal, instead of a nightmare.
Of course, these 5 clauses aren’t a comprehensive look at what should be included in your next design agreement. If you are running your own design business or working as a graphic design freelancer you will want to be fully covered (and not have to figure out how to write your own contracts - or hire an expensive lawyer to do it for you!), check out the design agreement contract templates we have at The Contract Shop®.
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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