As a designer, you’ll work with many different clients. Some will have a boilerplate contractor agreement already in place that they’ll ask you to sign. Others will ask you to come up with a contract.
Only 48% of designers require contracts. However, 62% require some type of written agreement, even if it isn’t a formal contract but more of a work order. This can help prevent misunderstandings about the scope of the project, payment and deadlines.
AIGI, the professional association for design, recommends always having a contract in place before beginning any type of design work. This protects you on many different levels, including if the client doesn’t pay and you have to take them to court.
There are also a few key things you’ll want to be sure to include in your contract and ways to talk to your clients about those items.
Tip # 1: Communicate the Scope of the Project
Your contract should clearly outline what the project includes. Many designers find that they quote a project and then halfway through, the client will add details that weren’t discussed before, adding time and effort to the project and impacting the bottom line profits. Outline exactly what work will be completed so there are no misunderstandings. You might even want to take the time to include a few notes about what is not included in the agreed upon price.
Tip # 2: Set Deadlines
It’s a smart idea to set a few deadlines within the terms of the contract.
- When will work be completed?
- When will payment be received and how? 50% upfront and 50% on completion perhaps? Will the client pay with a check, via PayPal or with a credit card? When is that payment due exactly?
- What happens if you fail to meet your deadline? How do you request an extension from the client?
- What happens if the client fails to pay you on time? Is a late fee incurred?
You get the idea. Outline any aspect about deadlines you can think of.
Tip # 3: Detail the Cost of Add-Ons
If the client wants to add to the scope of the project, having a clearly outlined process within the contract can help you tremendously with managing this type of work. For example, you can include details such as:
- Rate per hour for add-on work.
- Requirement of a new quote and the client signing off on additional costs.
- Extension of deadlines to accommodate additional work requirements.
Although not a change, it is a good idea to also outline how many revisions you’re willing to make. Clients might tell you they want a simple design with navy blue and gold, but then when they see it, they’ll decide they want black and white. If you outline how many revisions and the scope of those revisions you’re willing to undertake, this can help alleviate issues with client indecisiveness. Outline when additional charges will begin to apply to the project because of such changes.
Tip # 4: Charge What You’re Worth
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you know you’re worth as a designer. If you are just getting started, you might take less pay than someone with many years of experience, but you should still be able to demand a livable wage.
The first thing you should do is figure out what you need to make for an hourly wage to live. Then, decide whether you want to charge on a per project basis or hourly basis or both.
If you prefer to charge by the hour, be sure to take into account how many hours are billable, how many hours of vacation you plan to take and what your income goals are. Write your rates into the contract agreement.
Also, don’t be afraid to tell your client that you require a deposit and payments at different intervals as the project progresses. There is nothing worse than spending untold hours on a project and then battling the client to get paid.
Tip # 5: Keep Emotions Out of It
If you truly like the client you are working with, that is terrific. Don’t let it impact your decision about whether or not to sign a contract, however. Even if you are working with family, you should have a written agreement. This actually protects your relationship with the other person because there are no misunderstandings. They understand your rates and scope of work as well as your expectations about when you will receive payment and how.
If you are in the middle of negotiations about rates or other contract details and you find yourself getting upset, take a break. Ask if you can continue the meeting or phone call at a later time because you want to crunch some numbers or do some research. Get away from the situation, calm down and come back to the table with a non-emotional perspective.
Tip # 6: Be a Good Communicator
Good communication involves both listening and speaking clearly. Listen to the needs of your client. Take notes. Understand that a client has specific concerns and be honest about what you can and can’t do as a designer.
Once you have a grasp of what the client needs, repeat those needs back to the client to ensure you truly understand. If you are correct in your understanding, you can now communicate your abilities, needs and details to the client in a way that is the most helpful to both of you and get it written into a contract.
Negotiating a contract with clients can be stressful, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth and share your needs as a designer with your customers. A contract simply keeps everyone on the same page and forces everyone to honor their commitments.