Archive: Oct 2015

  1. How to Use Contracts on Your Website

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    For the last couple of weeks I’ve been publishing articles here on the Design Range all focused around contracts. I know what you’re thinking, and you’re right – it has been thrilling. Genuinely though – I think in these last couple of weeks I’ve put out some really useful content, so make sure you take a peek if you haven’t already.

    In the first article I went over all the reasons you need to have a contract and offered some perspective to those out there who think they can get by without any at all.

    Last week I gave a step by step guide on how to actually write a contract for yourself, which has proved very handy to designers out there who might have been put off by cost or a general lack of knowledge.

    However, with all good things it must come to end, and so here is the last of the three articles. In this one I’m going to go over how you can actually start implementing the use of contracts on your own personal website.

    Now any of you that are regulars to the Design Range will know – I don’t write step by step technical articles like this a lot, if ever. I figure you’re all professionals who do this kind of stuff for a living already, and the last thing I want to do is to try and teach you to suck eggs (whatever that means).

    That being said – for you web designer gurus out there – there’s probably a lot of stuff here you can skip over here or possibly even know a better way of doing, so I’ll do my best to keep the bullet points clear and then provide details for anyone else out there that might need them.

    Signed in Blood

    Now before we get into the nitty-gritty, lets get a few things straight here. I know I mentioned this in my first article, but for any of you who missed it; all a contract is, is a declaration of intent. So long as it proves that two (or more) parties agree to do something for each other (usually work and payment) then it’s a contract.

    That being said – it does need to be written on parchment that has been blessed by a priest, and the ink it’s written in needs to contain the blood of a virgin. On top of that it needs to be rolled into a scroll and sealed using red wax and then stamped by your personal signet ring (with your family crest on). Also you’ll need to have it delivered by a trained dove.

    Obviously, I’m shitting with you, but the point I’m trying to make is that contracts really don’t have to these mystical physical documents with holographic logos we see in movies.

    In fact they don’t have to be physical at all.

    They don’t even have to be signed!

    Going Digital

    Think about this for a second – say you want to sign up for Netflicks, or Spotify, or a new phone, or something like that. Something that you could (or in some cases would have to) sign up for online. You pop in all your details and click the link saying you agree to their terms and conditions and boom; off you go.

    They’ve agreed to provide a service and you’ve agreed to pay them. That’s a contract.

    We don’t often think of it that way, but that’s what it is, and it’s just as legally binding as if they had send that dove with the mystic scroll.

    Now I don’t know about you, but I don’t ever get to actually meet a lot of my clients. A few don’t even live in the same country! If I wanted them to physically sign something, I’d have to print it off – sign it, pay to have it posted, wait for it to arrive, wait for the client to sign it, and then wait for them to pay to post back again.

    Digital is simpler, faster, more efficient and every inch as official.

    What you Need

    Now this method I’m about to go through could be completed using almost any CMS out there, there’s nothing majorly fancy going on, but for the sake of this article I’m going to be using WordPress as my base CMS, simply because it’s super popular, pretty standard, and it’s what I personally use for my business website. If you use something different, then just adapt as required, it shouldn’t be too tough.

    So here’s what you’re going to need to have –

    • A basic knowledge of HTML and the ability to edit pages (I use Sublime text editor).
    • Your own personally hosted website (I host with Bluehost – they have an easy WordPress installer too, which cuts out some of the hassle).
    • The ability to create page templates (WordPress has this as standard).
    • The ability to password protect individual pages (WordPress does this too).
    • The ability to create editable sections of page templates (I use an awesome plugin called Advanced Custom Fields).
    • The ability to create forms the send emails (I use a plugin for this called Contact Form 7).

    There are ways to do this that are much more streamlined I know, and if you know how to add in the functionality yourself, then there’s no need to bother with the plugins – I’m just going for the most straight forward and easy to follow method. Also – for the last time – I’m not a lawyer, this is me telling you what I do in my business. I live and work in the UK and whilst contract law is really similar between common law countries like the US and Australia, I’d always recommend you do a bit of research of your own before taking my word as gospel.

    The page template

    If you’re following my advice on how to write a contract from last week, then your contract for the most part should be pretty similar from client to client, with only a few of the particulars changing.

    With that in mind, we can create a standard contract template that you can select when creating a page. Working this way means that you’ll be able to actually get a contract put together and sent off to a client in minuets rather than hours.

    To create a template; open up the file for whatever your standard page design is (usually this is page.php in the WordPress theme folder) and then add in this line at the top:

    Template name: Contract

    Then just above where it says <?php the_content() ?>  paste in your contract text, making sure you add in the necessary html for paragraphs and stuff like that.

    Save it as contract.php in the same folder as your page.php file (making sure you don’t overwrite the page.php file!) and now when you go to create a new page in WordPress, you should have a little drop down menu with your contract template in.

    If you’re providing several services that are quite different (photography and web design for example) then you may want to go ahead and create a couple of contract templates as required.

    The Bits that Change

    Although we can make our contract pretty standard between clients, there will be bits that need to change every time. Things like the clients name and company, a desciption of the particular project, the price and payment schedule, and of course the date will all need to be editable.

    But these things can appear multiple times throughout a contract, so doesn’t it undermine the whole point of having a template if we have to jump in and edit bits every time?

    That’s why we need that Advanced Custom Fields plugin. What this program does is give you extra fields for you to fill in when you first create each of your contract pages, allowing you to quickly amend all of these bits of data on the fly.

    First off you need to create the new fields themselves. So head to the Custom Fields section within WordPress and click ‘Add New’ to create a new field group.

    Now just add in fields for every bit of data that you think might change from contract to contract. Add in the field label and the field name (keep these as similar as possible for simplicity – I’ll go into the difference in just a sec) and also the field type (this will just be text or text area in most cases).

    field group

    When you’re done, take a look at the location box at the bottom of the Field Group page and edit the drop down boxes to read; Show this field group if Page Template is equal to Contract. This means that this new field option will only appear in the WordPress page editor once you’ve defined it as using the Contract template we made before.

    custom fields

    But we’re only halfway there. We now need to go back to the template and tell it where to put this new information. This is where we get into that business with field names vs field labels. A field label is how the field is displayed in the WordPress page editor (in this case we’ll use Company Name), the field name however is what we use in the code to actually identify where that value appears in the template, so I’ve gone for the easy to remember company_name (I’ve used an underscore as you can’t use spaces in the code).

    So wherever you want the company name to appear in your page template you just type this:

    <?php the_field(‘company_name’); ?>

    To use vales from different fields, just replace the field label with the one you want to use.

    There we go, now you website can create contracts in seconds.

    The Actual Form

    Ok, so we’ve got the actual contract done, but that’s not much good on it’s own. What we need now is for the client to be able to agree to it, so this is where we bust out the Contact Form 7 plugin.

    What Contact Form 7 does is basically create a series of fields that will appear on the finished page. These are for the client to fill in. They click send and you get a notification by email. You know what a contact form is.

    What we’re going to do though is use this functionality to create our digital dotted line.

    Now this is pretty similar to what we did in with the Advanced Custom Fields in that we’re going to be slotting in these editable fields within a sentence. What we want as a finished product is something that reads “Signed by Client McClientperson on 01/01/2016” followed by a checkbox saying something like “I understand and agree to the terms and conditions laid out in this contract”.

    So the way Contact Form 7 works is that each editable field is written between two square brackets []. Within these brackets we first define what kind of field it is – the fields we’ll be using are text, date, checkbox, email and submit. We also want to add in an asterix * at the end of each of these to denote that it’s a required field, meaning that the contract cannot be submitted until all fields are completed.

    Next we name the particular value – again, keep it simple. If it’s the clients name, just call it client_name.

    The last little bit you may want to pop in these brackets is a placeholder that’ll tell the client what information they need to put into the field. To do this – just write placeholder and then whatever you want your placeholder to say between quotation marks “”.

    So the field for a clients name should look something like:

    [text* client_name placeholder “your name”]

    And when it’s all done, the full sentence should read:

    Signed by [text* client_name placeholder “your name”] on [date* the_date].
    [checkbox* client_agreement “I understand and agree to the terms and conditions laid out in this contract.”]

    Now a really important bit that you can’t forget is adding in a section for them to place their email; firstly so that they can be emailed a completed copy of the agreement, but also so that you can provide reasonable proof that it was indeed them who agreed to the contract.

    Email conversations can quite happily hold up in court as a contract so long as they outline a declaration of intent. So if you have that, plus a copy of a clearly written contract being sent their way that they’ve agreed to, then you’re really sorted.

    Finally, when all that’s done, add in the submit button [submit “Submit”] and you’ve created your dotted line.

    You’ll also need to jump into the Mail section and design what you want the email that’s sent to you to contain. You can reference any of the sections you’ve used in the form here too simply by including whatever value you gave it between square brackets. So for instance, if you want to use the clients name, you’d just type [client_name] rather than the full lot you used in the form.

    Personally I have the email contain a full copy of the contract and I make sure an email is sent to both me and to the client with a copy of everything in.

    So the forms all made up, and all we need to do now is have it appear in our contract template. To do that, we just need to copy the bit of code that’s generated in a blue box at the top of the contact form you just created.

    Now we could paste this directly into our page template, or create a new field using the Advanced Custom Fields plugin, but we won’t. We’ll place this directly into the main text area when we go to create our page (the bit that you’d usually write your content in) and I’ll tell you why below.


    So the contracts done, and the client can sign it, but if we publish this now then won’t it be up on our website for anyone to see?

    Well yes and no.

    Yes in that anyone with the specific URL of this page will be able to visit the page and view the contract, but unless you have your WordPress set up to add a link to any new pages in the main menu, or to post announcements about new pages to your Twitter feed or Facebook group then chances are nobody but the client (who you’ll send the URL to) will ever know it’s there.

    This openness actually also creates another benefit in that the client is free to forward the contract URL to any legal bods they might know to look it over, or a company could forward it to all the partners to look over.

    But then what’s to stop the lawyer or anyone else from signing the contract then? I’m glad you asked.

    WordPress has a built in option to add password protection to individual pages, all you need to do is before you go to publish the page just click on the part of the Publish box entitled Visibility and select Password Protected, and then add in a password.

    password protected

    What this tells WordPress to do is to hide anything that’s been written in the main text area behind a password.

    Now as you’ll recall – the ONLY thing we’ve put in that main text area is the link to contact form we created earlier. What this ultimately means is that when the page is published, the entire contract will be visible (great for people to look over), but the actual section that the client needs to sign is hidden safely behind a password that only they’ll know, meaning that only they actually have access to sign the contract.


    Best Practice

    Now if someone really went out of their way to find this contract on your site, they might be able to, I won’t say it’s an impossibility. But that’s only the same as how someone could route through your bin to find a copy of a physical contract.

    Even then, without the password there’s nothing they could actually do with it.

    That being said, a habit that I’ve got into is once the contract has been digitally signed and emailed to both you and the client, I hop back into WordPress and delete the contract page. There’s no need for it to be up there any more, and it negates the chance of anyone somehow stumbling across it in the future.

    That Can’t be it?


    • We have a clearly defined, individualised (and easy to create) contract that the client can read and forward to anyone they wish.
    • We have have a password protected agreement section that only the client can access and fill out.
    • In that agreement section, the client has to declare their full name, their email and check a box specifically saying they agree to everything written in the contract.
    • Both you and they have a completed copy of the contract that you can refer to (or even print off) at any time.

    If an email conversation between you and a client can hold up in court as a contract, then this sure as hell should be able to.

    I’m not a lawyer. Can I promise you that a $5000 an hour lawyer could find some way around this? No I couldn’t promise that.

    Of course I couldn’t.

    But all this contract stuff I’ve been telling you isn’t for that really is it? I’ve not written this series for design agencies working on million dollar contracts. They can pay for their own lawyers to write their bloody contracts!

    I’ve written all this for you. I’ve written this for the designers out there who aren’t using any contracts at all. For those of you that have thrown up so many reasons why you can’t, that you don’t bother at all. Or maybe you do use a contract, but you find them cumbersome and a pain.

    Hopefully you’ve found something in all of this that can help you out a bit, and get rid of any barriers that are in your way.

    I really do hope so, because the real benefit of a contract isn’t legal at all. It’s far more important than that.

    contract value

    The Real Benefit

    What’s really the point though, you might be wondering? If the email conversation I naturally have with my clients can constitute a contract anyway, then why would I even need to bother with an individual contract at all?

    Let me tell you why; because it’s a net.

    It’s a net that’ll catch your clients and make them feel safe and secure with you. It’ll make them feel like they’re working with the true professional that you no doubt are.

    But more than that, it’s a net that’ll block out those dick head clients that have no intention of ever paying.

    Even if none of this meant anything – even if this entire series on contracts was nothing but smoke and mirrors designed to catch out these clients, it’s be worth it a thousand times over.

    All you need to hear is that little line; “do we really need to bother with a contract?” and you know who you’re truly dealing with right away.

    When you’ve made it this easy for them?

    Yeah – too fucking right we need to bother with a contract.

  2. How to Write a Design Contract


    Last week I wrote an article about why contracts are important and why you need to start using them in your design business (if you’re not already!) as part of a three part series we’re running on the Design Range about contracts, so make sure you sign up to the newsletter below so you don’t miss any!

    In this article I’ll be going over how to actually write a design contract. A big reason I didn’t use contracts when I started out was that I didn’t understand them, and that I thought it would cost me a fortune to have one written up. Well guess what – they’re not that complicated and you can write a pretty rock solid and legally binding contract all by yourself for free!

    not complicated

    Now (as with all this contract stuff) here is the part where I throw out the disclaimer – I’m not a professional legal superhero, and what I’m going to explain here is not the be all and end all of design contracts. Every project is different and your contract needs to reflect that, so there are some things that I will no doubt miss. That being said, I’ll do my very best to go over the basics and to tell you when you’ll need to go into more detail on certain aspects. Also I work in the UK and whilst contract law is really similar in common law countries like the US and Australia, I’d always recommend you do a bit of research yourself just to make sure I don’t skip over anything that’s important for the country you do business in (and if you do find anything – make sure you tell me in the comments section and I’ll update this article!).

    Get your voice down

    Before you write a single word you need to decided on your voice; how you’re actually going to communicate the details in this contract. We assume that contracts have to be written in this utilitarian, confusing legal vocab that nobody understands but they really don’t. So long as you’re clear about what you’re saying, you can say it however you like.

    It can be really jarring from a client’s perspective to have a really pleasant informal conversation with you as a designer, and then have to read a contract that speaks like “here unto the proprietor of the intellectual copyright is subject to discretionary appropriation of all assets by the parties named herein”.

    I don’t even know what that means and I wrote it! It probably means absolutely nothing, but you get my point right? There’s no need for this weird robot language, just write as if you’re writing an email.

    Be clear, be friendly, be yourself.

    Who’s Who

    We don’t write a contract fresh for every client that comes along, and if we’re speaking normally we don’t refer to people by their names at every point, nor do we speak in the third person. We use terms like you and I.

    The problem with this approach is that they’re non-specific, so the very very very first thing we need to do in our contract is define who you and I (or we if you’re a company) are.

    This also allows you to keep 90% of the contract the same from client to client as there’s no need to go through editing every time you mention them.

    So when you do this, its a great opportunity to lay out the contract in it’s most basic terms and get a few extra details in there. Here’s an example where I’ve underlined the bits you’ll need to change from contract to contract.

    You (Client McClientperson), located at 50 Client Street are hiring us (Awesome Designerperson) located at 3 Designer Lane to design and develop a company logo for the estimated total price of £0.00 as discussed in our previous emails/phone calls.

    There’s no need to get into specifics here. We have an entire contract left for that.

    What do you agree to do?

    Nope! We’re not there yet! We’re not talking about the actual project yet!

    But this section is called ‘what do you agree to do’ – how can we not be talking about the project yet?

    Here is simply where we underline some very general terms based around how both you and the client are considered to behave. I’m not talking about sitting up straight and not swearing, but rather about how you agree to stick to deadlines, keep the project a secret until it’s ready and that you have the skills to actually do everything you say you can.

    Remember though that this contract isn’t just for you, so you need to use this section to outline what you expect from the client too. This is where a lot of designers slip up and think that just because this project is important to the client, that they’ll just automatically get you everything you need and give you feedback when you ask for it.

    It’s not so.

    This project may be super important to your client, but you have to remember that unlike you, this is not their only focus. In many cases they probably have a business to run as well as managing this project, so you need to make sure that you set some ground rules regarding how you want them to deal with you and the progression of the project.

    Now those rules are entirely up to you and should be based around your working methods but make sure you consider things like who the point of contact is for the project, what assets the client is responsible for, how long you expect feedback to take etc…

    Also – whilst you don’t want to get into specifics here, do make sure you mention that they should agree to stick to any payment schedules you set.


    Ok – NOW we can talk about the project. This section is really the meat and potatoes of your contract. It needs to go into how you’ll handle every aspect of a project and exactly what you will and what you won’t do. That being said, you may be surprised to find that this section really doesn’t change that much from contract to contract.

    What you need to do is break each little bit of the project down into sections and speak about how you’ll handle those individually. What you’ll find once you get down to this level is that you’re producing very general sentences that can be transferred between contracts very easily.

    Now I can’t give an exhaustive list of every single thing that you should mention here as what services you offer and the way you work will differ greatly to me and how I work, but here are a few core examples to get the ball rolling:

    • Concepts – How many concepts do you supply? To what standard should they be completed? How long should this take? How many concept rounds are there? What’s the process for concept iteration?
    • Design – What programs do you work in? What is your process like? What file types is work supplied in? How will you supply the finished designs?
    • Feedback – How will you show clients designs in progress? How often should you show them? How should they respond? Who is responsible for deciding alterations? How soon do you expect a reply?
    • Text – Do you write the text yourself or does the client send it? How should they send it? Should formatting be HTML friendly? Are you responsible for putting any text on a website? Is the client responsible for proof reading?
    • Photos – Do you provide the photos for a project or do they? What format should photos be in? What minimum size and resolution do they need to be?
    • Web Code – What code do you write in? What CMS do you use? How much access will clients have to the code? What code languages do you use for specific tasks?
    • Browsers – What web browsers do you design for? Are your websites just for desktops or for mobiles too? Are they fully responsive?
    • Support – What support will you offer once the project is complete? What alterations will you do? Will you give the client the necessary tools to make changes themselves?
    • Changes & Alterations  – How many changes will you make once a concept is confirmed? Is there a difference between big and little changes?

    Remember too that you need to state what you won’t do. Clients can assume a lot, so always make sure that you clearly state things you think you shouldn’t be expected to do (stuff like inputting text to websites or sourcing images for brochures).

    Andy Clarke from Stuff & Nonsense handles this very well in his contracts by simply stating at the end of each of these sentences “If you’d like us to do this, then we can provide a separate estimate for that”. It’s a good line that doesn’t close any doors and at the same time, doesn’t commit you to things you can’t afford to spend time on.

    The legal bit

    Ok – so the main bit is done now, but don’t rest on your laurels just yet, this is where the important stuff comes in. In this section we cover the stuff that will actually offer you some protection should shit hit the proverbial fan. Because of its importance you need to make sure your language here is really clear and very accurate – with that being said, this may be the one part of the contract where you do need to speak like a lawyer… sorry.

    The first thing you need to say is that you make mistakes. Sounds counter intuitive I know considering you’re still in the process of trying to actually bag a client but it’s important. By saying you make mistakes you can go on to say that in such an event you are not liable (to the client or anyone else) for damages, loss of income or any other consequence.

    Say for instance you design a brochure, it goes to print and only when it comes back do you realise that you made a typo in the web address of the company. That company may then make the case that it was your mistake and so you should reimburse them for the print cost, or even worse – for their ‘predicted’ loss of earnings because of this!

    Granted – you should state in your specifics section that the client should proof read everything before printing, but this little sentence really underlines that and doesn’t give them a leg to stand on.

    The second bit you need to mention is about how the contract holds up if part of it falls apart. For example, one part of the contract proves to be unlawful or void in any way then an argument could be put forward that this would mean the entire contract would be void (even if it had nothing to do with it).

    This is a bad thing, and it’s a loop hole you want to shut down.

    So you want to make a statement saying that if that should be the case for any part of the contract, then it should just be ignored and you should still honour the rest of the contract and pretend like that broken bit just isn’t there. Only you’d say it in legal terms like:

    If any provision of this contract shall be unlawful, void, or for any reason unenforceable, then that provision shall be deemed severable from this contract and shall not affect the validity and enforceability of any remaining provisions.

    And then you’d apologise for sounding like a scary law robot.


    This is another huge oversight that a lot of designers make, and one that I was guilty of for a long time even after I started using contracts.

    A lot of clients will assume that just because they’ve hired you to complete a project, that once it’s done; they’d own the copyright. This is very much the case for a lot of Work for Hire agreements (which I’d strongly advise you to think twice before signing) but in truth it’s a bit more fuzzy than that.

    You see if an artist creates something, then they automatically own the copyright – even if they sell it. However – if you’re employed and you make something at work, then the employer owns the copyright.

    Do you see the fuzzy area that the freelance designer finds themselves in here?

    What you need to do is use this opportunity to get rid of the fuzziness and make things absolutely clear.

    The first thing you need to make clear is that until the client has paid the full amount, you own everything to do with this project (less any assets the client might have provided of course).

    Now once payment is received, how you divvy up the copyright is really up to you. What I will say is that it’s not best practice for a designer to sign over copyright to the client unless you’re being paid a lot. Now I won’t go into too much detail here, as it’s not really the place, but what you should consider doing is licencing the work you’ve done to them. This way to decide the terms in which it can and can’t be used (worldwide, online, in print media etc…).

    Even if you’re happy for the client to take the project and do what they want with it (which in most situations, will be the case), try licencing it to them exclusively and in perpetuity for use worldwide. It’s basically the same as them owning it, but you don’t lose all rights to your work. It may seem redundant to you; why would you want to keep any rights to this client’s logo at all? All I say is that Carolyn Davidson who designed the Nike swoosh got paid $35 – and that’s all she’s ever been paid for it…

    One last thing you need to do whilst you’re here is state that all the content the client has provides should be either owned by them or they have permission to use it.


    There’s not a lot I can say to really help you out here as I know how much payment methods can vary between designers. What I will say though is make sure it’s clear exactly how much, in what method and in what time scale you expect to be paid. If you’re being paying in instalments, make sure you note the date each instalment is due, or at exactly what stage of the project if you’re working that way. Also mention here any deposit that you’re requesting.

    At this stage, it should already be pretty clear to both you and your client how much this project is going to cost and how you expect to be paid. The payments section of a contract should act as a reminder to what you’ve already discussed and agreed on. Don’t let payment terms first come to light when your client reads about them in your contract. I know some of you will no doubt feel uncomfortable approaching the subject of payment in a discussion with a client, but trust me – leaving your contract to deliver the news is much worse, and makes it look like you’re trying to slip something in under the table.


    This part of the contract is a lot like that pack of imodium you pack for your holidays; you hope we never need it, but you feel so much better knowing it’s there.

    When we talk about cancellation, we often think about the client cancelling on us, but it’s important remembering that it can sometimes be the case that you’ll want to cancel a contract. Some clients can be dicks and the only way out may be to walk away. So the first port of call needs to be a statement that both you and the client are free to cancel the contract at any time, for any reason.

    That being said – we really don’t want to be leaving it there do we.

    So what happens if the contract does get cancelled then? Well it really depends on at what stage of the project you’re at.

    If you’re only at the concept stage, then cancellation isn’t that uncommon, especially for higher paying contracts where clients might hire several designers to produce concepts before they make a final decision. This kind of cancellation is often called a Kill Fee, and is basically just a set price you charge for your concept work. It’s a way for the client to pay you for your work and politely decline. Think of this more as a paid pitch, than a cancelled contract.

    Now if the contract is cancelled in the middle of a project then things get a bit trickier. It’s almost impossible to set any hard and fast rules about this, as every project is hugely different. A good method is to say that the client is responsible for paying a percentage of the total amount equal to the percentage of work you’ve done. If you do this though, make sure you also pop in a disclaimer that it’s you who decides what the percentage is and not the client (a lot of clients won’t take into consideration anything they physically can’t see, like code for example). It’s also worth saying that the client is responsible for any related expenses accrued by you (such as paying other freelancers you’ve hired, or any web hosting you’ve purchased on their behalf) in relation to the project.

    If the contract is cancelled after all the work is done (very rare but worth mentioning), then a similar rules should apply. The client should pay you all of the agreed amount just as normal, however in this case since the contract is cancelled you’d retain all copyright to the created work and any licencing rights would be void.


    This section is the equivalent of small print. It’s stuff that’s so obvious it really shouldn’t need saying, but we say it anyway because… you know… it’s a contract.

    The two main bits you want to say is that this contract can’t be transferred to anyone else without your permission (duh!) and that the contract doesn’t need to be renewed and won’t expire after a certain amount of time (double duh!).

    You can pop in some other stuff here if you like that’s specific to you, or you don’t think will fit well in one of the other sections, or even repeat some stuff you’ve said before (the contract void bit for example you may want to copy and paste here) but other than that there’s not a lot else to it.

    The dotted line

    And you’re done! This last bit is where you sign and date the contract and make it all binding. Just make sure the people that sign it are the ones you named up at the top and you’re good to go.

    Signing is all well and good, but it isn’t the only way to complete a contract. So long as you can prove that a client has a agreed to the terms in the contract then there’s no need for them to physically sign anything.

    Next week I’ll be posting an article about a method I use to issue contracts on my website that clients can sign digitally with no printing and posting required, so if you haven’t already, make sure you sign up to the newsletter below to get notified as soon as the article goes live.

    Lastly I’d like to thank Andy Clarke for posting his contract killer on which this article is based. It was exactly what I needed to hear and was the catalyst that actually got me to start using contracts, so if any of you want even more information, or to see a completed version of this kind of contract – make sure you check it out.

  3. Why you Need to Start Using Contracts


    Speaking about contracts has been something I’ve avoided doing for a while, which is odd given that this is a website about the business side of the creative industry. It’s kinda an important subject isn’t it?

    A reader called Sarah got in touch with me about this recently asking;

    “One thing I have been thinking about regarding freelancing is how to set up a contract with clients. Not only the actual file and what it should contain but also how to use it?”

    I’ve avoided the subject of contracts because I’m not a lawyer, I don’t have a killer legal team and I desperately don’t want to give any of you guys duff advice. That being said – and you must keep that in mind – I think it’s better for me to talk about what I do know and how I personally work, if only to get the ball rolling in your own head.

    Just a heads up, on top of that disclaimer, you should also know I work in the UK, and whilst contract law is really similar amongst common law countries like the US, Canada, Australia etc… I’d always recommend doing a bit of research of your own to make sure.

    So over the next three weeks I’m going to write three articles all about contracts.

    1. This one, about why you need a specific design contract and how to approach it with clients.
    2. How to actually write a design contract.
    3. How to use design contracts on your website.

    So if this is something you need to hear then make sure you sign up to the newsletter to receive all of them.

    I’m talking about this now because for a long long time, I didn’t use contracts.

    At all.

    I know there are a tonne of other designers out there that do exactly the same thing for one reason or another. They don’t use contracts because they don’t understand the legality, they don’t meet their clients in person, they can’t afford for a lawyer to write one up or they simply think it’s rude.

    Don’t worry, I won’t chastise you. I can safely say I’ve have used each and every one of those excuses in the past to avoid using contracts; so when I say this, know it comes from a place of familiarity and self reference:

    If you don’t use contracts you are a fucking moron.

    Payment isn’t payment if you don’t have a contract

    A contract outlines obligation and consideration. You are obliged to complete a task and the clients is obliged to offer you consideration in payment. Sounds simple right? But what if you don’t have a contract?

    If you don’t have a contract, then you can’t prove obligation or consideration. Even if you do the work and even if the client pays you for it, that isn’t technically considered payment. If there was no legal obligation to pay you for your services then how can it be considered payment?

    Do you know what we call payment without obligation?

    A tip.

    Without a contract, you are working for tips.

    design contract tip

    A contract is nothing mysterious

    A contract is an agreement between parties that they’ll do things for each other. That is ALL there is to it. Everything else is just extras. At its core all a contract needs to say is “If I do this for you, you’ll do this for me”.

    It doesn’t have to be signed in blood, it doesn’t have to be signed at all, in fact it doesn’t even need to be written down. Oral contracts are as legally binding as the ones delivered by bike messengers in leather wallets.

    If you can prove that someone agreed to do something for you, in return for you doing something for them, then it’s a contract. The only reason we write them down and sign them is (ironically) to make it clearer.

    With this in mind, chances are that you have unwittingly created a contract with every client you’ve every worked with. So long as you’ve got a copy of your email conversations with a client, then that can be used as a form of contract. Fancy that.

    So why then, if we’re creating contracts by accident do we need to make up these formal agreements with our clients? Don’t worry – I’ll get to that.

    The quickest way to scare a client

    Say you head out today and buy a new mobile phone on contract, only there is no contract. You get the phone and promise to pay a set amount each month and the mobile phone shop agrees to give you the minutes, texts and data you agreed on, and that’s it. No paperwork, no agreement, nothing official.

    Are you happy that you could potentially, at a whim, decide to just not pay and keep the phone? Or are you worried that this seems really shady and there’s nothing to stop this phone shop racking up the price down the line?

    The truth is, most people are decent, and whilst there are a few people that would no doubt think about option one, there are far far more whose first thoughts will go to option two.

    They will be scared that you are going to shaft them.

    The exact same goes with your client. If you’re not bringing up anything about contracts then they will worry. They won’t be relieved that they don’t have to read the paper work. They will be scared that you are going to shaft them.

    Also the phrase “don’t worry – your emails work as a contract” won’t instil the confidence in a client that it probably did in you when you heard it.

    Contracts aren’t rude, they’re polite

    The biggest barrier I probably had early on was that I thought bringing up the subject of contracts was really rude (and I’m English, so that’s especially difficult!). Here I was, scratching for my first few jobs, over the moon that a client was actually talking to me, and then what? I was going to demand they sign this piece of paper before I do any work for them? I reasoned that it was tantamount to shouting “I DON’T TRUST YOU” across the coffee table.

    It’s not, just so you know.

    They’ll be depending on you to guide them through the process, including contracts.

    It is a rare thing for a client to bring up contracts. It’s part of your job as a professional designer. Many clients won’t know the various stages of hiring a designer, so they’ll be depending on you to guide them through the process, including contracts.

    Bringing up the subject of contracts is probably one of the best things you can do to come across as professional and to put a clients mind at ease, and this is why:

    A contract isn’t just for your benefit

    It’s easy when talking about contracts to forget that they work both ways. We’re so focused on covering ourselves and making sure we get paid, that we forget about all the rights and reassurances a contract brings to the client.

    The client is probably worried that you’re going to take his deposit and run. What if he doesn’t like what you produce? What if you turn out to be a total fake? I’m sure there must be a website out there for designers from hell.

    Think about it – ultimately you’re just some dude they found online. You may have a decent portfolio, a pretty website and a few testimonials, but you’re not Amazon or Google. You’re not a sure thing. They’re taking a risk on you whichever way you spin it.

    So when you throw out a signed piece of paper that says you guarantee that you’ll do exactly what you say you’re going to do; that is just sunshine and rainbows to a client.

    A contract is not a guarantee

    One last thing I’ll say in this article is that you should never consider a contract to be a water tight guarantee of payment.

    Needless to say, you can spend a lot of money getting nowhere.

    If a client doesn’t want to pay you, they won’t. Even if you have a signed contract, even if you take them to court, even if you win (which you will if you have a contract) all that means is that the court will say they must pay you and (in the UK at least) allow you to petition for the use of a council bailiff (who cannot, much like a vampire, enter a property unless invited). Needless to say, you can spend a lot of money getting nowhere.

    A contract works as an utterly fantastic deterrent to bogus clients, and they’re worth their weight in gold for this reason alone. But you still need to make sure you vet your clients appropriately and trust that they’ll hold up their side of the bargain. But that’s a conversation for another day.

    Remember, I’m going to be covering how to write a design contract next week, and the week after that I’ll be talking about how to implement contracts on your website, so to make sure you get notified when those articles go live, sign up to the newsletter below or follow the Design Range on Facebook and Twitter.