Contract? What does a freelance designer need a contract for?

Contract? What does a freelance designer need a contract for?

NOTE: This post has been migrated from my graphic design site,

If you haven’t heard me say it in person yet, then read it here first: Contracts are important in our modern world!

You may be the perfect client: the one person will never call me at 8pm on a Thursday night for a project due Friday, and expect to pay whatever you want to pay, whenever you want to pay it, after you have stolen the idea I sent you in concept form the last time we worked together and then taking it to another designer to create cheaper. Yeah, these things really do happen.

Maybe you are even certain that you won’t be struck by a bus and killed mid-project, and you expect to live to 96 due to your ultra-healthy lifestyle and athletic habits. But then there’s that one time that you do…

Or maybe the situation that I want to warrant off will be a simpler more likely one where you’ve sent me a project your boss requested you manage, but a month into it, she tells you to put it on hold for an undetermined amount of time, and I get left hanging with invoices and “Hold on” emails floating between us for 7.5 weeks, but when you are suddenly charged to finish things up ASAP or your neck is on the line,I have meanwhile picked up more new client jobs and my 40 hours a week are filled to the brim.

So, how should I handle these situations?

Obviously, one at a time and each differently, but also by being prepared in advance for them.
Hence the Contract. 

Contracts (mine at least) are not meant to corner you into a box where I trap you forever in a scheme of weekly payments and unimpressive goods. But what they are is an agreement of terms that we will both work under, to show respect to each other’s life situations, and to make sure everyone comes out of the project Happy. And, they are not set in stone. While I have a standard set up to work with,I alter some piece of it for almost every client! 

What I have found to be important in a contract:

  1. A summary of my interpretation of your project needs.
    You and I have different backgrounds, speak in different terminologies, and yet need to be clearly understanding of your project needs and plans. I’m going to translate what I think you need from what you explained to me, and we may need visuals to bring us together on some parts. But that’s okay.
  2. A basic schedule to keep us on track.
    Dates are often flexible, until they aren’t. “Just whenever” won’t work, if you are certain that you need something for an event on a specific day, so let me know those dates up front.
  3. Money.
    You have it, I need it. If you don’t have it, don’t call me. If I don’t need it, I probably won’t take your project. I think most service businesses work that way. But really, let’s come to an agreement on when you will be expected to pay me and what will happen if you don’t.
  4. Reminders that things change in life and we must adjust our expectations and plans to accommodate sometimes.
    Even if you do get hit by that bus, your business may still need this project finished, or maybe they won’t. But, I will definitely still want to be paid for the work I have put into this for you.
  5. Lastly, how things work at the end and afterwards.
    I put a lot of effort into your project. A lot more than I charged you for, and probably more than you’ll recognize anytime soon. And for that, I want to be able to use your project samples in my portfolio and in competitions and such. But also, you probably want to know more about your getting your files from me.

Look, what I’m trying to say is that

I want to help you out. I really do. I want to make you amazed and happy and proud of your new project. I want your boss and clients to look at what we’ve accomplished and say “Ooooo, Ahhhh.” But I also have bills to pay, just like you do. And I have other clients and projects to balance, just like you do. And, I have a vibrant and full life at night and on the weekends, just like you do. No one is sitting on the couch just twiddling their thumbs waiting for work to do.

So, let’s get on to looking at that contract, eh?


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