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Mostly freelance designer, have a duty of bringing out the clients concepts into reality. Being an expert at delivering a client’s vision or designs is a great thing. However, it will not ensure you have a successful career. Protecting your work is equally important as marketing yourself and building a client base. It is important to legally secure terms and payments by using a thorough and concise freelance design contract template.

You can easily get short-changed by clients if you begin working without a contract. A freelance designer will understand the importance of a contract when hours of work go to waste due to lack of a contract. Keep in mind that drafting a contract is similar to a balancing act – you want to cover your bases while ensuring you do not scare clients with a 50+ page contract. This is why you need to know what is required in such an agreement.

Keeping It Simple

People who consult a legal professional such as a lawyer to draft a contract may end up having a document which is full of legalese. It may end up confusing clients and offering misinterpretations. The main aim of the contract should be direct and clear communication. You should endeavor to outline details of the agreement and project, while avoiding unnecessary padding. A great contract should break down information to a manageable size, while being ironclad.

Striking a balance between readable and ironclad is not easy. With this in mind, the following are the main points that need to appear in any freelance design contract template:

Project Details

Although it may seem obvious, it is usually overlooked. For example, you may have a verbal understanding between you and your client with regards to a project. However, it is mandatory to have the details in writing to ensure your deliverables and roles are crystal clear. This will prevent any misunderstanding in the long run.

Establish your responsibilities as well as the overall framework so that you can decline anything that is not within the agreed terms. For instance, if you do not wish to provide technical support once you complete the project, explicitly include this within your contract. If the client requests for ten versions of the logo and the agreed number was seven, you can refer to this section of the contract to rule out the additional work.

Deadlines and Timelines

Very few people will be comfortable putting in 50+ hours per week. The contract should include clauses which limit your working hours for a week. It should also include times the client can contact you during the day. Make sure you add a section that details irregular hours and weekends. Questions to guide you include:

1. Are you willing to work on weekends?

2. Will the client pay extra for working more than 40 hours a week, or during weekends?

3. How quickly will you respond to edits and questions?

Any agreed upon deadlines should also be included in this section. Many designers loathe the idea of having deadline constraints. Take note that it is beneficial to both parties as it will help the client understand when the work will be submitted, and also keep you productive. Deadlines should be set by considering setbacks and allowing extra days. Never jump into a contract deadline without considering hiccups in the creative process. Give yourself additional time to cater for any setbacks. This way, the client will be pleasantly surprised should you deliver the project before the stipulated deadline.

Client Responsibilities

Make sure the client understands what they are expected to provide in order for you to commence working on the project effectively. Remember to delineate the chain of command, from the client’s side, so that you are not caught up in the middle of a disagreement. The main point of contact should be the person making decisions regarding the project. If this is not the case, clarify all terms of decision-making and communication in the freelance design contract template.

Use this section to include the approval process. If you decide you want signed hard copies, mention it in the contract. On the other hand, if you prefer email confirmations or virtual signatures, make sure you state that.

Remember to consider potential errors. If there is a typo, you should include the timeframe the client has to notify you about it. Include your pricing for any additional work request such as resizing a graphic. Some graphic designers do not mind tweaking a submitted project at no extra cost. This does not mean you should do the same without compensation.

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Always describe the manner you will be delivering the completed project, as well as what the product will include when drafting a freelance design contract. Describe the file types the client can request, and how you will deliver the files. Do you prefer delivering the final product using a hard/flash drive, or do you prefer using email or cloud? Does the client require the files delivered using a specific method? The freelance design contract template should state every detail regarding the product delivery process.

There should be clause explaining the duration the client can expect you to keep or store the files for future use. If you have archived the files and you are requested for them a few months after delivering the project, should the client pay a fee? Clarity needs to be provided for any foreseen situations to ensure fair compensation for file storage and delivery.

Payment Details

For a freelance designer, this is perhaps the most crucial section of a contract. Here is where you need to detail what method of payment you expect, and when you expect the payment. General best practices require for you, the designer, to be given a deposit of 25% - 50% before commencing the project. The main advantage of such a move is that it will help you trust the client because they’ve committed their part of the bargain and also motivate you to work. It will also ensure you prioritize the client’s project. Clarify when you will be paid the balance. It can be immediately after sending the files or just before you send them.

Any requests for extra payment or additional adjustments that may occur should be justified within the payment details. If you choose to work on an hourly rate, estimate the overall time you will need. Break down the payment to prevent the client from being surprised should you ask for money once you finish the project. If you prefer a flat rate, include any situations that would cause you to request more than the amount you had agreed upon.

The following are some subsections regarding payment that will be helpful:

1. Revisions:

When it comes to big projects, some designers prefer a flat rate. It is common to provide a quota of free revisions since large projects usually involve a few rounds of edits and feedback. Clearly define what you mean by revisions. You may decide to do small changes free of charge. Sometimes after a mock-up has been approved, a client may request an entire-redo, which means they are likely going beyond the agreed upon project parameters.

In the freelance design contract template, include the cost of revisions once the client has exceeded their free quota. This will help you avoid spending more time doing extra work without compensation. Many designers opt for an hourly rate at this point. If the client decides they want you to do an offshoot project – let’s say an extra page on the website you just completed – do not consider this as a revision. Instead, you should think of it more of a new project and charge a flat rate.

2. Cancellation clauses:

We would all like our projects to run 100% smoothly. Unfortunately, this can never be the case. When you or the clients wants to terminate a contract, the freelance design contract template should ensure the protocol is clear using a cancellation clause.

If a client decides to terminate a project, how much should they pay you? What is the termination process, and what should be done in such a scenario? This mostly applies to payment, but should also consider the return of sensitive materials and licensed images. Make sure there is a cancellation clause in your contract to prevent a headache should the situation arise.

3. Acts of God

A legal “Act of God” means an unforeseen situation beyond human control that renders you incapable of completing a project within the stipulated timeframe. Even though it can happen especially when using digital storage. For example, your office or apartment may flood, and all of your storage and hardware is destroyed, or the same locations may be burglarized. At some point, you may be unable to finish a project or meet a deadline, even when you have finely tuned workflow.

In such a scenario, the client needs to know what to expect. Some freelance designers do not mind forfeiting the balance of payment. If you are a beginner and every project counts, the clause should protect the delivery of payment, and ask for additional time to complete the project. The best way to ensure the clause is mutually beneficial is working it out with the client.

4. Confidentiality

In any freelance design contract template, confidentiality should be an expected clause. This is because you will be handling sensitive, private information of the client pertaining to things such as marketing strategies and product launches. Many clients will provide you with a contract or confidentially clause. You have the option of negotiating the exact terms and including them in your contract to ensure you are comfortable with the contents.

The designs you create may or may not be sensitive and secretive. As such, you should know the parts of the design you are allowed to display and where, within the standard confidentiality nomenclature. Will the client allow you to upload their project on your website as part of your portfolio? If they do, at what point will the designs cease to be confidential?

5. Credit and Promotions

This clause is in tandem with the above point. Include a clause that stipulates how and when you can use the work you created for the client. Majority of contracts have allowances for a designer to use work made for the client on the designer’s portfolio and website as a means of self-promotion. Some clauses allow designers to retain the right to exhibit the work and submit it to competitions once it has been made public.

You will also need to be credited fairly for your hard work. The freelance design contract template should include how you should be credited, whether it is in a competition, an award, or press release. Keep in mind some clients will not want you to promote or showcase their work under any circumstances. Your promotion clause needs to be adjusted on a case-by-case basis.

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6. Additional Information

The following are not specific clauses, but you may have to keep them in mind:

1. Always get a signature – This is very important. Emailing a client a copy of the contract will not hold up legally and is not enough to protect you. Insist, politely, that the client provides a signed copy of your contract before you commence the project. Offer your clients options to send the signature using a method they prefer, whether it’s through the mail, via email, or fax.

2. Allow for customization – Ideally, drafting a freelance design contract template, you can alter to suit any project if need be. Omit, add, and adjust clauses as needed when discussing project needs with different clients to prevent redundancy in any part of your contract.

One of the best resources you can use to draft a freelance design contract template is contacts of other designers. Check out their contracts by requesting for the same or visiting their websites. Even though they may not have the same clauses mentioned above, they will have some information that can help you with the drafting process.

You may also get additional insight on other clauses that may suit your needs. There are more collections of sample clauses you can find online to help you come up with the best contract for a particular project. Remember always to consult a renowned professional or legal professional who is licensed. They can help you come up with an airtight contract that will prevent you from being exploited in any way.

Example of a Company Offering the Service

Rule number one for freelance designers is to always use a contract! Whether you're working with a new client or doing repeat business, it's always best to clearly outline the terms of your work.

Bonsai has worked with top lawyers to create a simple, powerful template contract for freelance designers. It's written in plain English, and contains all the language you need to start the client relationship well.

There are three main areas our freelance design contracts focus on. You should spend extra time thinking about and making these clear with the client. The first is the scope of work. Since the design is a wide discipline and clients may not be very sophisticated, you should be very clear with the client exactly what you will be producing for them.

The second part of the freelance design contract is the payment information. What will you get paid for your work, and when are the payments due? How will the client pay? What happens if they don't pay? These are all terms that are very important to you!

Last but not least is intellectual property ownership. Intellectual property ownership should only transfer over to the client once they have paid all their invoices. However, you should be careful to note whether the client only owns the final product, or all sketches, designs, and ideas that went into the WordPress site.

Bonsai's freelance design contracts contain all these clauses and more to protect you and your client.