Have you decided to pursue your dream of becoming a freelance graphic designer? Awesome! But, if you're going to be doing contract work, it's essential to know how to put together a professional graphic design contract.
Want to know what a design contract is? Curious about how you put one together? Let's jump straight into it!
What is a design contract? It's partly so your client knows what they'll be getting and also to protect you, the designer. As a freelancer, you won't have the luxury of a personal HR team to protect you if a client decides not to pay up.
You may want to put your complete trust in your client but not protecting yourself at all is very risky. Hopefully, you'll never need to take a runaway client to court, but it's better to be safe than sorry, right?
Don't worry, being able to draw up a suitable contract doesn't require a spell at law school! It just takes a bit of planning and good old fashioned common sense. There are plenty of freelance contract templates to help you out.
There are a few key sections you should include in your freelance graphic design contract. If you're having trouble getting started, searching the web for marketing contract template can be helpful.
A professional contract should include:
Let's take an in-depth look at each of these components.
Before you start any work, make sure your client provides a detailed brief. This should include any little pieces they need you to do.
Write down in your graphic design contract exactly what is required by both parties. You and your client must be on the same page (!). You both need to know what's expected so there're no crossed wires along the way.
If you need more advice on managing your clients, there are lots of great tips here on how to run your business successfully.
Let's imagine that your client needs the work finished by a certain date. Aim to get all the graphic design contract work finished at least one week before. This means you have some extra time in the event of any eleventh-hour changes.
Decide which deliverables should be done first, and figure out how long it will take you to complete them. Next, choose suitable dates to give them to your client, and be aware that there's likely to be some polishing up to be done.
Adding dates into your graphic design contract will help you to stay focused and on track. It also helps clients know when to expect the work.
It's your decision how much you charge your client for the work agreed upon. Some freelance graphic design contractors like to quote per project, while others prefer to charge an hourly rate.
If the work in question will take you more than a day to complete, it's probably better to charge by the project.
A basic graphic design contract will ask the client to pay half of the whole project cost upfront, and then the other half before they receive the finished work.
This bit is essential. Watermark your finished work when you send it off for approval. Once they're happy with it, invoice for the outstanding balance.
Copyright ownership or intellectual property ownership is very important. For example, say you designed a logo for a client and charged a couple of hundred dollars.
If they used it to sell products that made millions, you'd be mad at yourself for not keeping some of the intellectual property ownership.
An option is to give some of the copyright to your client, not all of it. You could give them ownership of the design as it is, but state that they can't alter it or modify it at all.
A freelance design contract will usually state that both the designer and the client may terminate the project whenever. This reassures both parties because you never know when life is going to throw the next curveball at you!
Family emergencies, computers giving up on life, or discovering that you've acquired a nightmare client are just a few examples of why you may need to end a project. If your computer is on its last legs, you may want to think about investing in a tablet that's suitable for graphic designers!
It's down to you to decide the rules for the termination clause. However, a common clause in a graphic design contract is that your client still needs to pay you for any work that you've done up to the date of termination.
Once your design business starts to take off, it's a good idea to draw up a freelance graphic design contract template that you can use for all of your projects.
Always make sure you and the client sign your graphic design contract. Without both signatures, the contract is about as useful as a chocolate teapot! Be sure to date it once it's signed as well. You can use Bonsai's online signature maker to create your e-signatures. You can also follow our guide on how to insert signature in Word and how to digitally sign a PDF.
Next, we'll go through some common mistakes that new freelancers make with their designer contracts. We've also got some great tips on marketing strategies that could prove invaluable to your new business.
The client likely hired you because they thought you could do the job well. Although a good sales pitch normally involves making one guarantee, including lots of goal-oriented promises in your designer contract is risky.
"Scope creep" usually happens when you don't clearly outline what will happen in the project. It also happens if you charge your client for what they're going to get, rather than what you'll do.
You'll end up with the client coming back to you wanting to make a million changes to the project. This is inconvenient and harmful to your project.
It can lead to unapproved changes and things that aren't accounted for, meaning you may forget to charge for them! It can also create unrealistic timeframes and deadlines.
As you start to hit milestones with a project, you may need to tweak your goals to keep your hours in control and to maintain your worth to your client. Effective designer contracts include the process steps, any revisions, and feedback.
Ensure you acknowledge that you'll likely need to work longer than originally thought and remember to bill for this appropriately.
By including add-on options and other scenarios into your designer contract, it avoids any awkwardness in your business relationship.
Although modern-day invoicing makes it easy to request payment from your client, there are more effective ways. One way is to offer prepayment in your freelance contract.
This is a wise idea if you're working with an unproven client who hasn't yet earned a good track record. Remember, not having a reputation at all can be just as dodgy as having a bad one!
You may want to believe every client you have is a stand-up person, why wouldn't they pay in a timely fashion? Believe it or not, even good companies can levant.
Make sure you get paid for your work by including a penalty for bounced or late payments. Not only does this offer you protection in the unlikely situation of non-payment, but it also means untrustworthy clients will likely run for the hills at the sight of your terms and conditions!
Along with including penalties, successful, wise contractors offer a shorter payment window. They generally don't offer more than 30 days for clients to pay if the contract doesn't have a finish date.
Follow this trend by giving your client a shorter window to make the payment. 7-10 working days is usually a good timeframe for clients of a small company.
When you break your designer contract up into sizeable chunks, you're creating milestones. This may seem like a pointless extra step, but it can be very beneficial to contractors, especially when it's stated in the contract.
Milestones answer your client's questions without them needing to be asked. It stops the need for incessant back and forth emails, confusion, and micromanaging the work. It also shows how professional you are and that you're capable of managing the project.
You may find that many clients demand the project work be "work for hire." Essentially, this would grant your client full rights to your finished work. They'd be able to use it however they like, anytime and they wouldn't have to give you any credit.
Although this happens a lot, it's not compulsory. As the designer, you choose the rights you want to grant to the client. Be sure to price accordingly though. For example, the more rights you choose to give, the more you should charge.
Remember, your research and any supporting documents are yours and should be kept separate from the finished project.
If you've been hired for a design job, it means the client likes you and thinks you're capable. While it's vital to inform them about things such as deliverable work and milestones, don't give away your successful processes before you get the work done.
There are many unfortunate stories of designers who explain precisely how they do their work, only for the client to take those methods back to an in-house team. Or in some cases, another freelancer who is charging less!
Even if you're working for a client, you are under no obligation to reveal how you work!
On the flip side, as a freelancer, it's important to realize you're not someone's employee. You're not getting any employee benefits and you're not required to meet any certain workflow requests.
If your client insists on you working for a certain amount of hours, or for a set period of time (i.e 8 am-4 pm), this isn't acceptable.
Be firm from the get-go and explain that you'll work during hours set by you, while still leaving room for certain requests from your client.
If you've been a professional designer for a while, you'll know that client privacy is important. Being expected to keep things about the client confidential isn't unreasonable.
If you acknowledge in your freelance design contract that you will keep this information private, it means you'll be able to work alongside other companies in the same field, and potentially broaden your client base.
If a prospective client wants you to work only for them, make sure you charge them substantially for that privilege!
Although you mustn't tell precisely how you price your design services, it's essential to calculate the cost of business from the start. As a freelancer, you're responsible for paying your own tax and Social Security.
Not being prepared for these costs can result in some nasty surprises by the time you come to do your graphic designer taxes. Familiarize yourself with the true cost and expenses and add them to your service price plan.
Right now, you're probably thinking that there's a lot that can go wrong with a designer contract. While that can be true, it only takes one excellent contract to set you up for continuous success.
As soon as you've created a contract with zero errors, save it - before you forget to! A good graphic design contract template will be a first-time freelancer's best friend.
Even the most expert designers use contract templates, and you can reuse the successful version again and again, ensuring you have a bright and prosperous career in designing.
A verbal contract (formally called an oral contract) refers to an agreement between two parties that's made —you guessed it— verbally.
Formal contracts, like those between an employee and an employer, are typically written down. However, some professional transactions take place based on verbally agreed terms.
Freelancers are a good example of this. Often, freelancers will take on projects having agreed on the terms and payment via the phone, or an email. Unfortunately, sometimes clients don't pull through on their agreements, and hardworking freelancers can find themselves out of pocket and wondering whether a legal battle is worth all the hassle.
The main differences between written and oral contracts are that the former is signed and documented, whereas the latter is solely attributed to verbal communication.
Verbal contracts are a bit of a gray area for most people unfamiliar with contract law —which is most of us, right?— due to the fact that there's no physical evidence to support the claims made by the implemented parties.
For any contract (written or verbal) to be binding, there are four major elements which need to be in place. The crucial elements of a contract are as follows:
Therefore, an oral agreement has legal validity if all of these elements are present. However, verbal contracts can be difficult to enforce in a court of law. In the next section, we take a look at how oral agreements hold up in court.
Most business professionals are wary of entering into contracts orally because they can difficult to enforce in the face of the law.
If an oral contract is brought in front of a court of law, there is increased risk of one party (or both!) lying about the initial terms of the agreement. This is problematic for the court, as there's no unbiased way to conclude the case; often, this will result in the case being disregarded. Moreover, it can be difficult to outline contract defects if it's not in writing.
That being said, there are plenty of situations where enforceable contracts do not need to be written or spoken, they're simply implied. For instance, when you buy milk from a store, you give something in exchange for something else and enter into an implied contract, in this case - money is exchanged for goods.
There are some types of contracts which must be in writing.
The Statute of Frauds is a legal statute which states that certain kinds of contracts must be executed in writing and signed by the parties involved. The Statute of Frauds has been adopted in almost all U.S states, and requires a written contract for the following purposes:
Typically, a court of law won't enforce an oral agreement in any of these circumstances under the statute. Instead, a written document is required to make the contract enforceable.
Contract law is generally doesn't favor contracts agreed upon verbally. A verbal agreement is difficult to prove, and can be used by those intent on committing fraud. For that reason, it's always best to put any agreements in writing and ensure all parties have fully understood and consented to signing.
Verbal agreements can be proven with actions in the absence of physical documentation. Any oral promise to provide the sale of goods or perform a service that you agreed to counts as a valid contract. So, when facing a court of law, what evidence can you provide to enforce a verbal agreement?
Unfortunately, without solid proof, it may be difficult to convince a court of the legality of an oral contract. Without witnesses to testify to the oral agreement taking place or other forms of evidence, oral contracts won't stand up in court. Instead, it becomes a matter of "he-said-she-said" - which legal professionals definitely don't have time for!
If you were to enter into a verbal contract, it's recommended to follow up with an email or a letter confirming the offer, the terms of the agreement , and payment conditions. The more you can document the elements of a contract, the better your chances of legally enforcing a oral contract.
Another option is to make a recording of the conversation where the agreement is verbalized. This can be used to support your claims in the absence of a written agreement. However, it's always best to gain the permission of the other involved parties before hitting record.
Fundamentally, most verbal agreements are legally valid as long as they meet all the requirements for a contract. However, if you were to go to court over one party not fulfilling the terms of the contract, proving that the interaction took place can be extremely taxing.
So, ultimately, the question is: written or verbal agreements?
Any good lawyer, contract law firm, or legal professional would advise you to make sure you formalize any professional agreement with a written agreement. Written contracts provide a secure testament to the conditions that were agreed and signed by the two parties involved. If it comes to it, a physical contract is much easier to eviden in legal circumstances.
Freelancers, in particular, should be aware of the extra security that digital contracts may provide. Many people choose to stick to executing contracts verbally because they're not sure how to write a contract, or they think writing out the contract terms is too complicated or requires expensive legal advice. However, this is no longer the case.
Today, we have a world of resources available at our fingertips. The internet is a treasure trove of invaluable information, platforms, and software that simplifies our lives. Creating, signing, and sending contracts has never been easier. What's more, you don't have to rely on a hiring a lawyer to explain all that legal jargon anymore.
There are plenty of tools available online for freelancers to use for guidance when drafting digital contracts. Tools like Bonsai provide a range of customizable, vetted contract templates for all kinds of freelance professionals. No matter what industry you're operating in, Bonsai has a professional template to offer.
A written contract makes the agreement much easier to prove the terms of the agreement in case something were to go awry. The two parties involved can rest assured that they're legal rights are protected, and the terms of the contract are sufficiently documented. Plus, it provides both parties with peace of mind to focus on the tasks at hand.
Bonsai's product suite for freelancers allows users to make contracts from scratch, or using professional templates, and sign them using an online signature maker.
With Bonsai, you can streamline and automate all of the boring back-office tasks that come with being a freelancer. From creating proposals that clients can't say no to, to sealing the deal with a professional contract - Bonsai will revolutionize the way you do business as a freelancer.
Why not secure your business today and sign up for a free trial?