A few weeks ago, in another be free, lance post, I was asked about contracts and how I handle them. The short story is that everyone should have one, no matter WHO you work with. You never know what’s going to happen – so why not cover yourself? There is nothing wrong with having a contract, in fact, it makes you look quite professional. I will outline a few key components to contracts and then leave you with quality resources.

First off, Smashing Magazine uses my favorite Michael Scott ( from The Office ) theory : KISS. Keep it simple, stupid ( sorry for my language ). I don’t know about you guys, but most legal documents drive me crazy. Especially the ones where I read a paragraph and have absolutely no idea what I just read. In one ear and out the other. My point is, your contract does not have to read like it was written by a Harvard Law student. My contracts are written in an extremely clear way so that my client can sign with confidence knowing exactly what they have just digested.

What to include in your invoice is up to you. The main thing to keep in mind is to cover all bases. A web developer may have different terms than a graphic designer or photographer, but in general, most creative contracts have a similar format. Here are a few important things to include :

PROJECT OVERVIEW I like to have a space on my contracts dedicated to short bullet point details. So, before my client even reads a contract in fine detail – they get a quick taste for the project outline. I go over contact information, project costs, due dates, and any payment plans. Think of this as a brief summary.

AGREEMENT It is very important to establish a set of rules not only for your client, but yourself as well. Let them know that you have the experience and ability to perform your services in a professional and timely manner. Likewise, it should be noted that clients are also expected to follow deadlines in order to stick to a project timeline. It’s a two way street!

PROJECT DETAILS This is the part where you dive into a detailed project description. In addition, it’s also helpful to define what happens if there are any reimbursements ( fonts or materials purchased, etc. ) or if the project is cancelled.

RIGHTS This one is a biggie!! You must define who owns what when a project is done. Whether it is photographs, code, graphics, or anything else, your clients should know their rights of usage. Personally, I usually maintain ownership of all design work, which means clients cannot alter work without my consent. If they agree to purchase full rights at an additional cost, however, they are allowed to do as they please. Other creatives like to issue time based rights, where work is released and charged for a set amount of time ( 6 months, 1 year, etc. ).

So there you have it … the main things that I cover in all contracts along with a signature of acceptance. When developing this structure, I used a lot of ideas from this article entitled Contract Killer – which is extremely helpful + beneficial. PLUS, it’s free to use. You could literally copy and adapt it to be your own, there are no restrictions. Go ahead now, protect yo’self!

  1. Great tips, thanks so much for sharing! This is something I definitely need to step up in the new year. I do have a couple questions:
    1. How do you handle project cancellation/kill fees? Right now I just say that if a project is cancelled, they will be billed for all work completed up to that point, but I feel like that’s not really concrete enough, and doesn’t account for the work I miss out on when I accept the cancelled project over others that would have completed the project.
    2. I find the rights issue a very tricky one. I work with a lot of bloggers, and because ever-changing nature of blogging, I find it difficult to tell clients they can’t alter my design in any way. I understand the importance of rights when you’re dealing with a logo for a large corporation and you want to make sure you are fairly compensated when they use your logo in a way that wasn’t originally discussed, but it seems a bit strict for small businesses. And it especially seems strict when you’re referring to a full blog design — not altering the logo, I understand, but where do you draw the line if the client needs to make changes to their sidebar? I understand that I’m probably missing out on some income by not requiring clients to come back to me for changes, but at the same time, I’ve talked to a lot of people who are frustrated by the fact that they can’t make small changes to their own site and are charged by their designer for every little thing.

    (I realize the second one wasn’t really a question, and is rather long — just would love to hear your thoughts on the subject!)

    • bre says:

      Thank you!

      01. My cancellation goes like so : “If either party decides to stop a project midway, the client will be billed for the time spent until that point. If the initial designs have been presented, three-quarters of the project cost is due. The deposit is non-refundable.” — I, too, had trouble with the phrase “billed for time spent” for awhile. I decided to add in the clause about when initial designs have been presented, because that is a good ball park area for me when I’ve put about 3/4 of the project time into things. Deposit is always non-refundable!

      02. Definitely a good point! I actually DO allow my blog clients to change their sidebar. I guess I never really thought about that as changing the design because sidebars are meant to be added to. Maybe the client adds a new picture of themselves – that’s totally cool because I don’t own the photograph. They do. Maybe they add more categories to the category box. That’s also totally cool because they are just expanding the area and not changing the design. If they were to go in, however, and completely change the way I styled an area of the website ( maybe the header, perhaps ) – I would want them to ask, first. That way, I can choose to help them out or decide if I want to remove my name from the work. In that case, it wouldn’t feel like mine anymore. I hope that makes sense! It’s complicated, but usually my clients simply email and ask me if there is any confusion.

    • Zoe Rooney says:

      I swear, I am going to stop hijacking the comments on this blog one day. Bre, you just open up the best discussions!

      With sidebars, my thought is that they should be coded to be extensible without damaging the overall design. Meaning, they should use web fonts for everything including the titles, and any title styling should be flexible enough that it can be applied via CSS to any length title (within reason). The theme should also ideally be tested against a couple common types of widgets. That way, people can add new widgets up the wazoo but they’ll still use the same styling norms and look consistent with the rest of the site.

    • bre says:

      Yes yes yes, agreed with all of this, Zoe. Love your insight as always!

    • Thank you both for your thoughts! Bre, I hadn’t really thought of using rights as a way to give myself the opportunity to remove my name from a project if it no longer represents the kind of work I do. Makes perfect sense! And Zoe, totally agree!

  2. anto says:

    I really appreciate you dedicating a full post to this subject. I am just starting out and this information is very helpful. I am so glad that this column exists! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us Bre!

  3. sheryl says:

    Thanks for this post Bre, as always I have found it super helpful. I always stress out about this side of the process whenever I take on a new project – I am going to have to revise my contract methinks as you’ve given me food for thought!

  4. Ezgi says:

    Hi from London,
    Thanks for the great topic Bre. I ve been following your blog for some time.
    Contracts are always so boring to me. But I guess, I should spend sometime on it.
    Do you send it by post and then they sign it and send back to you? or Do you just email them?
    Thanks
    Ezgi

    • bre says:

      Hello. :)
      I send my contracts as PDFS so that the clients can get it quickly. Then, they can either sign it digitally and send back OR sign and send via snail mail. It all really depends on the timeline and how quickly we need to get started! I like to be flexible.

  5. Morgan Rapp says:

    Love this discussion! I find that my contract is constantly evolving… depending on the situations I run in to while freelancing… just curious… sometimes we have clients that are surprised that they don’t receive the editable files of projects… how do you address this? Is this something you state up front when you are giving them a quote? or later on in their contract? What format do you normally deliver your branding files? Flattened pdfs? Do you charge extra for the editable files? If so, how much? Also, if the client pays for the editable files, does that automatically transfer the rights to the client or is it possible to retain the rights even when you hand over the editable files? Also, when you decide to transfer the rights to the client, how do you figure out pricing on that?
    Also, I am finding with websites and blog designs I need to be more specific about what extra “features” and widgets can be integrated. How do you address this as well? I am finding if it is open ended then the client sometimes requests a lot of items that can become time intensive… for example, tons of rollovers, pinterest and instagram integrations, slideshows, ect. Sorry about all of the questions!

    • bre says:

      I actually release editable files for all clients – it’s just a personal opinion of mine. If they have not purchased full rights, then they cannot edit it, so I’m never worried about releasing that. They signed a contract, after all. ;) The reason I give this out is in case they need a file LARGER than what I’ve given them … or if a printer somewhere needs that type of file. Most clients, however, don’t have the programs I use ( Illustrator ) and can’t use it anyway.

      I usually release that as well as files for print ( 300 dpi ) and web ( 72 dpi ) at various sizes ( large + small ) and any variations that have been made ( black, white, color, mark, secondary logo, etc. )

      Pricing for full rights depends on the designer and their experience, so I unfortunately don’t have any guidelines for that one. :/ You can either do full rights as one fee OR time based, as I’ve mentioned before. For example, maybe they pay for 6 months of full rights.

      As for websites and widgets, I ask up front about ALL the content that they need and quote for that. I have them list each page with what is needed + any special features. Same for a sidebar. If there is ever anything extra, they know ( as it is listed in the contract ) that they will have to pay an additional fee ( my hourly rate ). Because I know everything they’ll need up front, I’m able to quote appropriately. But of course, sometimes people think of extra things they’d like! That’s why it’s good to protect yourself in a contract for when those things happen. :)

  6. [...] • Breanna Rose shares what creatives should consider including in their contracts. [...]

  7. [...] Contracts – on Breanna Rose [...]

  8. Great post, and great discussion. Just a side note: Andy Clarke has recently released the Contract Killer 3 (http://www.stuffandnonsense.co.uk/blog/about/contract-killer-3) that is an improved and adjourned version of the old one. We host a lot of freelance designer contract on Docracy but Andy’s is the most popular. I think clarity pays off, always.

  9. Ana says:

    *takes notes furiously*

  10. [...] discussion on contracts is super helpful and couldn’t have come at a more perfect time for [...]

  11. [...] an hour or so everyday to research a subject I didn’t feel confident in. Whether it was contracts, invoicing, project management, or who knows what – I had to figure it all [...]

  12. I am going to start a new project and it will be very useful to me in my starting project.. Its really to say heartly thanks to you for your great job….

  13. monika says:

    Hi Breanna!

    I’m a little late to the game here, but I do have a question. What happens when a client falls off their original timeline, as listed in the contract. I am happy to modify the timeline if we get off track by a week or so, but I have two clients who have gotten SO off track (like, months) that I’m not sure what to do here. It’s either crickets with emails or they are just too “busy” to finish up right now. By the time I start up these projects again I feel like I’ll have to re-learn everything we’ve already discussed. Any advice on what to do here?

    Thanks :)

    • Monika, I don’t mean to hijack Bre’s comments, and I don’t know how long ago this was posted, but I feel like you need to cut the cord with those two clients. It isn’t fair to you and your other clients/work to keep going back to them. They are taking advantage of the fact that you are so nice – as long as they know you will keep taking them back, they will keep putting off getting the job done.

      Say it nicely, but email them and let them know that you need a definite yes or no for the project. They either get on board and finish up or they need to pay you the kill fee for the project. Once they know you are serious, they’ll get serious. Either way, stick up for yourself and your skills / time.