A few months ago I mentioned graphic design contracts, and you gave some excellent contract tips in the comments. Here are just a few.
Jennifer, of Black Eye Design
“We use a custom made contract based on the AIGA one (which can be found here). Theirs is an incredibly comprehensive document that runs to 20+ pages. We found the length to be very intimidating so we worked with our lawyer to develop one that had a similar spirit of fairness to both parties but that is much, much shorter (two sides).
“We designed it so that we only have to sign the contract once with a client (we actually call it a design agreement) and then the specifics of each particular job are detailed in a separate proposal or each project (which also gets a signature).”
Amanda, of Truly Ace Design
“I don’t make my clients sign an actual contract but I do make a contract ‘in the eyes of the law’.
“To make a contract in the eyes of the law you need three things. An offer, an acceptance, and a consideration.
“The offer is your quotation, including any ‘terms’ (you can view the terms as your contract specifics), the acceptance is the client saying ‘yes I want to go ahead’, and the consideration is them thinking about it for a day whilst you send an invoice for the deposit.
“Once they then pay the deposit you have evidence they have considered and still agreed to your terms by paying a deposit. I rarely work without a deposit unless it’s a client I really trust.
“As I deal exclusively via email for quotations, when I quote I have a written record of this ‘contract’ that has been made… I have written evidence of the offer, the acceptance, and then the consideration is evidenced by the follow-up deposit after the acceptance of the terms.
“Does anyone else do it this way? It’s held me in stead for many years, I haven’t had a none payer for about five years now.
“I also think it’s less intimidating than an actual contract to sign. They don’t even feel like they are in a contract, though I know that they are in reality. Plus it’s less paperwork for them… also appealing from the customer’s perspective.”
James, of James Kurtz III
“I couldn’t afford to pay a lawyer to draft something, and I didn’t trust myself with creating this document, so I decided to go to my local University Law School and ask for help. It turns out they have a business law clinic that helps small businesses protect themselves with contracts and other legal matters. After working with a third-year law student, and one of the professors, I now have a wonderful document for my small business.
“You may benefit from calling your local university to see if they offer any similar services.”
Richard, of Peacock Carter
“We work in a similar way to Jennifer: a generic ‘terms of business’ document / contract, and then have a ‘project specification’ defining exactly what we’ll do, and what we need the client to do.
“We take 50% of the project’s cost up-front (although with existing clients / larger projects we’re happy to split the cost into more payments, taken at milestones defined in the project).”
Lauren, of Creative Curio
“The other benefit to established payment up-front is that it makes sure both the client and the designer have a vested interest in the project. Of course, even this doesn’t always work to make sure the client is serious about the project, but at least the designer gets partially paid for his / her trouble! Too many times my husband has had clients that will pay up-front and then let the project go for six months only to come back and demand it be finished in a day because, of course, he had plenty of time to finish it, being six months later and all.
“Slowly, we learn from our mistakes, and our contracts get longer.”
Thanks very much to Jennifer, Amanda, James, Richard, Lauren, and to everyone else who left advice on my original blog post.
I work in a similar way to Amanda, treating emails as indication that consensus has been reached. There’s no physical signing. Am I leaving myself open to a fall? You probably know better, but after four years in self-employment, so far so good.
If you’re interested in how designers charge their clients, here’s a previous three-parter that I hope is of help:
How 20 designers charge their clients