At some point we all need a contract. Nobody likes them, everybody hates them, yet we can't live without them. They are a vitally important step in our web design business. In their absence a he said, she said, you said game is just waiting to happen. Learn what's the difference between a proposal and a contract, what to include, and download a sample to get you started.
Don't overlook this aspect of setting up your web business. If you do, you'll be sorry. Sooner rather than later you'll have a run in with someone who might say, "That's not what we discussed." Then they'll proceed to take you on a roller coaster ride of changes, just because the vision they had at the beginning isn't panning out the way it did in their head. With that said, having a contract won't protect you 100% from clients like that and it won't even be a 100% slam dunk to defend in court either. It'll just help your case tremendously.
So What's the Difference?
When I was starting out, I didn't have a contract. I mean it isn't the first thing you look to do when setting up your business. Who wants to sit down and draft some legal document. All of those here-in's, wherefore's, and whatchamacallits can make your head spin. It wasn't long before I figured it would be much safer to have a detailed outline of what the project would entail. So I did what most people do, I created proposal document.
Proposal documents are great for proposals. They are for convincing your potential client to hire you over a competitor. They can have loads of detail in them, but often times a client will only skim that document. After all, we know that a potential client is really only interested in the bottom line. Just like a Human Resources department will quickly sort through applications, our clients are busy and don't want to read the details of every proposal they get. I do think it is a good idea to include discussed details in your proposal like a clearly defined scope, what deliverables were discussed, and any underlying assumptions that could play a factor in their decision. Wait just a minute! Didn't you just say that clients don't read them. Yes I did, however some clients will and it is a good idea to cover your bases.
Now contracts on the other hand are sent out after this potential client agrees to hire you. Contracts typically cover the same information proposals do and in some cases they are an identical document with only a 'title' change. Clients tend to browse proposals, but a contract begs a closer look. So you can bet that your contract will have a better chance of getting a thorough reading. It should also include some additional information or details that you typically won't find in a proposal. So lets read what kind of content our contracts should have.
Content is King
And you thought content for websites is the only king! What you put into your contract is extremely important for more reasons than just to have verbiage. There can be some legal implications with your contracts should a dispute arise. I should tell you that I am not a lawyer and my advice isn't perfect and the sample that I include at the bottom of this article isn't legally foolproof. If you are concerned about writing your own contract, I recommend hiring a lawyer to aid you. Disclaimers out of the way, your contract should contain a thorough statement of work (SOW). Your SOW should include at the very least these basics:
- An Overview: Your overview should contain a brief description or summary of the requested work to be done. I find this to be the most effective when limited to 2-4 sentences.
- Project Details: This is where the meat of your contract will be. You should include a detailed description of what is going to be done, how you plan to do it, and what color your shirt will be. Ok, you can leave out the last part. Whenever possible include specifics and numbers. (i.e. number of pages, project due date, etc...)
- Deliverables: Simply describe what they'll get from you. Whether they'll get a .zip file of the site, a CD, or whether you are going to upload it directly to their site upon completion or final payment.
- Ownership: We all know that clients will ultimately receive ownership of the site. However, it is a good idea to specify that you will retain the rights to the format and the organization of the design. After all most of the time you've taken some creative license in your design, so you should retain the ownership of it.
- Pricing: What would a contract be without the prices that you agreed upon during the proposal stages. Make sure you include how you will be billing. Will it be a fixed price, will it be time & materials, or is it a donation? Be specific.
- Payment Terms: This is your place to layout the details of payment. Will they be required to make a deposit prior to work starting, are there going to be installments, is it going to be on a per hour basis, or just plain terms like Net 30? Don't leave anything implied.
- Signatures: This is a must for contracts! You should have a spot at the very least for their signature? So don't forget it!
In addition to all of those basics, I recommend including some more legal sections that do not change from project to project. Some things could include arbitration, description of your collection process on past due invoices, or just permission to include this project in your portfolio. As with everything, your contract should be tweaked and crafted to fill in the gaps you discover as your company grows. Your experience will dictate what needs to be added and what needs to be reworded.
Don't Forget the Sample
It would have been nice when I started out to have a basic contract to modify, look off of, or copy. So I am going to provide what I would have liked. This is a basic contract to use as a base for creating your own. I have included the basic sections and some generic copy as described above, take this and craft it into your own. Use it as a base or just download it and throw it away - it's up to you.
Disclaimer: The provided sample has not been reviewed by a lawyer and is to be used as an example. I do not claim any legal foolproof-ness to it and FocusMinded is to be held harmless.
- Sample Web Design Contract - Adobe Reader Format (.PDF) [right click save as to download]
- Sample Web Design Contract - a ZIP file that contains an editable Word Document (.DOC) [right click save as to download]
If you've ran into any situations where you're contract has saved your quester, or it has exposed some problems please share them. We'd all like to benefit from the experience of others.