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7 Essentials You Need In Your Freelance Design Contract

Creatives are just that…creative. Most of us in freelance design really don’t like to get involved in the minutiae and the grind of certain business tasks. Contract negotiation is one such task. You have to read through boring legalize and make sure that you don’t miss anything vital in the clauses. But when you work in freelance design, you don’t usually have the luxury of a legal department to look after your business for you.

Like all small business owners, you have to wear multiple hats. You may be a master of your craft, but you also have to be a jack of all other trades too. When you are negotiating your freelance design contract, being forewarned is forearmed. So, to help you with this onerous task, we’ve put together a list of seven essential items to keep in mind when creating that freelance design contract.

The 7 Deadly Details in a Freelance Design Contract

Item #1 The Fundamentals

There are certain items that all contracts need to include. Here, we’re talking about the obvious, such as terms of payment. As a freelance designer, you should also use the contract to establish a definition of delivery – this can be as an appendix to the main contract and can come in useful for referring the client back to their original remit and so avoiding the dreaded scope creep. You can read more about the basics of a contract in our post on important clauses to include in a contract.

Item #2 Types of contract

Docracy is a free open source repository for legal documents and it has a number of freelance design contract templates that you can use as a basis for your own contract. Bear in mind, however, that you really will need to tailor these to suit your own needs. In fact, ApproveMe is a great place to utilize contract templates by storing them centrally, then reusing them, as you need, with the ability to ultimately sign off the contract once agreed.

There are a number of different types of design contracts that you can call upon for your projects. Some examples are:

  1. The Nondisclosure Agreement (NDA): This is less a contract and more an agreement to protect each other’s intellectual property.
  2. Work for Hire: This is usually a short-term agreement where you rent your artistic services out to a company and they retain the copyright over the work produced.
  3. Short form design contract: This is a cut-down version of a full blown contract and meant for quick, one-off projects with minimal value.
  4. AIGA standard form of agreement for design services: AIGA are the Professional Association for Design and they have created this contract template as a basic outline for a full blown design contract that can be tailored to your own client requirements. This is good for longer term and more valuable projects.

Item #3 Copyright

Copyright is often a contentious issue. This is one where you may want to get in some professional advice. In general, if you create it, you own the copyright and the client is paying for the right to use that work under your copyright. But this isn’t always the case and you could be handing over copyright without realizing it. This may be true if you are doing a ‘work for hire’ type project. In some cases, you may assign copyright to the client, but again, you need to be careful that you don’t then also assign rights to use certain design elements in other work. More in-depth details can be found at AIGA.

Item #4 Points of contact

When you’re working on a project that is complex and involves input from multiple parties, it can get out of hand. This is often where scope creep rears its ugly head, as members of the extended team don’t always communicate ideas and changes effectively. If you can, try and get a point of contact added to your design contract so you can funnel information and requests through that person – a project manager is an ideal person to do this.

Item #5 The killing fields fee

This is a fee that is paid to a freelance designer if the contract comes to an abrupt end, aka it’s canceled. How you schedule the fee is up to the negotiations at the outset. But something like a pro-rata charge based on work completed is often used.

Item #6 Revision control

If anything is more annoying that continuous, often pointless revisions, just for the sake of them, I’d love to know about it. Of course, some revisions need to be accommodated; after all, it’s a rare designer that gets it right, the first time. But controlling revisions is important, to keep costs in control. Set a clause with a certain number, perhaps two or three revisions for free, then any more than that will come at a charge to be set in the contract. This will prevent a client taking advantage of revisions.

Item #7 Deadlines, deadlines, deadlines

Deadlines are important for both parties to a contract. They make is easy for you to schedule in a project, especially if you have other projects on the go. They are also a really good way of incentivizing the project to completion and keeping both parties cognizant of the need to communicate effectively. You’ll also know when this project is due to end so you can schedule in more work.

Freelance design contracts may begin the wheels of procrastination, but they are an essential part of a freelancing business. If you get them right, they can also be a great business tool, that helps you to build your business, make sure you’re paid on time, and to manage your own business efficiently and proactively.

Success!