Join Terry Lee Stone for an in-depth discussion in this video Introduction to contracts, part of Running a Design Business: Designer-Client Agreements.
When we are talking about a Designer-Client Agreement, we are really talking about a contract. I will say it right up front, contracts are your friend. Let's start at the beginning, you'll want to title your contract with one of these names, call it Agreement, Deal Memo or Estimate or you can call it Proposal, which seems to be the most commonly accepted name for this document. Others simply call this document a Contract. In essence, the agreement that you will submit outlining your services and compensation on a particular project becomes a contract between you and your client once it is accepted and signed.
There is a school of thought among some designers to first submit a proposal with project information and costs only and then later hit the client up with a contract containing the legal copy. I don't subscribe to that. I like one document with everything, all in one place, it's less paperwork and clear to clients. Creating a formal written contract between you and your clients has a variety of benefits. Designer-Client Agreements are legal and binding document. If signed, they will hold up in court. They are an important planning activity, because creating them makes you think through what you will be doing and how you will be doing it.
Agreements are great communication tool, because both you and the client can talk through the deliverables and the creative process, and agreements also work as a sales and marketing opportunity, because you can include relevant samples of other work to show them your expertise. All of which sets you up as a professional. This will elicit more trust from your client. The more buttoned up you are in the beginning, the more likely you'll be to have a smooth relationship with your client and that will ultimately result in better creative work. Designer-Client Agreements can look different from designer to designer.
You will find some samples for your review included in the Resource Guide for this course. Generally speaking, these agreements are branded to the designer, which means it matches your identity system. They are on a design carrier sheet that's similar to your letterhead, most often they are formatted 8.5" x 11". They are clean and professional, no tricky or unreadable typography. They contain simple or extensive contents depending on the designer's choice and typically are provided to clients in PDF form for approval. Of course you can be a rebel, you don't have to follow these formatting suggestions to the letter, just make sure that your agreements are designed well and will work in both print and PDF formats, because you'll likely use both delivery methods.
- Understanding the anatomy of a contract
- Scoping the project
- Estimating your costs
- Subcontracting work
- Heading off problems