Contracts are a Necessary Pain

Graphic Designers are artists by trade. We craft style and branding from dust particles. We tap our wands and magic happens. But there are important business aspects of our work that cannot be overlooked, and yet often are. In order to ensure payment for your work, you should have a written,  contract signed by both parties that discloses your price for completing the project. It helps to have a lawyer to read over the contracts and make sure they are legal and binding, or have some legal knowledge of your own when writing one.

How many of us have unwillingly worked for free because we got scammed, or because we didn’t secure a contract prior to our work? I know that I have. There are a number of websites that can help you craft a simple form that can be used to clarify legal rights and responsibilities of each party in a design business transaction. I highly recommend having a lawyer on retainer for occasional aid in matters like these. When you first meet with a client proposing a project, these are the things you need to know to prepare any contract.

  • First, document every service you will be providing the client. You cannot be too detailed in the description of the project. You want the client to know precisely what services you are going to provide for them. You do not want any misunderstandings to occur, and you must be clear that any additional desires that are thought of after the contract and price are agreed upon, are subject to additional changes.

  • Second, make an appropriate completion promise. You and the client need to have an understanding of the precise date you will turn over the work (or an estimate to expect it finished), as well as any milestones along the way. You’ll also want to have exceptions planned for all contingencies. What sort of circumstance is allowable for being late? What sort of penalties do you as the designer incur; should you be late with that specific work?

  • Third, clearly state the cost of doing business. If it’s about money, it had better be in writing. You have the option of quoting a flat rate for all work or breaking down all costs. It’s your decision. Your price should be plainly indicated in your legal contract.  If you quote a flat rate, you should also put in writing that the price many change according to what the job entails. You have the option to list the costs of each individual task. Again, it would be wise for you to give yourself some leeway when quoting prices in the contract, in case the job is more work than originally anticipated.

  • Fourth, decide how you are to be paid. Do you want one lump-sum payment? When? At delivery of the project, or up front? You’ll need to decide if you want to require a deposit, or enforce a cancellation fee of any kind. It is recommended that you collect a deposit. The amount of the deposit to be paid to you by the client is at your discretion. It depends on how much work goes in that particular job and the amount of time you anticipate it will take to complete. When you begin the work,  state the full price plus the deposit requirement in your contract and bill the client for the full price as soon as you finish the project.

  • Finally, choose who owns the work once complete, and especially if it doesn’t get completed. If the project is cancelled before completion, you may want to retain the rights to the work you’ve done. Make sure that’s addressed here. Another consideration is whether you’d like to retain just enough rights to the work in order to include it in your personal artist portfolio and to promote your graphic design business. It is wise to retain the rights to your work so you can use it in your portfolio or on your website inf you chooses to advertise your work on the internet.

Drawing up contracts isn’t nearly as much fun as drawing up eye-catching logos and icons, but it protects you and ensures that you get paid. Of course every artist wants to be paid. The purpose of being a graphic designer, as the purpose of any company or business owner is to ensure the work you provide the client is high quality and that you get paid well for your work. The way you provide your clients with good service is to make clear the services you offer and make your designs according to the clients’ description as well as adding some of you own suggestions to make it better.