Yes, we've heard it before: spending a little time now will save you hours and hours of work in the future. But it's so true! Especially when it comes to freelance graphic design and beginning relationships with new clients.
I understand the excitement that comes with winning a new client, and discovering the puzzle that you'll have fun solving for them, but it's important to first set out the project expectations in a clearly-defined document that both you and your client agree to. Yes, that means setting aside time and writing, but trust me! It will save you many potential headaches down the road.
Here are some tips about what you should include in your contract so that you have a solid agreement that you can refer back to if you run into problems mid-project:
1. DEFINE THE AMOUNT OF WORK YOU ARE OFFERING YOUR CLIENT
It's true that as designers, we hope to deal with trustworthy clients who won't take advantage of us, but unfortunately that isn't always the case. You must define at the outset how much of your time and effort is included in your price (I normally define this by project milestones), or else you might find yourself in a place where you're putting in many more hours than anticipated, and will become frustrated with your client.
I recently ran into a situation which made me very thankful that I had clearly laid out the project scope before putting in any design work. This project was a logo design for a new company, and after some communication, it became clear to me that my client didn't have very clear direction.
I put in the hard work of creating 3 design concepts, and refining the chosen concept based on my client's feedback. We got to a point where the design was nearly complete, when my client decided he wanted to scratch everything and go back to the drawing board.
Thankfully, in my original agreement with my client over the project scope, I had stated that my logo design work included 3 original unique concepts, with 3 revisions on the chosen design. I had also stated that anything outside of the project scope would be billed at my hourly rate.
Because I had this clause in our original agreement, I was able to refer back to that and get paid for doing a complete re-haul of the design. I was then glad to go forward with the project, and the client was happy to compensate me for my time.
2. ONCE THE PROJECT IS COMPLETE, IT'S OFF YOUR PLATE
Make sure your client knows this one! Have a clause in your agreement that explains that, once the agreed-upon project scope is over, your client is responsible for any further changes or implementations of your work. Also state that you as the designer are not responsible for any problems that your client runs into with the project after your work is done.
Your client also needs to know that they are responsible for any desired output. They can certainly hire you again for help with the printing process, but that is not included in your original agreement.
3. INCLUDE A CANCELLATION POLICY
Sometimes designers and clients just aren't a good fit for each other, and that's okay! Let your client know that either they or you can cancel the project at any time for any reason. However, you also need to make sure your client agrees to compensating you for the work you completed up to the point of cancellation.
Just because your client isn't happy with the work you've done doesn't mean they get the work for free. Think about it: if you call a plumber to fix your faucet, and you decide you aren't happy with his work after he leaves, you are still expected to compensate him for the time he spent at your house. The same should be true in the design world. Of course, we all aim to make our clients fall in love with the design work we provide them, but that doesn't always happen.
4. GET A SIGNATURE
Get your document signed! Whether electronically or physically, it doesn't really matter, but you need that signature to fall back on in case something goes wrong.
I hope these tips help you avoid problems that are easily preventable by writing a good, solid contract. Be sure to check back here for more insider tips and insights!