Web contracts – the importance and the problem many freelancers face

Did you remember to draw up that contract between you and your client?

You get solicited for work, either through a friend of a friend who knows someone who wants a site or you have a good thing going and are getting a steady flow of work coming in. You may even have a laid back and friendly approach when doing your web projects. However each time you are completing projects you seem to be more stressed going from one to the next. Is this a coincidence?

The contributory factors could number into double digits but one large problem is that is quite common is that there are no clear definitions written down, something that clearly outlines what the client wants and what you have agreed to delivery by the end of the project.

Now you are at a stage where the client is stating that you promised this and that, but you are absolutely convinced that you promised no such thing. Now the client states that the service you provided is only worth 70% of what you charged them so they pay only 60% to be spiteful (I’ve heard this happen several times to others in the industry). This is where there forms misunderstanding, ambiguity, a breakdown in communication between you and them.

“Why did I NOT create and get a CONTRACT, CONTRACT, CONTRACT agreed (as you face-palm yourself)?!!?”

Definition of contract: A written or spoken agreement, esp. one concerning employment, sales, or tenancy, that is intended to be enforceable by law. an agreement with specific terms between two or more persons or entities in which there is a promise to do something in return for a valuable benefit known as consideration. – Source Legal Dictionary

I had a friend of mine spill his frustrations in a rant to me about a client of his which prompted me to write this.

This happens all the time. It’s happens to novices to “want who be designers/developers” and has even happened to more experienced designers/developers who believe that their ‘judgement call’ on a situation is to be trusted over a written agreement, therefore FAILING protecting themselves and the client. There are pro’s and cons to having a contract in place and not having one in place;

Advantages (a contract)

  • You know what the client wants and expects.
  • You can track your deliverables against this documentation.
  • The project scope clearly laid out
  • You appear more professional
  • You protect your rights

Disadvantages (not contract)

  • Inaccuracy of what is delivered to the client
  • Nothing to track against – project is not scoped out
  • Nothing defined of how and by when the project is to be completed
  • No definitions listed of what the client expects (clients can change their minds, several times)

OK so it’s really pro’s and pro’s if you looked at the above from a different perspective and that is just to name a few things. I am pointing out the obvious here, but because this is such a massive problem today, is it really that obvious? May not to some.

So with that in mind, a good contract should be able to;

  1. Protect both parties
  2. Outline scope of work, milestones/timescales (where applicable) and specifics
  3. Revision, alterations or amends
  4. Limits on Liability
  5. Responsibilities of the client
  6. Costs, details of payment
  7. Intellectual property

This is by no means a comprehensive list of EVERYTHING a freelance contractor/consultant would need to include in their contract but it is a good starting point for designers who have not used a contract in the past, or for those who have used a contract but is insufficient.

Most independent freelancers will prefer to have a template they can customise, or have a proposal document that is legally binding once signed and agreed – either way those things will represent a contract if signed and agreed by you and that client (the client would sign the document). Just make sure that it includes the above at least whichever method you use.

I’d be interested in hearing your views and experiences on this.

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