How I screwed up my designer contract
As a designer, I honestly never spent much time freelancing. I never liked it. Too many risks and way too much stress. I’ve always found comfort in the agency life, with account reps acting as the brave defenders of creative land!
But last year I decided to take the plunge head first into freelancing. Not full time, but as a legitimate side-hustle. Little did I know, I was in for a wild ride.
After a few weeks of little jobs and commissions, my big break finally came. I won’t reveal the client for obvious reasons, but I was asked to create some illustrations for a huge company in Europe. It would be a ton of work and the payout was sorely needed. This was it!
Luckily, my colleague told me to make sure I had a contract for a project this big. So I threw one together and got it signed.
They hated it
Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you still fail. Art is subjective and not everyone will like it.
Plus, the client had requested multiple revisions and, even after my warning, exceeded their budget. However, I never updated the estimate. I was stuck relying on a contract I had just thrown together.
So this is how my old contract worked:
It only stated my hourly rate, and payment was only required at the end. Any estimates or changes in expectations were handled via email. Plus, it guaranteed two rounds of revisions before a new contract and rate were required.
Every part of that of that was bad. When a client doesn’t like your work and doesn’t want to pay for it, they won’t pull any punches. They criticized my skill, my correspondence and the hours it took, all in the effort of finding a way to break me and disqualify the contract. They used scare tactics like “We will speak with our legal department about this”, and threw every insult they could think of at me.
If I were any less experienced that would have worked, but I knew what I was worth. Never sell yourself short. Stand your ground and defend your hard work.
The only estimate I had was the first one I emailed them. Even though I had already warned them they would go over their budget, they only felt they owed the first estimate if anything at all. I had nothing to defend myself with since my contract didn’t contain an estimate.
Plus, there were no rush fees covered anywhere in the contract, and what qualifies as a “revision” is subjective apparently. I was having to fight to be paid for work I had already fought to earn.
What it should have said:
1. Include an estimate
The estimate is your safety net. If everything goes wrong, you need a signed document with the cost of labor printed right on the front. If you begin to go over that estimate, make a new contract.
2. Don’t even mention revisions
After this experience, I feel revision rounds are just not an effective mile marker. Instead, I now rely on hours. My new contract covers an allotted sum of hours along with an estimate. Exceeding either of those requires a new contract to be signed. And you can bet I track and log my time.
3. Require upfront payment
I used to think this would turn clients away. I thought simply requiring them to pay before receiving the work would cover me, but if your client doesn’t want your work, why would they pay for it?
Let me clarify: You should always be paid for services rendered, even if the client doesn’t like it. They are paying for your time.
Thus, I now require payment upfront for one-off projects like this. You may even want to have full payment due before you begin working, but that’s up to you.
4. Update it
As the project progresses, don’t rely on phone calls and assumptions. When the timeline, cost or expectations change, your contract should too. Just revise the estimate and get a new signature.
Take this! It’s dangerous to go alone!
I’m still young in my freelancing, but I feel this contract is a huge step up. So take it and edit it to fit your projects. Keep revising it and let me know if there’s anything you’d change. Read it and make sure you fully understand it before you use it.
Write the product description above this.
This agreement (the “Agreement”) is made by and between the “Client” and the “Designer.” In consideration of the mutual agreement made herein, both parties agree as follows:
- The Designer agrees to produce what is described in the project description at the request of the Client. These files will be delivered in formats such as: “.ai, .psd, .pdf, and .jpg”. Designer agrees that he will be the sole author of the work, which will be original work and free of plagiarism.
- This contract covers XX hours of work. Any further time needed will require a new contract agreement.
- Client agrees to pay Designer 50% of the total project cost before any services are provided, and the remaining 50% is to be paid before any workable files are delivered. If the parameters of the work change, or if it involves more time than estimated, Designer will inform Client and they can renegotiate the work’s cost.
- Any requests declared within 5 days of their respective deadline are subject to a rush fee of XX%. Any expenses exclusive of normal overhead are not included in this agreement and will be billed separately. Examples of such expenses are: delivery services, long-distance telephone calls, travel, stock photography, and meals when traveling.
- Both parties understand that Client or Designer may terminate the service at any time if, for any reason, the relationship is deemed unsatisfactory by either party. Upon written or verbal cancellation, Client is responsible for payment for all expenses incurred and any work done towards the completion of the project based on the percentage of the project completed that is determined by Designer. Should Client cancel the project following its completion, Client is responsible
- for full payment as per the agreed upon estimate plus all expenses incurred. In the event of cancellation, Designer retains ownership of all copyrights and original work created.
- Upon delivery, Client retains full responsibility of provided files. Designer is not responsible for storage and safe keeping of files.
- Unless strict confidentiality is requested by Client in advance of the establishment of this contract, Designer can display materials and final work created for Client.
- Client promises to pay for the services rendered by Designer for the work as agreed upon. By signing below, Client agrees they have read, understood, and are considered legally bonded to these terms.
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