Most business owners would rather ignore the legal side of owning a company. Legal obligations tend to be a hassle or a headache more than anything else, and they rarely add value in terms of growing revenue. But you already know that ignoring legal is not the right way to go. By staying on top of the legal basics of your business, you can steer clear of problems later on.
One small step you can take on the legal side is to always use contracts when bringing in contractors to do work for your business. In this article, we are going to be talking specifically about hiring graphic designers. You’ll want to have a contract in place to govern that work, but what should it look like? What kinds of things should be covered in the contract and what can be left out? Contracts can be endlessly complicated, but let’s simplify it and get you pointed in the right direction.
The Risk of Going Contract-Free
Before diving into the details of what should be in a contract for a graphic design project, we’d like to highlight why it’s so important to take this step. Simply put, things can go sideways in a hurry when you don’t have a contract signed by both parties. A few of the many issues you can run into without a contract include –
- Unfinished work - If you aren’t covered by a contract, you will have little recourse if the designer fails to finish the project as expected. This could be because the designer simply walks away from the job unexpectedly, or because they were not on the same page regarding the final deliverables. Having a signed contract doesn’t eliminate the risk of these issues, but it does give you something to lean on should a problem arise.
- Disagreement on terms - Does your designer know exactly how much he or she will be paid for the work, and when those payments will be made? A contract would touch on those crucial issues. Payment conflicts are common when hiring a designer and they can ruin what would otherwise be a productive working relationship.
- Revisions - This is another area that can get tricky. As a business owner, you might want to request a couple of revisions to bring the final design project up to your specifications. But are those revisions covered in the original price of the project, or do they warrant an extra fee? Again, this is where a contract can cover your bases.
As you will see in the content to follow, establishing a basic design contract is not particularly complicated. And, for the hassle and headaches that it can save you later on, it’s completely worthwhile to put together a contract and have it signed by all involved.
To help you organize your own contract to hire a graphic designer, we are going to touch on eight important points. You may or may not need to include each of these depending on your needs but think them all through before drafting an agreement.
This is where it all starts with a design contract. Deliverables are nothing more than the work that is going to be passed from the designer to the business when the job is done. That might seem simple, but it can be a bit complicated depending on the type of project being completed.
It’s important for any design contract to clearly outline the deliverables that are due at the end of the job. There is no room for ambiguity or assumption on this point. Be as detailed as possible in this section to make sure both sides know what kind of work is to be provided. You might only request a specific set of deliverables at the end of the job, or you may have work that needs to be delivered along the way (such as a wireframe for a web design project).
Along with what is going to be delivered as part of this project, you’ll also need to define when it is going to be delivered. For a small project, you may have just one date – the date that the final work is due. For most jobs, however, and certainly bigger jobs, you will probably define some dates along the way when intermediate work is due to be provided.
These intermediate dates are often called ‘milestones’, and they are important for keeping the project on track. You are less likely to run into problems at the end if you have asked your designer to hit milestones along the way. Along with outlining the milestone dates and what is due on those dates, you can also include clauses for what happens if any of the deadlines are missed.
For a small business, it might not be necessary to outline how the communication process will work during the design project. Obviously, if you are the only person who works in your business, the designer will report to you. But what if you have a team of employees? If there is any doubt, you will want to outline the communication process in the contract to help things run smoothly.
For instance, you might put someone in your marketing department in charge of communication with the designer on a day to day basis. If any questions come up, the designer can reach out to your marketing person to get an answer. This keeps you out of the loop for small decisions and frees up your time for other tasks.
However, the contract may stipulate that you will be involved at specific points along the way, such as the deliverable milestones. On those occasions, the work is provided directly to you for review and feedback. You can structure this section of the contract any way you like, but taking the opportunity to explain how communication should work will streamline the project for both the business and the designer.
You might think first about using a contract to ensure that you get what you expect out of your designer, but this agreement is a two-way street. It may also be necessary to include what your responsibilities are in the process. For instance, you might need to provide certain reference or resource materials, and you may be required to provide feedback within a specific amount of time.
If your designer requests to add a client duties section to your contract, don’t look at it as a bad thing. Including as many details as possible in the contract is only going to protect both parties in the end. As long as you are agreeable to the terms they request, this is a standard section to be seen in a basic design contract.
Your designer will likely care about this section more than any other. He or she will want to know when to expect payment, and how much payment is being offered in exchange for services rendered. As you might expect, payment disputes are a relatively common occurrence, so there should be special attention paid to getting this section right.
Most design projects will feature at least a couple of different payments, if not more. Usually, the longer the project is expected to run, the more installments will be used to break up the total bill. For instance, if a project is expected to run for five months, there may be one payment due each month for the five months of the job. For a shorter job, the payment structure will be simpler – perhaps just 50% due at the start of the project and 50% due at completion.
Along with the payment terms, the revision section is one that can remove the potential for many headaches. In this section, you will outline how many revisions are expected to be provided as part of the agreement. At least one round of revisions is usually built into the contract, if not two or three. There will be some limit on how many rounds of revisions are included in the price of the job, however, to protect the designer for a client who keeps coming back for more.
In addition to how many rounds of revisions are included, there should also be a definition of what counts as a revision. Some projects ‘creep’ in the revision phase as the client asks for more and more things that aren’t really within the scope of the original job at all. By defining what a revision is, and detailing how many will be provided, you’re less likely to run into unwanted drama right at the end of the job.
Depending on the type of design project, it might be necessary to include some privacy language in your contract. A designer who is going to be working closely with your business is going to be exposed to information that may be proprietary in nature. Explaining what can and can’t be said about this project and their work with your business is an important step toward protecting your company’s assets.
It’s unlikely that a designer will set out to reveal trade secrets or anything like that. Such an action could be devastating for their career prospects. However, a designer without an intimate knowledge of your industry simply might not understand what is important information that needs to be guarded. By going over that in the contract, you are less likely to have things come out that you wanted to keep under wraps.
Use of Design in Promotion
This last point isn’t likely to be a big key in the contract, but it’s something to be aware of, nonetheless. Some designers may ask to use their work as they promote their services in the future. For instance, if you have a designer create a new website for your business, that designer might want to link to your site from their portfolio to show potential clients what kind of work they can do.
What you allow in this section is up to you. With that said, there isn’t much downside to allowing a designer to promote the work they did for you as part of their portfolio. In fact, it could lead to a little extra brand recognition for your business, which is always a good thing. Unless you have some specific reason for wanting to keep your design relationship a secret, allowing the designer to promote their work is commonplace.