Why contracts are a crucial part of freelancing

No matter what type of industry you are in, there is always a contract that must be agreed upon, by both parties, before entering into any active work. The contract (or agreement) is crucial. It defines the terms of the relationship, the scope of the work for which the provider will be hired, as well as details regarding additional work beyond the scope. For most designers, scope creep is something that is often times difficult to avoid. A contract helps avoid any miscommunication about what is included in the services you will be providing.

Making sure that the estimate is clear, is the most important part of a project. By listing what is (and is not) included, will help set the tone for a smooth working relationship between freelancer and client. Think about it: Even your dry cleaner has a contract (or sign) that says “Not responsible for items not picked up after 30 days”. If you go back to your dry cleaner 3 months later and they can not find your shirt, can you really hold them responsible? Some may say yes, and others may say no. But I assure you, the dry cleaner will refer to that sign/disclaimer. No doubt about it.

You’re probably thinking: “Why is the contract so important? After all, someone wants me to design/code a website. Sounds simple enough, right?” Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.  So, then what’s the problem, you ask?  Well, I’ll tell you.

When I design/develop a website, there are many things that are included, and many things that are not:

Included:

  • Organize an appropriate architecture or “sitemap” for the website
  • Creation of the actual website design/layout
  • Upon approval of the design (which must be received in writing), coding the site
  • Entering client provided content (ie; text & images) into the website pages
  • Uploading/installing the final website onto the client server
  • Assisting the client secure domain & website hosting
  • Basic usage instructions (if site is a CMS)

Not included:

  • Purchasing/researching stock photography
  • Extensive photo retouching
  • Copywriting for the website
  • Website hosting contract
  • Revisions to a design/layout after site has been approved and coded

To those who are not familiar with website design and development, the “not included” list may sound odd. However, I assure you the items in the “not included” list require additional time, cost & sometimes contracts with a 3rd party. Just like if you were building a house, and kept adding features (recessed lighting, garbage disposal, central air, upgraded appliances, 2nd story, etc), the contractor would need to charge additional fees for materials and labor, right?  Even that same dry cleaner will charge an additional fee if you bring in 10 sweaters and 3 pair of pants compared to 2 sweaters and no pants. The same goes for a freelancer designer or developer: More features = more time/fees.

The best contracts are very specific and spells out all applicable terms, as well as the itemized list of the services which will be provided for the fees charged. Included should be a subsequent list of fees for services that go beyond what have been listed in the estimate. It should all be very clear and about 99.99% of the time, there will not be an issue.

The other .01% of the time, the issue comes down to a miscommunication, plain and simple. Most often, this miscommunication is because the client did not understand (or read) the contract, and simply did not question it.

Every once in a while there is a situation where additional time/services are required and the client won’t understand why it will cost more. This is where scope creep comes into play and needs to be dealt with immediately, before any further miscommunication occurs. More to come on scope creep soon, so stay tuned!

4 thoughts on “Why contracts are a crucial part of freelancing

  1. Great post. I like how you’ve outlined what’s included and not included. I want to try to avoid as many issues as possible, so these are important to call out from the beginning. Ultimately, this saves both the designer and the client headaches should anything new pop up or change.

    • Thanks Margaret. Over time, I find that I am even revising my contracts as I learn new things with each new client experience. It’s a perpetual learning experience, but it’s always important to start with the right tools as a base, and build from that. Good luck in your adventures! Wishing you as few headaches as possible ;)

  2. Great blog. I have had a few issues with clients not understanding what they have signed up for. It is usually me who takes the hit!

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