For most larger freelance projects, designers should make a formal agreement with the client (such as a contract). An agreement protects you by documenting the terms under which you agreed to work.

If something should go wrong with your client relationship, a formal agreement shows that you were engaged to work for the client. It can also settle minor disputes such as method of payment.

In this post, I list five crucial elements that every freelance designer should include in their client/freelancer agreement. If you liked this post, you will probably also like Do You Need A Contract For Freelance Work?

5 Critical Parts of a Client/Freelancer Agreement

I frequently hear from clients who are struggling with a client. When I ask them specifically about their client/freelancer agreement, their answer is often, “what agreement?”

Without an agreement or a formal contract, it’s your word against the client’s word if something goes wrong with your project.

When you’re crafting a client agreement, be sure to include each of the items below.

Disclaimer: I am not a legal expert and this post should not be taken as legal advice. The advice is based on my own experience as a freelancer. Your experience may vary.

  1. Payment terms. Be sure to include the amount and the date when payment is due. If you require clients to pay a percentage up front, be sure to specify that. Also, the method of payment (PayPal or other service, check, direct deposit, etc.) should be listed. If you charge a fee for late payments, specify when a payment is considered late and include the amount (or percentage) of the late fee.
  2. Due date and method of delivery. When is the project due? Is the work an ongoing commitment (with regular deadlines), or is it a one-time design project? What will happen if the deadline is missed? Is there a grace period? How will the work be delivered to the client? Will it be delivered through an email attachment, a project management tool, FTP, or by some other method?
  3. Scope of work. Explain exactly what you have agreed to do for the client. Be as detailed as possible. It’s usually a good idea to state that there will be an additional charge for work the client requests that is outside the scope of the project. If you expect that there will be scope changes to the project, you may wish to outline a scope change process.
  4. Client responsibilities. Most projects rely on client input. In this part of your agreement, list the client’s responsibilities towards the project. Do they need to give you access to their site? Do they need to provide answers to your questions in a timely fashion? Try to think of everything that you might need from the client in order to complete the work.
  5. Number of revisions or ongoing support. Some design projects include revisions, or ongoing support. If this is the case, be sure to include the details in your agreement. Be specific. How many revisions are included? How long will you continue to support the project? Is the support included in the project fee, or will an additional fee be charged for this work?

Now that I’ve listed what your contract or freelancing agreement should include, it’s time to discuss when to use a freelancing contract or agreement.

When Should I Use a Contract or an Agreement?

Generally speaking, I don’t recommend starting any project without at least some written record that contains the elements above. For example, I never start work based solely on an oral agreement. If I do come to an oral agreement with a client during a meeting or phone call, I send an email to that client describing what we discussed. I then ask the client to review the email and confirm that it is correct.

For very small projects, an email may be enough to serve as a record of your freelancing agreement with the client. For client agreements that involve large sums of money, I strongly recommend using a formal contract. It may be some extra work on your part (and you may even need the help of an attorney), but if something goes wrong with your project the extra effort will be worth it.

Your Turn

Do you use a formal client contract? What elements do you include on your contract?

Share your answers in the comments.

Image by m.gifford

Posted by Laura Spencer

Laura Spencer is a freelance writer from North Central Texas with over 20 years of professional business writing experience. If you liked this post, then you may also enjoy Laura’s blog about her freelance writing experiences, WritingThoughts. Laura is also on Google+.

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