Designing Your Freelance Design Contract: 8 Must-Have’s

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Amidst all the excitement that comes along with onboarding a new design client, sending a contract may not even be on your mind. But it really should be. A freelance design contract communicates a whole lot to your new design client. Not only does it protect both parties (you and the client) as you work together, but it also serves as an extension of your brand and overall professionalism.

As a designer, or any freelancer for that matter, working without a contract in place is costly and risky. Having a freelance design contract signed and sealed can help you define scope clearly and avoid legal and financial trouble down the road.

Why you need a freelance design contract in the first place

In your freelance design business, your contract is a legally binding agreement between you and your client. As soon as you both read and sign it, the contract has mutual assent. In other words, a signed contract means you both agree to the offer and accept the Terms and Conditions.

In most cases, you’ll want to wait for the signed contract before you begin work. Doing so allows you and your client to collaborate with confidence. On your end, you’ll know that your client is aware of, and agrees to, the costs, fees, and project scope. And on their end, they know exactly what services they will get from their payment to you. The freelance design contract also details a project timeline, so that your client knows when to expect deliverables and invoices.

A killer freelance design contract helps you get crystal clear about:

  • What both parties agree to do and what their respective responsibilities are during the freelance design contract
  • The specifics of the deal and exactly what is or isn’t included in the design project
  • What happens when something changes or one party changes their mind (which is more common than what you might think)
  • A simple overview of Copyrights and legal matters

Now that we know why we need a freelance design contract in place, let’s get to what details to include in it!

1. Project overview

Every freelance design contract needs a project overview. A short statement will suffice—use it to explain what you will do for your client.

There’s no need to keep this section lengthy. Including details of your initial freelance proposal in the contract is a good starting point. You can also include the project start date in your overview, which should have been mutually agreed upon in previous communications.

💡 Example:

“Firstname Lastname (known as “Freelance Designer”) will provide Brand XYZ (known as “Client”) with 1 branding style guide (including 1 logo) and 3 landing pages, as per the Terms and Conditions detailed below”.

2. Scope

Being intentional and clear about the scope involved is vital to developing an estimate and finalizing a fee that makes sense for the work you put in.

Getting clear on scope also helps avoid scope creep—changes (continuous or uncontrolled growth) in your project’s scope that occurs at any point after the project begins.

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), if scope is not clearly defined, documented and controlled, scope creep is detrimental. And for obvious reasons.

Scope creep creates the tendency for you, as the designer, to do more than you’ve listed in your freelance design contract. 1 logo could turn into 2-3 iterations and 3 landing pages could unintentionally turn into 4. Whatever the case, documenting scope clearly in your freelance design contract will mutually bind both parties’ expectations on what exactly your offering is.

3. Deliverables

Deliverables define exactly what your client will get in return for the cost of purchasing your design services.

Be sure to include details on:

  • A breakdown of individual assets (e.g. logo, banner images, etc.)
  • Target delivery dates for each asset
  • Delivery method and file types (e.g. will you be sending the files in JPEG or PNG? PDF or DropBox File?)
  • For larger projects, include key milestones to define the key points in your project timeline (note: milestones are a great scheduling technique to mark the completion of a major phase of work—or deliverable)

4. What, how, and when you get paid

Getting paid is, no doubt, the best part of a freelance design contract. It’s also one of the most critical ones. In this section of the freelance design contract, clearly explain the client’s responsibilities and your expectations.

The “what, how and when” here is key. Be sure to include these items in the design contract:

  • Project fee (you can include a breakdown of the total fee if desired by your client)
  • Allowed payment method(s)
  • Payment deadline
  • Fees associated with late or non-payment (this substantially helps with early or on-time payments and your overall business cash flow)

These details in the contract are the building blocks to authorizing your future payment when you send your designer invoice. Think of this description as a high-level, written promise between you and your design client. When you do happen to complete the work and invoice them, these details should reflect what has been stated in your freelance design contract.

One way to create your invoice is to check back on what was written in the design contract. However, most invoicing apps, like Truly Small Invoices, already have built-in fields like line items, payment deadline, and total fees to help guide you.

5. Revisions and any additional work

Often, good clients are satisfied with a single round of design revisions. But others can be more picky or indecisive—resulting in multiple rounds of revisions.

There are two ways to protect yourself as designer:

  1. Define Revisions. Clearly state the number of revisions included on the freelance design contract.
  2. Insert a Clause. Include a clause in the Terms and Conditions that will protect you in the scenario where a client changes core project details or direction halfway through the contract. A clause like the one below will not only limit revisions, but encourage clients to be very clear about what they want upfront.

💡 Example:

“The Freelance Designer will develop 1 branding style guide, including 1 logo and 3 landing pages (with jpegs, pngs, and vector versions) for the Client. The Designer allows one round of revisions. If the Client requires more than one round of revisions or the development of other assets, it is considered beyond the “Scope of Work” and the Designer will bill an hourly rate of $X/hr for any ongoing work beyond.”

6. Legal

Things can be going smoothly as a freelance designer, but as soon as you encounter one bad client experience, it can ruin the rest of the experience. If at any point, your design work results in a client sue-ing you, your business could be in the fire. All it takes to protect your business legally is to include some savvy legal text,so that you can avoid any legal issues coming from your client.

You may be curious: what kind of legal issues would I run into? Well, let’s say you accidentally sold a copyrighted image as part of the Branding Style Guide you created for your client. Technically and legally speaking, the client has every right to take legal action against you. That’s because you provided the image in the first place!

7. Copyright & intellectual property (IP) protections

As a freelance designer and creative, the best way to acquire new clients and build your portfolio is through your existing clients. That means showcasing the work you have done to grow your career. Unfortunately, due to copyright and IP protections, some contracts don’t allow you to claim everything you create.

In your freelance design contract, you can change that! Be sure to include a section that confirms the client will give you permission to use the work you created within your portfolio, or for other business strategies that will help you grow your clientele. Most clients have no problem allowing this—as long as their project and company information is showcased within your portfolio.

8. Termination

Not every project or contract is sunshine and rainbows. In fact, it is very likely that a project can go south. It can be as simple as disagreeing on something, lost in funding for some reason, or an issue around the initially agreed upon scope. It could even be that your work did not meet the standard of your client’s expectations. Whatever the case be, you—as the freelance designer—need an escape route. A clause (that specifies a notice period or termination fee) within your freelance design contract can help safeguard you against any unpredictable disruptions to both your workflow and income.

A freelance design contract is key to protecting your time, energy, and resources

Getting your freelance design contract written well the first time is the foundation to the success of your future design contracts. The great thing about this is that you can always refine your design contract—making it increasingly better over time. Tailoring it to your business, industry, how you like to get paid, and even the timing of your bookkeeping all begins at the contract stage. From there, invoicing as a designer is a whole lot easier because you’ve already thought ahead and have key details written on a mutually-binding contract.

Depending on the size of your business and your invoicing needs, TrulySmall offers two products that can help with the “what, how and when” of getting paid. Send your first free invoice today with TrulySmall Invoices or start a 14-day free trial with TrulySmall Accounting if you need to do more, like accept payments, track income/expenses, and manage sales tax. 

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