Client Agreement and Policy

As with any type of service related job, it is only common sense to have a client agreement and policy. This ensures that both parties understand what is expected to make sure that the job gets done. With freelance design, here are 2 things you need to do before you start any job:

  1. Client Agreement and Policy
  2. Get a deposit

Why I Stopped Doing Up Design Contracts

I use to be really adamant in making sure that contracts get signed and T’s are crossed, but one time, in one of my other businesses, we did not collect a deposit (because we were stupid) and the client bailed on the $4000 invoice after the services were rendered. He was nowhere to be found. We hired a Paralegal after many failed attempts with collection agencies. The Paralegal required a $500 retainer and did the whole Magnum PI thing but after several months, the trail went cold. A few months later, we received word that this bandit got a new job so we were able to garnish his wages. But that only happened for one month because he quit that job shortly after. We basically made back what we paid the lawyer ($450) and was still out the $4000.

Another time, we had the same thing happen but the client was a company within the same industry as ours and within the same circles. We had a really good relationship with them (or so we thought) so we were really confused as to why they were not paying nor answering their phones or email. We started off by hiring a collections company again (which did not work) and then decided to use the same Paralegal, paid the same retainer fee but this time, we actually got payment back a little over a year later.

What’s the difference? The first time, it was an end user, a regular person off the street. The second time, it was a company. I believe that the company paid us back because their names were on the line.

So what am I really getting at?

If the client doesn’t want to pay, then they won’t pay, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Hiring a Paralegal or Lawyer will cost you money and you aren’t guaranteed to get a nickel back. And do you really want to go to small claims court for $5000? The reason why we couldn’t even take the first guy off the street to court was because the Paralegal couldn’t find him. People can miraculously disappear off the planet!

So when you think about it, my puny design contract isn’t going to do a danged thing if I can’t even get the guy to court.

So What Do I Do Instead of Create a Contract?

Client Agreement and Policy Template

I create an agreement with an attached policy. An agreement just sounds nicer and friendlier. The motive for this agreement is to let the client know what they can expect from me and what I can expect from them. The motive is not to create a legal contract where I take them to court if they don’t pay. That just sets a bad tone. And instead of creating a wordy, Elvish language that only Gandalf can read, I create it in English so that humans can read. You won’t find any “here forthwith” or “hereinafter referred to as”. I want the client to understand what I am going to do and what is expected of them if they want the project done to their spec!

What to Include in the Client Agreement and Policy

  • Client / Company Name / Address / Contact Info
  • Project name and start date
  • Scope of work – be very specific!
  • Payment schedule
  • Signature from both parties
  • Attach your policies to the agreement – have this policy also available on your website with a date stamp so that your client can always reference it.
  • Don’t forget to download my Free Client Agreement and Policy Template!

Get the Deposit

No ifs ands or buts. You need to cover your cost. My policy is 50% payment before commencement of work. If the amount is $250 or less, then the entire payment must be made before commencement of work. Would I demand a store give me a dress, let me wear it, and then pay them 3 weeks later if I deemed it look good on me? No! Remember Mr. Spec Work?

Final payment is due before all final artwork is delivered or before website goes live. But how will you get the client to pay you before THEY get anything? Well, hopefully you would have built a good rapport with them throughout the project and they trust you. Don’t be a shady designer!

At the End of the Day

Remember, you are only doing a design job. You aren’t selling real estate. I’m not saying that designers are less of value than real estate agents, I’m saying the price tag of design is much less than real estate. Unless of course, your design job is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, then yes, it would make sense to have a legal binding contract.

Nobody can predict what is going to happen. You can meet the most nicest client and things go really well relationship wise so you may be off your guard a little and let payments slide. Don’t. There’s nothing wrong with collecting a 50% deposit before you start any work. If the client trusts you, then they will not have a problem with this. Just make sure everything is completely spelled out BEFORE you start anything.

Good luck!

About the Author:

I am an entrepreneur, a designer, a wife, a mom, a bad cook, and a great cleaning lady. I say no to clutter and yes to pushing the envelope. I am a complete and utter design geek and I thoroughly embrace my OCD qualities.