Wether you’ve set out on your own, or you’re managing PO’s and invoicing, or you are in charge of the whole process from quote to order to finished product, there are almost always a few things you wish you’d thought to push for in the contract when you got to ‘go ahead’.

I was skimming through the delicious DesignLoveFest blog when one of the creators, Katie, took the time to answer with some of her biggest ‘oops, important things to get into a contract’ notes (below).

technically my first graphic design job was designing the drink promotion tent cards at the restaurant i worked at in high school. but the one i count was designing a line of stationery cards for a new brand. i think i found it on craigslist. the ad asked for an illustrator with a print background. i sent my portfolio PDF showing the range of my illustration skills and my resume. the owner responded she liked my style and asked to meet me. we met at a bar, had some wine and she told me what she wanted her stationery line to be. it was right up my alley and we clicked really well. i knew what was required of me as a designer, but on the business side i had no clue what I was doing. i charged her $500 for 5 designs, each getting two rounds for revisions. i cringe when i think about how much work went into the designs. you live and you learn right?

what i would do differently today:
• charge $600 per card with two revisions for each design. if you’re new start out charging hourly. you will still be learning to manage your self and working with clients.

• add another $1,000 for all the email correspondence, managing the print vendors, deadlines, and all of our in person meetings.

• save my taxi and supply receipts to write those off as a business expense when i do my taxes.

• our contract would include what would happen if the idea is killed once the work has begun. is there a kill fee? do i get paid for a percentage of my fee? or paid for the hours? my client had changed her mind after two rounds on one of the cards to a new idea and i hadn’t brought that up in our contract. all that work down the drain and i had to start all over again.

• contract would say that if the client wanted more revisions after the two rounds i would charge my hourly rate to finish the project.

• contract would included rights and usage of the artwork. those designs i did now live on a ton of other products. my designs were also manipulated into other patterns and layouts and look really bad(in my opinion). it’s unfortunate because it could’ve been a great piece for my portfolio but now i don’t even want to show anyone. i could always redo it for myself but i guess i’m a little bitter about how the final product came to life.

• contract would say how long the client owns the rights to them. is it a year? 3 years (i’ve learned that 3 is an industry standard for product. it hits a season, goes on sale, maybe moves to outlet), or forever? depending on how long they want to have the rights another fee would be included. more years = more money.

• contract would say how many products each design can live on.

• require approval on ALL products my designs go on before they are put into production.

Obviously these are just a few notions, but they’re all transferrable to whatever your job might be and all worth thinking about.

One of the key things I found myself doing in the early days (and still on occasion get tempted by) was undervaluing the product. I would put a lower starting number, or maintain more flexible negotiation, in order to secure the job rather than push for the paycheque it deserved. Yes, there was always a decent profit margin built in, but it looks small when you start looking at what your work could actually be worth. Lesson one, don’t be afraid to sell yourself. If it’s quality work, people will pay rather than budget through and get lesser results (but they’ll never say no if you give them a low price but maintain quality). Don’t be a cocky asshole, you’ll never be too big for your boots cause there is always more to learn and do, but don’t underestimate your value. Don’t be scared to negotiate! They can only say no, and you should come prepared and with your stance and quote backed up by facts (and figures) and prospects and realistic points.

Secondly, keep it in writing. Always. Everything. Every little note ever. And keep disclaimers that sound vaguely legal and cover you on your emails. For the small time of creating a decent wording on your signature to protect your work and email agreements it’s more than worthwhile to save you from blind panic.

Don’t be scared to include silly things, if they’re not in writing they’re not agreed upon. Expenses, time spent, ownership of product (if applicable), reselling rights, support rights, etc etc. Make sure you cover all corners, and you can feel safe and protected moving forward. And protect your creativity.

Don’t play games. Clients expect a good service and a good result/quality of work when they put their trust and order with you. Don’t treat them as anything less, every client is important and much like people are a business most important asset clients are your livelihood. Their referrals, happiness and success translate into good things for you too, so always have a respectful and fair approach to them and listen as well as remember you’re hired for your expertise in whatever aspect they need your help (don’t forget to put your foot down and claim that expertise while remembering you can only inform them and if they chose to go against your suggestions you’ll have to let them, once you’ve explained you can’t be held liable).

Liability. Google it. Make sure it’s covered. And remember while business shouldn’t have to be, it is a dirty game and at some point you’ll deal with people who wouldn’t hesitate to throw you under if it came down to it. Protect yourself, your company and your work.

Kick ass, and don’t be afraid to do so. Business can be creative, innovative, fun, respectful, passionate and bloody enjoyable too. Just keep your head up, and remember it’s still business and those who don’t ask don’t get.



Don’t forget the fine print (or ‘things I wish I’d remembered for the first client order’)

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