over the past few weeks we’ve been telling you how important a contract is when you are a freelancer. but i know some of you are like, “yeah yeah we get it. but what do i SAY in my contract?!” the answer is pretty long, but all of the points are super important…


my contracts begin with stating who the client is and who i am. i describe what the job is and details of all the deliverables i’m responsible for. depending on the project i also include a timeline for concept, sketches, design rounds, final delivery of files, and dates for the clients feedback in between. then i include the fee or hourly rate i’m charging for that project. i discuss how many rounds they get for revisions and what it will cost if they need more revisions after the allotted amount.

after that i write about what happens if the client changes their mind half way through the project or doesn’t want to finish. if i’m charging a flat fee i list a kill fee for major steps in the process (ex: design round 2 – 80% of the fee). if i’m charging hourly i bill them for all the hours i worked. you can set up a payment plan whereyou get paid every 50 hours put in or if it’s a long ongoing project you can get paid every two weeks or a big sum at the end. i usually like a half way point payment and a final payment.

at the end i state what the usage rights are for the creative i’m providing. it could be a spot illustration that is only for a magazine article, or it could be a pattern blown out on multiple ways in print and digital forms. make sure to include a section about this and type out what exactly the artwork is getting used for. you’ll kick yourself when you see the client use your design in ways that you hadn’t discussed. it probably doesn’t look good because you didn’t design it for that purpose and they didn’t pay for the rights to it. you’ll be pissed. i’m speaking from experience. also include a statement about how the creative can not be used in any other form unless discussed and approved by you, the designer.

once both parties agree on the contract we sign, date and then i start working.

having a contract really helps guide the client and myself through the project process. it keeps us on track and is always a good reference if they are any hiccups along the way. it’s also good to run your contracts by a lawyer to make sure everything is buttoned up and you’re protected. it might not be affordable in the beginning but it’s important to budget that out. you contract can be straight forward, you can mix humor into it and/or design it to match your branding. you set the tone. you’re in control.

(illustration by katie evans. read more freelance advice posts are here. if you have a question you want answered, just leave us a comment in the box with it!)


Add your own

    Erin May says:

    THANK YOU! This series is so helpful to this fledgeling freelance designer/marketer.

    Are you ever oursourced to by an agency, rather than working directly with a client? If so, how do you protect yourself and your work then? Do you have to sign any non-competes?

    I can’t tell you how much this has educated me! Please keep it up.

    erin aka eef says:

    Great tips! I’ve been using a book for my legal forms, seems to cover most things although sometimes I edit the contracts a bit to suit my processes better! I wrote about the book I use here: http://eef-etc.com/2011/business-and-legal-forms-for-graphic-designers/

    Alexis says:

    This is great advice. As an attorney for creative business owners I’ve seen many people get into legal trouble because they didn’t have any agreement in place. Managing expectations at the beginning makes a big difference.

    BTW – Love this series.

    Sarah says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience!

    As designers, what are your favorite resources for keeping up with Photoshop updates and pushing yourself to learn more?

    Carly says:

    Bri, you rock! Thanks for this post packed full of answers to some burning questions. PS I’m thinkin “the contract” can set the pace for a healthy business relationship. Thanks again for the good thoughts!

    adele says:

    This is such great advice!
    Happy Wednesday Hun xoxo

    Ann says:

    I have a question about client gifts: who, what, when, why & how?

    I really love this series. I keep saying it, but it’s just so true. I’d love to do graphic design for clients in the future, and your advice always coincides with what I need to do for art.

    anna says:

    love this series. thank you for the advice!

    Laina says:

    Such great advice! Thanks so much for sharing your experiences! I’m living in the freelance world and have definitely learned how important contracts are. The one area I keep finding to be vague is in terms of “revisions”. How do you determine one round of revisions from the next?

    Gabriela says:

    This posts are really helpfull now that I’m starting my new business!! Thanks a lot Bri for having such an amazing space full of inspiration and directions! 🙂
    And thanks Katie !!!

    Joy says:

    Hi Ladies! Thank you for sharing this information!!!! I wonder what do you think about websites that claim to provide support and secure connection between freelancers and clients such as guru.com? I would be interested to hear your thoughts on that. Also, how do you find clients? What are ways in wich you network and find work? Again, THANK YOU, your advice is always helpful!!!

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