When I first started Wayfarer, I had no idea what to put in my contract. I wasn’t even sure if I needed to use a contract all the time. (The answer is yes, you 100% do!) But over the years, I’ve learned just how important contracts are and that there are so many things that you NEED to put in your contracts in order to protect yourself when things get awkward. So today I wanted to highlight 6 things that I put in my contract and have been the most helpful for my business.
01 / Outline every single thing that will be included in the project (as well as what won’t be included)
Every now and then, the client may assume that you’re going to give them something that isn’t actually part of your services or wasn’t discussed when they booked with you. I’ve had clients assume that I was going to create new branding for them when we only discussed redoing their website. I’ve also had clients think that I was going to come up with a new name for their business even though that’s not a service that I offer. So to avoid confusion, it’s best to make it very clear to them what they will be receiving from you and what they won’t be receiving. If there are things that they client might need to buy or provide for the project (like font licenses, web hosting, copy, image licenses, printing services, or website plugins), I simply list those as “Additional Costs” and state that those services are not included in the cost of the project and they will be responsible for purchasing them.
02 / Require a non-refundable deposit to book a spot in your schedule.
I typically book projects 1-2 months in advance, so it’s important that my clients show they are committed to working with me. To ensure that they’re serious about the project, I require them to pay a non-refundable 30% deposit immediately after signing a contract with me. (Lots of designers ask for 50%, but since some of my projects are pretty big, I’ve lowered it to 30%) If you have multiple wanting to work with you, you need to do this. You’re giving clients a spot in your schedule that other people want, so they need to put some money down to guarantee that (1) you aren’t going to give their spot to someone else and (2) they aren’t going to waste your time and back out at the last minute.
03 / Have some sort of penalty if the client goes silent or misses a deadline.
Hopefully, you’re already setting deadlines for every step of your project. If you don’t want things to drag on forever, you have to set strict deadlines for everything – both whenever you present things and whenever the client gives you feedback. But sometimes setting deadlines isn’t enough and the client ends up delaying things anyways. Whenever this happens, you need to have some kind of penalty in place! Otherwise, you’ll risk the client delaying things so much that it interferes with the other projects that you’re working. I’ve dealt with this more often than I’d like to admit and that’s why putting this in my contract has been so important for me. And you have a few options.
First, you can say that if the client doesn’t respond to you within X days, the project will automatically be put on hold and you will be the one to decide when it starts back up again. Basically, if they delay something, the entire project will be pushed back as a result and they can’t expect you to rush to meet the original deadlines. This was my solution for a long and it does work well for most clients. BUT some clients don’t care if things get pushed back and that can cause problems for your workload.
So the second option, which I’m currently implementing, is to add a rescheduling fee every time the client doesn’t respond to you within X days. It feels kind of harsh and, of course, I explain that if there’s an emergency or a really good reason for the delay, then I won’t apply the extra fee. But sometimes you just have to put your foot down with clients to make sure they don’t mess up your schedule. It’s not fair to you and it isn’t fair to your other clients whose projects might be affected by the delays.
04 / Schedule payments by date, NOT by deliverable.
If you struggle with clients causing delays, this is another great way to encourage clients to stay on track + keep your projects moving. Rather than scheduling payments based on where you’re at in the project, you set specific due dates for them based on the original timeline that you’ve estimated for the project. Even if there are delays, the client will have to make payments on those set dates. This way, if the client delays the project by a substantial amount, they should have already paid you in full. And hopefully this will make the client more likely to keep the project moving since they have to continue paying you.
05 / Limit the amount of revisions that are included in the project + charge more if the client requests you to do extra.
Unless you want to get stuck revising a concept forever, you need to put a limit on how many rounds of revisions are included in your project. For my projects, I always include 2 rounds of revisions after I’ve presented the first concepts. After doing this for a while, I was able to figure out that was plenty for most of the clients that I work with. However, sometimes it takes a little more work for the client to make a decision. So if the client decided that they want to add another round to work on things, I simply add a flat rate to their final bill.
06 / Set expectations for what happens if a project is cancelled.
Look, nobody wants to have a project get cancelled. But sometimes it has to happen and when it does, you need to have a clear plan for how that will work. What if the client asks for a refund? What if they still owe you money? These are all things that should be clarified so that you’re prepared. For my contract, I state that it’s up to me to refund any money that the client has already paid me. Of course, I will always be fair and make sure that what the client has paid me is equal to the amount of work that I’ve done. But just in case they try to argue with whatever I decide, I’m still covered.
There’s plenty more that should be in your contract, but these are all things that I’ve found to be extremely important and have had the biggest impact on my business. And if you’re wanting to set up your own contracts and don’t know where to start, I have 2 resources for you to check out that I have personally used and love!
If you’re just starting out and need the basics, check out Hello Bonsai. It’s an amazing tool created just for freelancers that basically handles all of your onboarding – proposals, contracts, invoices, and more. But what I really love about it is the contract templates that they have. They’re super easy to customize and just make the entire contract process really straightforward. If you go to their home page and scroll to the bottom, you’ll find a link to download a free contract template! So if you’re new to freelancing and need a framework to start with, that’s probably going to be your best tool!
If you’re more established or willing to invest in more detailed contracts, then I recommend checking out The Contract Shop. That’s where I bought the contracts that I currently use and let me tell ya, they’re amazing! They have detailed templates for lots of different industries and they are constantly updating them to make sure you’re always protected. Plus with each contract, you also get access to a mini-course to help you understand all the legal stuff that goes into it. I also love that they purposefully use language that both you and your clients can easily understand. I’m not going to lie – it’s a big investment to buy these contracts and I wasn’t comfortable paying for them until this year, but I’m so so glad that I did!