Starting Up: The How and Why of Contracts

Reference books


I am starting 2013 with a clean slate and some exciting opportunities on the horizon for my fledgling design studio. We are up and running part-time, but there is still SO much to be done!

In the months ahead, I’ll build the website and create documents and templates to guide clients through projects. Most recently, I’ve worked with my lawyer(/husband) to establish a contract stating terms under which to operate.

While it’s tempting to start a business thinking all jobs go according to plan, years as a designer have taught me creative projects end all the time, often for reasons having nothing to do with the work itself. Without a signed agreement, design vendors have no recourse to be compensated for an incomplete project.

But contracts work both ways. I want my clients to always feel they receive the full value of what they pay for my work. Just as I want to know when feedback will come and how I will be compensated, with a contract, I spell out exactly what I’ll deliver and when to expect it so there are no surprises for the client. We come to a project on equal footing, having established expectations in advance.

When building my contract, I considered my company culture and how ideally prefer to work. I listed my acceptable terms and policies, then used a few resources to align with standard practices and round out my document. (Designers: I highly recommend the Graphic Artist’s Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines the AIGA Standard Form of Agreement for Design Services as a starting point to develop a contract that works for you!)

It’s important to me to start each project with an open mind and heart – ready to get ┬áto the business of making great design. Knowing both parties are protected lets you build client relationships from a mutual understanding and respect, so you can grow and prosper together.

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