When beginning any web design project, you should always start with a legally binding contract. This protects both you and your client, making each party accountable to the terms outlined within. First, it is important to understand that everything discussed in this article is not legal advice, and we definitely recommend working with an attorney for any legal matters surrounding your web design agency.
At the same time, it is always good to get multiple examples, thoughts, and ideas when it comes to website design contracts. This article is going to discuss everything that goes into making a good website design contract, why you need one, and give a template that you can modify to suit your needs.
First, a web design contract is legally binding between you, the designer, and your client. It will define the entire relationship between you 2 (or the two businesses), describing everything from the project scope, to the pricing, to the timeline, to additional clauses that protect both parties.
In most cases, the website designer sends the contract to the client. This is helpful, because we can define all of the services offered, the timeline that the work should be completed on, the payment schedule, and additional clauses that protect our intellectual property and business assets.
There are many important things that should be included in a web design contract, which you can see in our template, but in our opinion, there are four major aspects that should be included every time.
The scope of work is your place to clearly define what this project will be, and is incredibly important to get right, especially if you are billing the project as a flat fee. You definitely don't want to get stuck in a project that you aren't getting paid enough for.
Here, include every service that you will be completing during this project, along with a description. This way, if the client requests additional features, you can bill them at an hourly rate as they are not included in this initial contract and project.
This section defines the cost of the project and how it will be paid. this changes based on how you will be billing period if you are billing hourly, you can define your hourly rate, the number of hours you expect to work, and an upper and lower cap for these hours.
If you were billing as a flat fee, you can define the flat fee and state how it will be paid.
In this section, you can also discuss the actual method of payment. Many design agencies like getting paid online through something like Stripe, so you can say that that is the only way that a client can pay you.
The pricing schedule is related to the timeline, which is discussed in the next section of this article. Here, you define the deliverables and the date that they will be delivered. Deliverables are derived directly from the scope of work.
Typically, deliverables include the preliminary design, the review of the design, the development of the website, the addition of major features and functionality, the migration to a live server, and the publication of the website. For each of these steps, you can define the date that they will be completed, and the payment associated with the completion (if you’re doing a milestone-based payment structure).
Including a timeline on a contract is important for both you, the web designer, and your client. It lets the client know when to expect certain deliverables, such as mockups, pages, and functionalities. On your end, it keeps the client accountable to the timeline. This is especially important if you require materials from them such as copy, images, or additional content.
In our experience, the biggest thing that pushes a project off the timeline is the customer requiring changes, or being slow to send content and logins. this is your place to make them accountable (Legally) to your timeline.
Here, you can also discuss the review and approval process. This is helpful if you want to limit the days that the client has to review and approve each step of your web design project, ensuring that decisions are made in a timely matter, and the client cant drag their feet.
These additional clauses include confidentiality, termination, liability limitation, intellectual property, and dispute resolution. Many of these are standard in every type of service contract, and should definitely be included on a web design contract. The confidentiality clause is mainly to protect the client.
This puts your client at ease knowing that they can disseminate confidential information that is important to their business, and you are legally required to keep this to yourself. At the same time, if confidential information becomes public, you can protect yourself (if you weren't the specific cause of this breach) from exposure and liability.
The termination of agreement clause states that the contract cannot be broken or exited unless the client notifies you, and pays for the service is completed. Nobody wants a project to go bad, but if it does, you want to be protected and paid for the work that you completed.
Liability limitation is important and can be very simple or wide ranging depending on the services you are offering and the contract you are writing. Of course, This is why having a lawyer is important period if a project is more complex than a standard five page website, limiting your liability becomes more important and complex as well.
The intellectual property clause states that the client owns the website and visuals created by the web designer on project completion. It also protects the work that you are in the process of creating for the client, so they can't steal it from you and did not pay. additional sections within this clause can state that the client must have the legal rights to all elements. This is helpful as it falls solely on your client to ensure that the content that they are providing you is legally owned by them.
The dispute resolution clauses can include arbitration, where the dispute would be governed, and how exactly you will resolve any grievances.
Many of these clauses are designed to protect both you and your client. many of these are created for the worst case scenario, but you'll be glad that they were included if you ever get to that point.
A web design contract is absolutely mandatory for any project, no matter how large or small. It makes both parties accountable to each other, explains how the project will be run, limits your liability, and offers protection in the event of a worst case scenario.
However, if you're working on a smaller project, you may very well be able to use an off the shelf template. If you have a large project that is high-value, working with a lawyer is definitely in your best interest due to the profile of the project.
We've included a basic web design contract template in this article, which you can fill out and send to a client. Of course, this is not legal advice, and you should consult with an attorney before utilizing this template.
This should be helpful to give you an idea of what a basic design contract could look like.
It is important to have a web design contract, but it is even more important to get that contract signed. There are a few ways you can go about doing this. If your client is local, you can do an in person signing. You can also print the contract, sign of yourself, scan it, send it back to the client, have them sign it, have them scan it, and have them email it back to you.
However, our preferred method of getting a web design contract signed is digitally. This makes it easier for us to track the signatures, and we have an electronic audit trail incase we need to enforce the terms.
Many web designers subscribe to the Adobe Creative Cloud, which includes the Adobe Sign platform. Here, you can easily digitally sign documents, email them to clients, request a signature, and track that signature.
If you don’t have that subscription, you can use Docusign or another platform like it. none of these offerings are free, but this is something that you should invest money in because it could save you a lot in the long run (and just makes your life easier). Another offering is ApproveMe, which as a e-signature WordPress plugin (for all my WordPress devs out there).
Having a website design contract approved and signed by both parties is essential to any good digital agency business. This protects you in the event of an issue with your client, holds both parties accountable to a strict timeline and payment schedule, and defines the entire project from the beginning. Without a contract, your client could simply not pay you, and you would have no legal recourse. Feel free to modify our web design contract template.
Note that this is only used by my agency on very small projects. For larger projects, we have a completely custom contract generated by our Law Firm (and you should too)
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