As Art Director and part owner of a successful and well established graphic design and web design company, I’ve learned a lot about how to keep a project on track and on budget. If you’re running a business there are plenty of opportunities to make mistakes. Having made many myself, I’m hoping this article will help some new designers avoid the one’s I hear about on almost a daily basis.

Most mistakes are simply caused by the lack of a clear understanding of what services will be provided and how the project will be managed. Understand that when you deal with clients delays are inevitable, but managing your job properly from the beginning will save you from the headaches of a project that has spiraled out of control. In my experience this is especially true with web projects. Many of your potential web clients will have very little understanding of what designing a website actually entails. They will have even less understanding of search engine optimization and what it takes to get their website found, and they probably won’t truly know what their own needs are until the project has been started. These factors can often contribute to an unrealistic view of the scope of the project and the time needed to complete the project. This can be a deadly combination if you didn’t secure a deposit up front. I’m certain anyone who has specified “payment due upon completion” can attest to this.

Using a web design and development contract will help you set up clear specifications for the web design process as well as establishing a payment plan that works for you. The purpose of a contract isn’t to restrict the client, it’s more of a way to allow you to have the flexibility to adapt to changes when they arise and then be compensated for them accordingly.

The key to an effective contract is to be clear! Specify each item that is to be included in the bid. This could be anything from a general point such as; this bid includes the redesign of “your clients” website to much more specific points like; flash gallery included, CSS driven drop down navigation, Testimonial upload page, etc.

Content is a biggie. You should specify who is providing the copy and you may even want to establish a time line for receiving it. It’s surprising how quickly a web project can derail, right from the beginning, all because of content. Also specify if you or the client is providing the photography. For instance, if a client is relying on me to provide all imagery, then I specify a budget for stock photography unless they specifically request custom photography. If a client does want custom photography then I always provide a separate estimate for the photo shoot.

The most common complaint that I hear from graphic designers getting into web design is that they have completed work and haven’t been payed for it. Believe me you won’t make that mistake too many times, but it’s better to avoid it altogether. Establish good payment terms that work for you right from the beginning. Often times your payment terms can even weed out undesirable clients. There are plenty of people who want something for nothing and these people usually aren’t willing to pay a deposit. Believe me you don’t want those kind of clients. My company has a standard policy of 33% to start the job, 33% upon approval of direction, and 34% due upon completion.

The work flow can then be dictated by the clients payments. Once the first deposit is received by the Developer, a basic site design concept should be made available for the Client’s viewing and approval within a reasonable time frame. Usually we provide 3 concepts for the client to review. Communication between the Developer and the Client is crucial during this phase to ensure that the ultimate publication will match the Client’s taste and needs.

Upon completion of this stage, the Client will be asked to confirm acceptance for the basic site design via e-mail or by signing a printed copy of the design. Once this acceptance is received from the Client, the work necessary to complete the project will begin, and the second third (33%) of the total amount will be paid.

You should advise clients to continually view updates to the site and express their preferences or dislikes to the Developer. Upon completion of the web site, an e-mail or letter and invoice will be sent to the Client advising the Client that the work has been completed. Final payment of the remaining 34% balance plus any additional charges incurred will be due within fifteen (15) business days after delivery of the e-mail notification and invoice.

Once the website is completed some clients will want to independently edit or update their web pages as a way to control costs and avoid the expense of a Maintenance Agreement. This is always an option for Clients of the Developer.

However, you should note in your contract that if anyone other than the Developer attempts to update the web site and damages the design or impairs the ability for the web pages to display or function properly, time to repair the web pages will be assessed at an hourly rate. This happens a lot! As a policy, my company has a one hour minimum fee applied to these kind of corrections. In this regard, Clients are encouraged to obtain a Maintenance Agreement which is another thing you may want to think about establishing, if you haven’t already.

One last point that you may want to stipulate in your web contract is a design credit. Something that says the client agrees that the Developer may put a byline on the bottom of their web site establishing design and development credit with an active link to the developers website and the client also agrees that the web site created for the Client may be included in the Developer’s portfolio.

Since websites have such a variance in complexity and design you should have a standard web design contract that covers the main points and allows you to easily edit and ad each specific detail you need to. I hope that some of these suggestions help you when negotiating your next web design project. We also have available for download a web design and development contract template

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This material is a reference for you, but we are not responsible for any legal agreement you enter into.