Looking to have a new website developed or maybe you need a design make-over for your tired looking out-of-date existing website? One of the most important things you can do is to get a contract from your web designer. Why? In a word …. protection. Are you a web designer taking on a new client? Prepare a solid web site development contract and get it signed by your client. Why? In a word … protection. Yup, it works both ways, folks.
I’ve been in the web design business long enough to have heard a number of nasty situations involving clients and web designers. I won’t cite individual stories, but having heard them I feel very lucky that I’ve experienced what I consider to be minimal nastiness that can go on in the world of website design. Like any other career choice, there are always people that “know people in low places.” Good designers are not immune to the problems that the bad apples in the business can do to our reputations. Word of mouth in both directions can do some serious damage to both designer and client.
People who’ve a bad business experience are unhappy and leery about selecting another developer. They’ve been burned — who wouldn’t be afraid to try someone else? I don’t blame web designers who’ve hooked up with a bad client for being more careful about the clients they take on. If you’ve got some business experience, some good common sense and a reliable gut reaction going for you — both client and designer can often-times see any red flags flying high. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always keep them from moving forward. How many times have you ignored your gut feeling or common sense? How many times have good things gone bad? We’re humans, it happens.
Even if you hire the wrong designer or take on the wrong client — the contract you have between you can save you both. Should you run to the courthouse to file papers if things go South? I believe in first trying to work it out between you. If necessary, bring in an objective mediator who’s got nothing to gain by taking sides. The problem may be nothing more than a misunderstanding and able to be resolved just by stepping back until you’re all in calm mode. When everyone has cooled off — discuss it with an open mind, ask questions, be agreeable to compromise if necessary. Perhaps the original contract can have an amendment made to it that both parties are agreeable to. Make sure any modifications are signed by both parties, put all bad feelings aside and move on from there. Holding a grudge or badmouthing the other party may hurt them, but think of how it may may make you look as well.
ARE YOU AFRAID of a Contract?
You shouldn’t be. A good web design contract protects both the client and the designer. A client should never pay any web designer (no matter how many flattering recommendations you got from others) without the benefit of a contract between you just as a designer should never accept payment from a client without the benefit of a good contract.
I’ve had potential clients contact me who are surprised and some even get nervous when they hear the word “contract.” I’ve never understood that. You should be more concerned if you’re not required to sign a contract and feel more confident with a solid contract in place. Who’s got the money for a lawyer should they ever need one? Not me! Even if money is no object, why would anyone want to take a chance on having to put themselves through a legal battle? Not me! Murphy’s Law visits me often enough, I don’t need to be handing out engraved invitations to him for my next visit.
No matter what their budget, a website is a big-ticket item for many people. Why in the world would you consider spending money without knowing what’s included or not for your money? Why wouldn’t you want a signed document in your files that could be your saving grace should the project fall apart or worse — headed for the courtroom? A contract can keep the parties out of the courtroom! Something as simple as just referring to it can often keep courts and lawyers out of the picture.
Aa signed contract between the two parties has the power to quickly and easily remedy a client saying something like “Oops you forgot to do this!” or one that starts asking for or even demanding all kinds of things that weren’t discussed, planned for or included and expect to get it all at no additional cost. It’s not just the client who may bring about issues, a designer is not immune. These things can add up to website suicide if you don’t have the written word to back you up no matter which side of the fence you’re sitting on.
If you have any questions about the contract, ask the designer for clarification. Perhaps a change of wording is in order. If you have any doubts of the validity or legalities in a contract, have a lawyer read it over. Both of these should be done before signing it. Sure, it’ll cost you a few bucks but in the long run it could save you bookoo bucks and a ton of frustration! So, what’s to be afraid of? A contract is a GOOD thing!
Contracts AVOID “He Said She Said” Syndrome
A solid contract can help avoid the sometimes vicious circle of the “he said she said” game. That alone is worth it’s weight in gold to me. The “he said she said” conversation could be a minor difference in understanding on the part of one or the other — or get heated in a heartbeat. Telephone or personal conversations don’t hold water, but the written word — agreed upon and signed by both parties — is pretty much impossible to ignore even in a court of law.
Although some people balk at doing business by email — this is seriously important communication tool that helps avoid problems and “he said she said” syndrome. So, when your designer tells you that all business communications must be by email — your designer is looking out for both of you. It can make you both feel like you’re wrapped up cozy warm in a security blanket.
I Don’t Like the SMALL PRINT Thing
I can’t speak for all designers but my contracts hold no small print. I don’t like it so I don’t inflict it on my clients. Small print is (in my opinion) an attempt to trick someone, it’s underhanded and dirty pool. If you can’t spell it out in the same size print the rest of the contract is written in — it shouldn’t be there in the first place.
Anyone who signs any kind of contract without reading it has no one to blame but themselves if things go wrong.. If you find you don’t have a leg to stand on you may not find much sympathy from others. On the other hand, you may find that what’s in your contract means you’re right and they’re wrong!
Experienced Professional Web Designers HAVE CONTRACTS
Many years ago when I was new to web design, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a website contract. When I learned about them my first thought was “What a great way to keep me and my clients more safe!”
Just because a web designer doesn’t provide you with a contract, doesn’t automatically make them bad designers. Maybe they’re new to the business and don’t know any better, maybe they’re just too darn trusting and maybe they’ve just never been burned. I feel that having a contract indicates that a designer is more experienced and has found a way to give their clients a sense of security and to help them feel comfortable doing business with them.
Agreed! Doing business with someone clear across the country can be a little worrisome, especially since a good number of designers work on a non-refundable retainer basis like most if not all lawyers. Wouldn’t you like to have something solid to fall back on if the designer turns out to be on the shady side? Remember, the old Gentleman’s Handshake doesn’t mean what it used to mean. It’s pretty mind boggling what trivial crap some people will sue someone for these days so don’t assume you’re immune.
Over time things change or come to light down the road that weren’t obvious in the beginning and which both client and designer need to be protected from. We all should be learning from our mistakes. I prefer to learn from someone else’s mistakes so they don’t become my mistakes but hey — being human I have a good share of my own life’s lessons learned. Taking steps to help avoid bad things happening based on the shared experiences of all can help us all be better people working towards a better business model.
Knock on wood, I’m happy (ok, relieved!) that I’ve never been seriously burned and I’ve never had a legal hassle with a client. I credit that to having a solid contract between myself and every client. There have been a couple of instances where clients took advantage of me by using my lack of including something in a contract against me and turning that into the loss of a good amount of money on my part. Translation? I worked a considerable number of hours for free to honor my contract and my client’s wishes. Although it was their decision to take advantage of me I really had no one to blame but myself and am more careful now.