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When times get tough, it can often feel like there are no good people left in the world, only people who haven’t yet turned bad. These bad people will go back on their word, welch on a deal, put themselves first. You owe it to yourself to stay on top. You owe it to yourself to ensure that no matter how bad things get, you’ll come away clean. You owe it yourself and your business not to be the guy lying bleeding in an alley with a slug in your gut.
But you’re a professional, right? Nothing bad is going to happen to you. You’re a good guy. You do good work for good people. Think again chump.
Maybe you’re a gun for hire, a one man army with your back to the wall and nothing standing between you and the line at a soup kitchen but your wits. Maybe you work for the agency, or like me you run one of your own. Either way, when times get tough and people get nasty, you’ll need more than a killer smile to save you. You’ll need a killer contract too.
It was fifteen years ago that I first opened my doors for business. In that time I’ve thumbed through enough contracts to fill a filing cabinet. I’ve signed more contracts than I can remember, many so complicated that I ‘should’ have hired a lawyer (or detective) to make sense of their complicated jargon and solve their cross-reference puzzles. These documents had not been written to be understood on first reading but to spin me around enough times so as to give the other player the upper-hand.
If signing a contract I didn’t fully understand made me a stupid son-of-a-bitch, not asking my customers to sign one just makes me plain dumb. I’ve not always been so careful about asking my customers to sign contracts with me as I am now. Somehow in the past I felt that insisting on a contract went against the friendly, trusting relationship that I like to build with my customers. Most of the time the game went my way. On rare the occasions when a fight broke out, I ended up bruised and bloodied. I learned that asking my customers to sign a contract matters to both sides, but what also matters to me is that these contracts should be more meaningful, understandable and less complicated than any of those that I have ever autographed.
Writing a killer contract
If you’re writing a contract between you and your customers it doesn’t have to conform to the seemingly standard format of jargon and complicated legalese. You can be creative. A killer contract will clarify what is expected of both sides and it can also help you to communicate your approach to doing business. It will back-up your brand values and help you to build a great relationship between you and your customers. In other words, a creative contract can be a killer contract.
Your killer contract should cover:
- A simple overview of who is hiring who, what they’re being hired to do, when and for how much
- What both parties agree to do and what their respective responsibilities are
- The specifics of the deal and what is or isn’t included in the scope
- What happens when people change their minds (as they almost always do)
- A simple overview of liabilities and other legal matters
- You might even include a few jokes
To help you along, I’ll illustrate those bullet points by pointing both barrels at the contract that I wrote and have been using here at Stiffs & Nonsense for the past five years. My contract has been worth its weight in lead and you’re welcome to take all or any part of it to use for yourself. It’s packing a creative-commons attribution share-a-like license. That means you’re free to re-distribute it, translate it and otherwise re-use it in ways I never considered. In return I only ask you mention my name and link back to this article. As I’m only an amateur detective, you should have it examined thoroughly by your own, trusted legal people if you use it.
The specific details of this killer contract work for me and my customers. That doesn’t mean that they will work for you and yours. The ways that I handle design revisions, testing, copyright ownership and other specifics are not the main focus of this article. That you handle each of them carefully when you write your own killer contract is.
Between [company name]
And [customer name]
We’ll always do our best to fulfil your needs and meet your expectations, but it’s important to have things written down so that we both know what’s what, who should do what and when, and what will happen if something goes wrong. In this contract you won’t find any complicated legal terms or long passages of unreadable text. We’ve no desire to trick you into signing something that you might later regret. What we do want is what’s best for both parties, now and in the future.
So in short;
You ([customer name]), located at [customer address] (“You”) are hiring us ([company name]) (“We or Us”) to:
- [Design and develop a web site
For the estimated total price of [total] as outlined in our previous correspondence.
Of course it’s a little more complicated, but we’ll get to that.
What do both parties agree to?
You: You have the authority to enter into this contract on behalf of yourself, your company or your organisation. You’ll give us the assets and information we tell you we need to complete the project. You’ll do this when we ask and provide it in the formats we ask for. You’ll review our work, provide feedback and approval in a timely manner too. Deadlines work two ways, so you’ll also be bound by dates we set together. You also agree to stick to the payment schedule set out at the end of this contract.
Us: We have the experience and ability to do everything we’ve agreed with you and we’ll do it all in a professional and timely manner. We’ll endeavour to meet every deadline that’s set and on top of that we'll maintain the confidentiality of everything you give us.
Getting down to the nitty gritty
We create designs that adapt to the capabilities of many devices and screen sizes. We create them iteratively and use predominantly HTML and CSS so we won’t waste time mocking up every template as a static visual. We may use visuals to indicate a creative direction (colour, texture and typography.) We call that ‘atmosphere.’
You’ll have plenty of opportunities to review our work and provide feedback. We’ll either share a Dropbox, Google Drive folder or Github repository or development site with you and we’ll have regular, possibly daily contact by either phone, Skype, or Slack.
If—at any stage—you change your mind about what you want delivered or aren’t happy with the direction our work is taking, you’ll pay us in full for the time we’ve spent working until that point and may terminate this contract.
Unless agreed separately, we’re not responsible for inputting text or images into your content management system or creating every page on your website. We provide professional copywriting and editing services, so if you’d like us to create new content or input content for you, we’ll provide a separate estimate.
Graphics and photographs
You should supply graphic files in an editable, vector digital format. You should supply photographs in a high resolution digital format. If you choose to buy stock photographs, we can suggest stock libraries. If you’d like us to search for photographs for you, we can provide a separate estimate.
Browser testing no longer means attempting to make a website look the same in browsers of different capabilities or on devices with different size screens. It does mean ensuring that a person’s experience of a design should be appropriate to the capabilities of a browser or device.
We test our work in current versions of major desktop browsers including those made by Apple (Safari), Google (Chrome), Microsoft (Edge), Mozilla Firefox and Opera. We won’t test in other older browsers unless we agreed separately. If you need an enhanced design for an older browser, we can provide a separate estimate for that.
Mobile browser testing
Testing using popular smaller screen devices is essential in ensuring that a person’s experience of a design is appropriate to the capabilities of the device they’re using. We test our designs in:
iOS: Safari and Google Chrome
Android: Google Chrome
We won’t test in Opera Mini/Mobile, specific Android devices, or other mobile browsers unless we agreed separately. If you need us to test using these, we can provide a separate estimate.
We’re not a website hosting company so we don’t offer support for website hosting, email or other services relating to hosting. You may already have professional hosting and you might even manage that hosting in-house; if you do, great. If you don’t, we will recommend one of our preferred hosting providers. We can set up your site on a server, plus any statistics software such as Google Analytics and will provide a separate estimate for that. Then, the updates to, and management of that server will be up to you.
Search engine optimisation (SEO)
We don’t guarantee improvements to your website’s search engine ranking, but the pages that we develop are accessible to search engines.
Changes and revisions
We don’t want to limit your ability to change your mind. The price at the beginning of this contract is based on the number of weeks that we estimate we’ll need to accomplish everything you’ve told us you want to achieve, but we’re happy to be flexible. If you want to change your mind or add anything new, that won’t be a problem as we’ll provide a separate estimate for those additional weeks.
We’ll carry out our work in accordance with good industry practice and at the standard expected from a suitably qualified person with relevant experience. That said, we can’t guarantee that our work will be error-free and so we can’t be liable to you or any third-party for damages, including lost profits, lost savings or other incidental, consequential or special damages, even if you’ve advised us of them.
Your liability to us will also be limited to the amount of fees payable under this contract and you won’t be liable to us or any third-party for damages, including lost profits, lost savings or other incidental, consequential or special damages, even if we’ve advised you of them.
Finally, if any provision of this contract shall be unlawful, void, or for any reason unenforceable, then that provision shall be deemed severable from this contract and shall not affect the validity and enforceability of any remaining provisions.
Intellectual property rights
Just to be clear, “Intellectual property rights” means all patents, rights to inventions, copyright (including rights in software) and related rights, trademarks, service marks, get up and trade names, internet domain names, rights to goodwill or to sue for passing off, rights in designs, database rights, rights in confidential information (including know-how) and any other intellectual property rights, in each case whether registered or unregistered and including all applications (or rights to apply) for, and renewals or extensions of, such rights and all similar or equivalent rights or forms of protection which subsist or shall subsist now or in the future in any part of the world.
First, you guarantee that all elements of text, images or other artwork you provide are either owned by your good selves, or that you’ve permission to use them. When you provide text, images or other artwork to us, you agree to protect us from any claim by a third party that we’re using their intellectual property.
We guarantee that all elements of the work we deliver to you are either owned by us or we’ve obtained permission to provide them to you. When we provide text, images or other artwork to you, we agree to protect you from any claim by a third party that you’re using their intellectual property. Provided you’ve paid for the work and that this contract hasn’t been terminated, we’ll assign all intellectual property rights to you as follows:
You’ll own the website we design for you plus the visual elements that we create for it. We’ll give you source files and finished files and you should keep them somewhere safe as we’re not required to keep a copy. You own all intellectual property rights of text, images, site specification and data you provided, unless someone else owns them.
We’ll own any intellectual property rights we’ve developed prior to, or developed separately from this project and not paid for by you. We’ll own the unique combination of these elements that constitutes a complete design and we’ll license its use to you, exclusively and in perpetuity for this project only, unless we agree otherwise.
Displaying our work
We love to show off our work, so we reserve the right to display all aspects of our creative work, including sketches, work-in-progress designs and the completed project on our portfolio and in articles on websites, in magazine articles and in books.
We’re sure you understand how important it is as a small business that you pay the invoices that we send you promptly. As we’re also sure you’ll want to stay friends, you agree to stick tight to the following payment schedule.
We issue invoices electronically. Our payment terms are [number] days from the date of invoice by BACS or the SWIFT international payments system. All proposals are quoted in [currency] and payments will be made at the equivalent conversion rate at the date the transfer is made.
You agree to pay all charges associated with international transfers of funds. The appropriate bank account details will be printed on our electronic invoice. We reserve the right to charge interest on all overdue debts at the rate of [percentage] per month or part of a month.
But where’s all the horrible small print?
Just like a parking ticket, neither of us can transfer this contract to anyone else without the other’s permission.
We both agree that we’ll adhere to all relevant laws and regulations in relation to our activities under this contract and not cause the other to breach any relevant laws or regulations.
This contract stays in place and need not be renewed. If for some reason one part of this contract becomes invalid or unenforceable, the remaining parts of it remain in place.
Although the language is simple, the intentions are serious and this contract is a legal document under exclusive jurisdiction of English and Welsh courts.
Oh and don’t forget those men with big dogs.
The dotted line
Signed by and on behalf of [company name]
Signed by and on behalf of [customer name]
Everyone should sign above and keep a copy for their records.
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