Let Your Contract Do the Talking

“How much do you charge?” “If I buy directly from you, do I pay the actual price or do you add a markup?” “What happens if I don’t like the product (or, design) you’ve recommended once I see it?” “When do you expect to get paid, before the project begins or after it’s done?”

Questions. Clients have lots of questions. Of course, you can patiently explain to them how you do business, what you are responsible for and what they are responsible for, etc. But you can’t count on them to remember—or to want to remember. That’s why you need a contract. I know designers who say they don’t like to use contracts. They feel they are too legalistic and may give the client the impression that they don’t trust them. Well, trust me, by not using a contract you are only putting yourself and your business at risk.

Few businesses operate without a contract, either explicitly or implicitly. (Have you looked at the back of an invoice or the terms of agreement on an online retail site recently?) A letter of agreement is all well and good, and it has legal force should a dispute arise. But it is not as comprehensive as a well-written contract. Many a designer has found himself or herself taken to task for some matter not included or specified in their letter of agreement. Never assume the client understands or agrees to something that is not explicitly stated in writing.

A contract is not completely bullet proof, but it is your best line of defense. So the next time your client starts asking questions, let your contract do the talking. It’s the best thing for both of you.

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