So far in my web design business, the contract has been one of the most important tools I have. Mine has grown and expanded and shifted with each new client I get. It allows me to ensure that the client and I are starting on the same foot. It also helps me create mental walls, barriers and guideposts in mine and the client’s minds. No matter what happens, I can refer to my contract to cover my butt or explain away a problem. It’s by no means foolproof, but it has come in handy at least once in each project in the last year.
There are some clauses I find more helpful than others. Some I didn’t think of right away but have arisen out of necessity. They are useful when I need to protect my money, my time, and my sanity. Here are 6 clauses your web design contract is missing and how to fill in those gaps.
What to do in case…
Of harassment and disrespect
The grand majority of my clients are incredibly sweet, polite and professional. But every once and a while you get someone who is downright nasty. You may have run into one or two of them in your experience. They might be incredibly disrespectful and rude – either to you personally or to your time in general. They may be overly sensitive and get angry at the smallest things. Or they may be stubborn and not take no for an answer.
It’s useful to have something in your contract that basically says:
The Project Manager reserves the right to terminate the project in writing if the client expresses physical, verbal, emotional or mental abuse in any way toward the Project Manager.
I like this wording because it is just vague enough that any general mistreatment that I think crosses the line is covered. But it is specific enough that the client sees that I will take action if I feel I’m being disrespected.
What to do in case…
Your client vanishes on you
When working with people virtually, I’ve found that some clients have a hard time appreciating that I exist in the flesh. Despite my best efforts, they kind of see me as a face-less entity that they can approach as they please with no follow-through or follow-up. I’ve had more than one client, in the middle of a project, just vanish. For weeks, months, or forever. Either they get too busy, their priorities shift, they have an emergency in their personal lives, etc.
I’ve also had tons of clients who freeze when it’s time to supply content. It’s one of the most popular problems among web designers: how to get content from your clients in a timely manner. I’ve had clients who got so intimidated by submitting content, they disappear for a while to buy themselves more time.
It’s my strong belief that in running a business, it’s important to touch base with the people you’re working with, even if it’s just to say, “Hey, I need to put this project on hold for a few days!” or “Can I have another week to work on this content?” A ghosted client means you may not get paid, you’ve started work you can’t finish, you’ve wasted resources, you’ve wasted time, and you don’t know whether you can clear that time in your schedule moving forward. And it’s just plain rude.
To prevent ghosting, I have a line in my contract like this:
The Project Manager reserves the right to suspend work on the project in writing if the client is unresponsive (by phone and/or email) for 3 or more business days without prior warning or the client is more than 10 business days late in supplying content, revisions, or any other task requested in the scope of the project.
I like this wording because it gives tangible numbers of days that the client has (notice I specify business days!). I also say that this rule goes into effect if the client has not given prior warning. Feel free to remove this, but I like to communicate that extensions are fine, as long as we communicate.
What to do in case…
The client expects more work than you got paid for
This is more affectionately known as scope creep. You’re hired for certain services and the client starts tacking on more and more little things here and there until you’re overrun and doing twice as much work as you’re getting paid. It’s hard to avoid, especially if you have a genuinely nice client and would like to help them out. It’s easily avoided in your contract with a bulleted list of specific items/services the client can expect.
Project Manager will design and build a custom website with the client’s advisement, containing:
- X number of pages
- X number of landing pages
- E-commerce integration with WooCommerce
- Setting up, integrating and testing X number of products
- Setting up Google Analytics
- Setting up a photo gallery of up to 50 photos
- Optimizing each page for on-page SEO
- Integrating 2 MailChimp forms
- Installing an SSL certificate
Having a list like this, not only on your proposal but in the contract itself, allows you to refer the client to the list whenever they ask for new services. So when scope creep rears it’s ugly head, you can say that the requested service is outside the scope of the contracted items, but you would be happy to quote them on it after the current items have been completed. Saying “no” is never fun, so giving them an alternative that both gets you paid and gets them the requested feature is a good compromise.
What to do in case…
Something bad happens to you
A previous client actually brought this up to me and suggested I added it to my contracts. What happens to the project in case you are seriously injured, physically unable to work, or (no one likes thinking about this) dead? It seems like jumping to extremes, but it’s always best to be prepared for the worst. And it shows a level of professionalism and commitment to your client; you’ve made plans to complete their project even if the worst happens. It’s called a contingency plan and it may seem like overkill, but if you ever need it, you’ll be glad you had it.
The first step toward building a contingency plan is finding a contact person who the client can contact. I chose a web designer friend of mine who is familiar with the technology I use. I asked her to do this for me in exchange for me being her contingency person. She graciously accepted.
My contract clause looks something like this:
In case of disability, death, or any other instance that physically prevents the Project Manager from completing work on this project, the client can contact X.
- X can be contacted if the Project Manager is unresponsive for a total of 7 days.
- X will do all they can to complete and close out the project in a clean, fair manner.
- Contact information for X: (phone) or (email)
- They will facilitate any terminations, cancellations, or refunds. This client agrees to also release all necessary credentials to X
I like this wording because it includes the exact circumstances in which to contact her, what you can expect from her, her contact information, and a clause releasing all credentials to her. Which brings me to my next point…
What to do in case…
You need sensitive passwords and credentials
So far it’s never happened to me personally, but I’ve heard horror stories about web design clients whose sites or accounts got hacked after a project launched. They turned to the web designer, who had easy access to all those sensitive credentials. I don’t ever want to be in that position. Especially when it comes to e-commerce sites when I may have PayPal accounts or credit card information on file. If a client texts me a password and my phone gets lost or stolen, I can’t be responsible for that information now potentially becoming public knowledge.
It’s important to cover your butt when it comes to information like this. Assuring your clients that the information will be kept safe and secure is helpful, but I recommend having a way to do that. I use 1Password, which allows me to store client credentials all in one place, organized by project. You can also use LastPass or a similar password sharing system. The client can go in and add or remove credentials as they see fit.
My contract section on this is a bit lengthy, but it basically says:
All passwords and credentials both given from the client to the Project Manager and vice versa are not to be shared over phone, email, text, or any other messaging service. All credentials will be stored in a designated Vault set up by the Project Manager on 1Password.com. By signing this contract, the Client is agreeing to send and receive all passwords and credentials in this manner and in the period of time specified. In the event of a website hack or other instance of compromised credentials, the Project Manager bears no responsibility unless it can be proven that the comprising event was the direct result of negligence on the part of the Project Manager. Unless there is more work to be done on the website, the Project Manager agrees to release ownership and records of all website, hosting, and payment credentials 14 days after launch.
I can refer a client to this section whenever they have questions about sending passwords. They also can feel secure knowing I’ve agreed to delete the passwords from my records after 14 days. Even if you don’t store your passwords in this way, it’s helpful to have a clause that explains your responsibility to the client when it comes to sensitive information and the best ways to protect that information.
Let me know in the comments below what clauses I may have missed or if you’ll be adding any of these to your contract template! Interested in viewing my full contract, as well as a ton of other resources? Check out my Freelancers Resource Bundle, now available on Etsy for $20!