7 Things to Include in Your Web Design Contracts

View Comments by Bianca Board on 28 February 2014

Web design is fun.

After all, you meet a client at their most PASSIONATE, when they’re about to start a new project or reinvigorate an old one. 

They believe in you, they trust you to bring their idea to life. 

And you get to take their vision and create a website that represents everything about them and their business.

It’s a wonderful and creative time.

When you deliver their website, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a big smile spread across their face, because YOU have helped them take that big step towards realising their dream.

So what could possibly go wrong?

When you’re dealing with the perfect client the whole process is golden. Web design can be a pretty sweet gig and you get a lot of raving fans as clients.

And that’s GREAT... but the sad reality is that even the best relationship can go sour.

This is WHY you need a contract in place to insure against all the ‘what-ifs’.

When you start out, you may think it’s safe to trust your client and that NOTHING could possibly go wrong. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt about clients, it’s that no matter how much I like them as people, it’s critical to set out the terms of the project in a contract when you start out.

This way *if* something does go awry, or if there is a misunderstanding, you have the contract to fall back on to protect your interests.

Now, how you work is up to you; but I hope you’ll trust my 10 years of working in web. Believe me, I’ve been put through the wringer by clients in my earlier days and I’m just not going to take it anymore. That’s why I now create watertight contracts that protect me, and them.

So, here are the 7 most important elements you must include in your design contracts.

1) Detail who owns what.

For a typical designer working in print it’s usually as simple as the client pays for your services and they take 100% ownership of the produced work. However as you develop web services and grow your business, you’ll realise not everything is that simple.

Creating and designing a website can consist of multiple components, so it’s important to inform your client in your design contracts what is theirs and what isn’t, especially in the event they want to change their web host in the future.

Things to consider can include:
  • The ownership of the web layout or theme used.
  • Any coding used to develop the site.
  • The web design itself.
  • Any CMS systems used by the site.
  • Any additional design work (banners, etc).
  • Any web copy used.
  • Any intellectual property owned by either the clients or the design.

For example, if you create websites using our Web123 ProPartner program, it’s important to note that the client owns any additional design work, copy and intellectual property on the website. However, they are only leasing the CMS system and the layout that the website is created on.

It is incredibly important to state this in writing in your contract; otherwise you could end up in a sticky legal mess if the client ever wants to go elsewhere in the future. Always note what the client  can (and can’t) take with them, so that they can fairly balance the pros and cons of working with you.

2) Layout responsibilities for both yourself and your clients.

When you design a website, it’s a two way street. It’s important for you to design a website to the best of your ability; it’s your reputation on the line, and your client is depending on you. However it is ALSO your client’s responsibility to give you timely feedback and supply the information you need to complete their project.

Unfortunately I have had clients who don’t seem to understand this, which is why I note my client’s responsibilities in my design contracts so that I can point to it when I need to keep projects moving forward.

The key client responsibilities you want to list include:

  • What materials need to be supplied.
    This can include photos, product descriptions, a completed website planner.*
  • Any key access information.
    This could include FTP or WordPress access details for their old website, or for their current hosting, so that you can complete your work. 
  • Who will add content.
    This is REALLY crucial. Many of your clients may presume that you will upload all of their content. However it’s important to only do this if you’re charging for it. So make sure you detail who is responsible for this when the site is complete.

    One thing I like to do is send a proposed timetable of work along with my contract, and in it, explain when I will deliver key drafts AND when I expect them to give me feedback. It’s saved me a number of times when I get a tricky client who struggle to get around to giving me feedback.

* Don’t have your own website planner? No worries... you can use our when you join my Web123 ProPartners network.

3) Expect payment upfront.

You may feel that talking about money is one of the trickier parts of writing up a contract, however I’m here to tell you that this isn’t the case.

Remember, your client has come to you and they want your services, and they expect to pay for your high quality work. So don’t be afraid to talk about dollars. ;)

However one thing I will suggest is that where possible make sure you get payment for your work upfront, or at least part-payment at the very least. I’ve been there... and I’ve been in a situation where I do ‘work first and get paid later’. Trust me... you don’t want to do it!

Most of your clients will be fine, but when you start producing more and more websites, you will inevitable get *that* client who refuses to pay. So make sure you get payment upfront for standard jobs.

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4) ... or do it in stages IF it’s a bigger job. Never do work WITHOUT getting paid!

I do make exceptions to the above rule; if a job is around $5k, I’ll accept 50% up front and 50% on completion of the work. And if the job is bigger than that (say between $5k-$10k), I may accept 3 payments, or even more progress payments if the job is bigger than $10k.

The key rule of thumb is to ALWAYS detail your milestones in your design contracts and always explain what payments you expect on those milestones.

So for example... you could do something like this:

  • 50% commencement deposit.

  • 25% on signoff of the design stage.

  • 25% on delivery of the final site.

Just make sure you detail WHEN you expect money for your work, and always stick to your guns! Never be tempted to start work without money, because I guarantee that one day you will be let down and have your heart broken by a client you thought you could trust. :(

Oh, and NEVER EVER EVER say final payment is due when the site goes live. 

After all what if the site never goes live? Always say final payment is due when the final design is delivered! I learnt that lesson the hard way when after delivering a website and... you guessed it... the website NEVER went live so I never got my final 50%.

5) Detail ALL ongoing costs.

If you’re doing it right, doing a web design for your clients is not just a one off occurrence. If you have a satisfied client, then chances are they will come back to you for additional work. However it’s incredibly important to charge them for this additional work.

So when writing up your design contracts, make sure you detail what your ongoing costs are. Typically, many of your clients will come back to you and ask for a ‘quick fix’ or a ‘30 second job’. And you may be tempted to do this ‘super-quick-job’ as a favour. 


All these little jobs add up, and before you know it, you’ll of done hundreds of dollars of work for free. And that’s a situation you don’t want to find yourself in.

I suggest you always detail how much you charge for additional work at an hourly rate. And this should be used not ONLY for design work, but also for additional meetings too. Remember... time is (your) money!

And don’t forget your ongoing hosting costs!

If you’re offering hosting services in addition to your design work (which YOU can do with the Web123 ProPartner program) then it’s important to also note these ongoing hosting costs, regardless who they have to pay it to.

Make sure you detail how much they need to pay and how often. It’s worth doing, as it’s a great way to earn additional money month in and month out.

6) Always allow for a change of terms.

We don’t always get it right! What looks like a watertight contract at first can end up showing a few leaks. Nothing major... you just need to make an adjustment to your design contract.

Easier said than done! Unless of course you’ve created a clause in your design contract that allows you to do so. Remember, if you do include such a clause, remember that it has to be fair to your client.

When we send out a design contract to our clients we like to include a clause like so:

This Agreement may change from time to time. In the event that this Agreement changes, [YOUR COMPANY NAME] shall advise the client in writing at least 60 days before the changes take effect.

If the client asserts that any changes to this Agreement show unfair bias against the interests of the client in favour of [YOUR COMPANY NAME], the client agrees to dispute the application of the changes in writing prior to the changes taking effect.

In the event of a dispute the client will either be provided with a written exemption from the specific changes within this Agreement that the client asserts to be unfair, or if this is not possible the client may at its option terminate this Agreement by giving 30 days’ notice.

Nice and easy!
That way you have a loophole to make changes if need be, but your client isn’t stuck with you if they feel it’s unfair, which is best for both parties. :)

7) Reasonable support.

As a common courtesy I say to all of my clients that if they want help, I’m on hand during and even after their website has been completed. After all, I want my client to get the most out of my website, so I offer unlimited support to all of them as part of their ongoing service package with us.

Many of your competitors will often charge for this service, so I find it’s a great little strategy to offer ‘unlimited’ support. However even though I want to offer this... I do slip in a little term just to cover myself. I call it my “excessive contact clause”:

The client agrees not to engage in excessive contact, which includes but is not limited to:

- Repeatedly asking for assistance with matters outside [YOUR COMPANY NAME]’s control, responsibility, or remit, after [YOUR COMPANY NAME] has advised the client that this is the case, including but not limited to: basic computer assistance, business advice or other technical assistance not related to [YOUR COMPANY NAME]’s services.

- Repeatedly and unreasonably asking for assistance with matters with which [YOUR COMPANY NAME] has previously provided training. The client agrees to endeavor to understand the training they are provided.

- Excessive phone calls or emails to the extent that it has a detrimental impact on our ability to service our other clients.

- Demands for assistance with non-urgent matters outside of [YOUR COMPANY NAME]’s support hours where urgency is determined at the sole discretion of [YOUR COMPANY NAME].

Trust me, I wish I didn’t have to have a clause like this, but you may come across a client who takes advantage of your good intentions. Thankfully I’ve not had to use the above clause in over 2 years, but it’s nice to know it’s there for when a client gets a little too big for their boots!

Want more help with your contracts? Then join Web123 ProPartner program today!

If you’re looking to become a serious web designer, then why not join my Web123 ProPartner program?

I’ve created the ProPartner program to help fellow designers like yourself who are looking to run a cost effective, profitable and successful web design business.

We can help you manage your clients and maximise your profit by offering a variety of additional services (PPC, SEO, copywriting) and monthly ongoing hosting. All without having to do any extra work yourself!

As part of this, we offer your free advice and resources, including examples contracts and term & conditions which YOU can freely use as part of your web design service offering.

Interested? Then why not watch this and see what it’s all about for yourself :) 

What do you think? Share your comments below.


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