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Contracts and the Small Print

Contracts and the Small Print

Mike Lenhart

Contracts – The Small Print Isn’t Small At All

We all should know that a contract, preferably written and not verbal, is of utmost importance when procuring our design services. All sizes of design firms have them, and we’ve all seen, but have not necessarily read, the small print on the back of our credit card statements or when accepting the terms and conditions on our iTunes upgrades. Even though we may not read these clauses, we still agree to them and are bound by them if any dispute should arise. So, in order to protect ourselves, just like the big boys, we need to add some small print in our contracts as well.


So, other than our fees and deliverables, what should we include in our contract terms in order to protect ourselves? Here are a few things I’ve used for freelance and in our firm’s contracts that just may, and have, come in handy.

Cancelation Clause

What if the client suddenly decides to cancel the project in the middle of it? What if you can’t see eye-to-eye with the client from the start and just want to get rid of him? That’s where the handy Cancelation Clause comes in. Not to be confused with a Kill Clause or Fee, the Cancelation Clause covers you, and the client at times, when the project needs to be stopped. You should include a fee that is due for the actual work you’ve done and base it on your current hourly rate. This should be clearly spelled out in the contract in terms that you both understand. If you need to cancel the contract, there needs to be some sort of return of the deposit fee paid to you or other concession(s) to the client. It’s only fair. The client should get any finished, or even unfinished, if applicable, artwork so they can choose to move on with someone else or not. In all instances of a cancelation, we really need to remain professional and helpful as bad karma really can come back to get us.

Rejection Clause

What happens if the client doesn’t like any of the concepts you present? Although you’ve done the research and asked the right questions from the start, the client simply feels that they’re just not “on the mark”. A Rejection Clause really needs to be in place here. Similar to the Cancellation Clause, this should include a pro-rated fee based on actual work you’ve already done. Always remember to keep accurate track of your time – you can do it by hand or use one of the many software programs that do it for you. You can have the Clause kick in if the preliminary work is rejected and even if the final work is rejected, just have in all in the Rejection section.

Kill Fees

If the client, for many reasons, simply kills the entire project out of the blue, you have recourse. Sometimes there is an internal shift in the client’s marketing or promotional efforts and the project is no longer needed. Sometimes there are other reasons, like no budget, but it’s really none of our concern. What is our concern is that we get adequate compensation for the work already done, similar to the Cancelation fee. Kill fees and Cancelation Clauses are different, so it’s good to have them both in your contracts.

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