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Want to be a freelance web designer?

What does it take? Well, besides skin of leather, determination to survive, and self-starting motivation, Here are some tips to help you get started and and succeed.

Get a contract

Never never never do any business, either with a client directly or as a subcontractor without getting it in writing. You may want an overall "consulting contract" or policy notice that outlines general policies of your company, and a "web design" contract that will outline the design project deliverables.

General Policies Document

For a general consulting type of contract or policy letter, You'll need the following information clearly outlined in your document. This type of document does not need to be signed by the client, but it should be presented so there are no surprises during the job.

  • Payment Policies for services, including deposits and payments during the job process
  • Penalties (if any) for late payments or non payments.
  • Additional expenses that may need to be billed back to the client, such as mileage for "errands" run on a client's behalf, reimbursed products or services purchased on behalf of the client
  • Declaration of ownership of the created code when project is completed. Will your company retain the right to all software created? What about customized graphics? Or software, images you purchase for this project? If you charge for those items, you'll need to consider whether you will retain ownership of them, or turn it over to the client. Will the ownership be exclusive to that client, meaning you cannot use it again for another project?
  • Declaration of information content ownership of the site. Normally what is exclusive to the client (their business information or photos, logos, or images they provide) will remain their property.
  • Proprietary Discretion clause stating that any proprietary information you glean as a result of your relationship with the client will not be sold or used without their prior express written permission. This is a good business practice that lets the client feel that their business is as important to you as it is to them.

Project Scope of Work and Estimates

For a project to get off the ground, you will need to be sure you understand the scope of the project. Even before writing the contract and pricing the job, you'll want to sit down with the client and get a feel for their needs and desires. From that point, you can create a document that outlines specifically the pages the client will receive, functionalities, capabilities, reports, etc.  Once the client approves (aka SIGNS OFF on) the scope of work, you can give an estimate to how much the job will cost.

NEVER NEVER NEVER accept a job without understanding and getting in writing the scope of the project. Clients are notorious for "feature creep"... or.. "I thought I was gonna get this...", "I also wanted that...", "I forgot about such-n-such...". If you don't have the project in writing, it is very difficult to justify charging more for it later. Having a project scope also allows you to objectively price out each item in the project. The more projects you do, the more you'll know how long or difficult it is to do certain tasks.

Design or Services Contract

Once the estimate has been created, and approved, then you can create a contract from that estimate and scope of work. Since the scope has already been approved, and the estimated price agreed upon, this document is simply a formality to protect you and the client.

The Design or Services Contract should have in it

  • Payment policies during the project (such as 50% deposit at contract signing, 25% at design layout acceptance, and the balance due at some time near the end of the project.) This is only an example of course. You payment policies may also change based on the size of the project. You may only want a deposit and balance for small site projects. For large database projects, you may want to spread out the balance over a longer time period to help cover your ongoing expenses. You can alter this on a client by client basis but you do need to have it specified somehow in the contract.
  • Turnover policy. You'll need some contractual statement regarding how long a client has when the project has been completed to make changes. My company, Honey House Designs, normally gives a 30 day "review" period where the client can review the site and suggest changes or make corrections. After that time period, the site is considered finished and any changes are considered maintenance and subject to additional fees. This forces the client to review the site and not leave you waiting. Since Honey House Designs clients have access to look at their site while the site is being developed, they usually speed up the review process by making comments during development.
  • Nonpayment policy. If the site is completed, do NOT place it on a client's servers or provide user login information to the client until all outstanding balances have been paid. If the project balance does not get paid, then you need to have a statement in the contract telling of the consequences of that nonpayment ( such as removal of site from development area, or turnover of balance to a collections agency).
  • Areas for signatures, comments, and other information. If you will be registering a domain for the client, you may want to give them space to write their preferences down for domain names.

A sample contract for both web design projects and general Internet or software consulting can be located here


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