Why we work the way we do. Part 1: Contracts

Some of our clients are still surprised when we follow a few ‘formalities’ around projects. By formalities, we mean things like estimates, contracts, agreed timescales and sign off sheets.

We’re a relatively informal and flexible team and we like to make sure that our clients are delighted with everything we do, which is why we have these processes in place. It means we all know where we stand and we can all relax within the agreed remit of a job. In this post, we focus on contracts and why we always work with them.

Why do I need a contract?

Well, if you were to ask us to create a small leaflet for you, it’s reasonably simple: you ask us to quote; you agree our price and give us your brief and deadline; we work on it; you approve it; we send the artwork to you or to a printer and then we send an invoice for the work completed. This seems reasonably fair and straightforward.

But you’d be surprised at the number of times we’ve been asked to create 3 designs (often in several colour schemes or formats) on the basis of “if I like one of them, I’ll go with it”. This is called ‘spec work’. Helpful as we like to be, we do have to say no for a few reasons: the biggest reason is that back in the early days when we wanted to build goodwill, we came up with some new branding designs for a potential client, only to find he went to another agency with ‘his’ ideas and just asked them to artwork them. We had spent a long time researching and coming up with those ideas, and then artworking them for presentation to the client. In order for us not to be caught out like that again, our ideas have to remain our intellectual property until paid for in full or licensed for a fixed term. That’s part of the terms and conditions of most designers’ contracts and we’re no different.

We know some people might think it sounds a bit off, but would you expect to ask a solicitor for advice and not pay (even if you didn’t like the advice)? We like to work in partnership with clients so that we come up with an end result that they’re over the moon with. They are able to specify timescales and add in other clauses that matter to them too.

Likewise, when it comes to building a website, where our time involved can be much greater (1-2 months typically), we can’t really be expected to develop a site on spec. That’s why we never start work until we have a contract signed by both parties. We also ask for additional commitment from our clients in the form of a first installment towards the final invoice on signing of contract and an interim payment when the design and structure is agreed.

Again, some might think that it shows we’re not very trusting, but in actual fact, if we turn down other work for 2 months while we complete a massive project, not only does it affect our immediate cashflow, but if our client were to decide for whatever reason not to pay that single invoice, we are in a bit of a deep rut. And we get a bit grumpy when we’re hungry!

What our contract tends to mean is that everyone knows where they stand, costs are spread and we work with people who value our expertise and commitment. We feel valued, our clients feel listened to and there’s jam for tea.

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