Any business transaction you make should have a contract attached to it. And, if you should happen to encounter clients who aren’t “comfortable” with the terms of the contract, well then… Danger, Will Robinson.
It doesn’t matter what the price tag is for each project or individual task you take on with a new client. What matters is that losses that result from unpaid bills can quickly stack up if you don’t have the right form of protection in place.
Namely, a freelance contract.
You want your WordPress business to succeed, which is why you don’t leave anything up to chance. You take great pains to build your client list and continually streamline your processes. You brush up on the latest and greatest ways to use PHP in your workflows. You even get sneaky and white label the backend of WordPress in order to leave a lasting impression with clients.
So, if you’re truly dead set on succeeding, then it’s time to start treating this like a serious business. An onboarding contract is a crucial part of that.
Why Should You Use a Contract to Onboard New Clients
Just to be clear: a contract isn’t just to protect your payment. A contract can provide clients with certain assurances and set expectations properly—for both sides—from the get-go.
Contracts work just as well for individual assignments (like a total website build) as they do for long-term work (like ongoing WordPress maintenance). And this formal agreement will also help bolster your status as a professional developer and full-fledged business with every new client you take on.
If this is your first time creating a freelance contract or you’re concerned with the quality of the one you’re currently using, here are some of the things you can (and should!) define within it:
Scope of Work
First things first: you must spell out the scope of work. That way, if you should happen to forget the original terms agreed upon or your client should claim that you owed them five revision rounds in each phase instead of two, you can reference the original scope.
Since this is for WordPress development, you should also clearly state the deliverables owed to the client. Obviously, you’ll deliver the completed website, access to the WordPress admin, all final design files, any branding or style guides created, and so on.
This may seem like a minor detail, but it’s an important one to include as revisions can often become major budget breakers. Define how many revisions are allowed for each stage of work, task, etc., so clients can’t ask for more than what they paid for later on.
Every contract should have a firm start and end date. And, if you’re working in phases, you should include specific deadlines for each. Of course, stipulations should be added in case the client disappears, an emergency arises on your end, or some other situation pops up that prevents any of these dates from being met.
Payment terms must be clearly defined. This includes:
- The total cost of the project or your hourly fee.
- Additional costs associated with the project, like if you’re asking them to compensate you for software or other premium services or tools purchased on their behalf.
- A schedule of payments, especially if you’re requesting a deposit prior to beginning work, phase completion payments, and final payments.
- Late fees and the conditions under which those apply.
Also, if you want to include a clause for a kill fee (when a project is canceled after you begin work), you can do that here. You’ll want to define the terms under which a contract can be terminated by either party as well.
Point of Contact
You might not find this on a lot of contracts, but it’s something I like to include when working with larger clients. The reason for this is because too many cooks in the kitchen can severely hurt progress and compromise quality in web design. Plain and simple. So, I always like to limit contact with clients to a single decision-maker to ensure that I’m doing my part to keep things running smoothly from the get-go.
You should define the copyright within a contract. This is more just to put your client’s mind at ease that you won’t later try and claim ownership over the WordPress site you built for them.
Also, take this time to stipulate that it’s okay for you to use their website or the work you did behind the scenes within your portfolio. You are in no way claiming ownership of the work, you’re simply requesting that you be able to include it within your body of work.
If you’re working for a major corporation or for a business with obvious privacy concerns (like a government entity), you’ll want to include all the standard contractual notes in your contract. This means there should be a confidentiality clause, a non-disclosure, and you may even want to include a non-compete just to provide extra assurances that you’re not going to run straight to their competition after their site is done.
Although you’ve defined deadlines and payment schedules and even the number of revisions included, you’ll still probably need a “final acceptance of work” clause, too. That’s not to say that every client will try to drag out the end of the project and final payment (after all, they want to get this website up too, right?), but it is something you may encounter and want to be ready for it.
You also want to make sure they don’t try to come back months down the line claiming they never approved the website and need you to make one more change. And then just this one additional change. And, oh yeah, it would be great if you could do this while you’re in there, too. Nope, get it in writing so you can close out your contract cleanly.
Resources for Creating a Freelance Contract
There are some people who would tell you that having the terms of your client-developer relationship and the scope of work written out in an email will suffice. While that may be true, especially if you have a record of your client explicitly agreeing to those terms, it’s not the ideal manner in which to establish a contract. It’s similar to copyright: while it could definitely serve as proof, it likely won’t hold up very well in a court of law when arguing over $15,000 in wages owed.
Although you could spare yourself the time in creating your own contract by waiting to see if your client has a freelance contract, why would you do that?
As you work on growing your business, you’re not going to have time to wait on clients to be responsible for matters of this importance (especially if it works in their favor not to have one). You also won’t have time to draw a contract up on the fly every time. You’re bound to leave off a crucial bit of information and give shadier clients a reason to stiff you on the bill.
By having a standard contract in place, this will be one last thing you’ll have to worry about. It will also ensure that the terms you establish with each of your clients are consistently, professionally, and thoroughly applied every time.
So, you have two options here. You can write up your own freelance contract and include all the necessary bits of information I mentioned above. Or you could take the easier route and use a pre-made contract template… of which I have a number of resources you can try:
The Professional Association for Design created their own standard contract agreement for designers a few years back. Luckily for us, legal standards don’t really change all that much (unlike web design), so this template is still as relevant now as it was in 2013. This one comes in a PDF format, so you’ll have to copy the relevant sections into your own contract template. (A simple Word document should suffice so long as you can get a signature on it.)
And Co is one of those platforms that uses a step-by-step contract builder questionnaire to help you populate customizable fields of the template. However, the absolute best part about this tool is that it can serve as the entire financial management system for your client projects, from contract through final payment. It also happens to be the preferred contract tool for Freelancers Union, which is always a good sign.
Here’s another example of a freelance contract tool you can use for more than just the contract creation piece of your freelancing business. This one works similarly to the And Co platform as it asks you a series of questions about your business, the scope of work, payment terms, etc. so you don’t have to spend time drawing the contract up from-scratch.
This is one of the more rigorous freelance contract builder tools available. It does an especially good job of ensuring that you not only dot all your i’s and cross your t’s, but that you also have more control over customizing the granular bits of information within the contract. So, if you feel as though the simplification presented by the aforementioned options isn’t sufficient enough, you can use this template.
You spend most of your day probably worrying about how to keep your clients’ websites safe—from hackers as well as from themselves. But now it’s time to focus on yourself for a bit. There are a number of threats that could potentially harm your WordPress business if you don’t safeguard against them now.
A freelance contract is just one of the many ways to ensure that your revenue stream is protected, so take an hour or two to draw up a contract and nip this one in the bud.