How to lay down your terms as a Designer



When we first started working as designers, we never used a contract. We kind of assumed that it was obvious that we work for you, you pay us and we all go hopping back to our perfect lives.. Well, in due course of time we realised it’s not as easy as wonderland. Shit happens and the one thing you can do to prevent your business from crumbling is having a contract signed before commencing your design work.

To begin with it’s not just a transaction against the design work, there’s so much more that comes along when you work on a project.. things like refunds, cancellations, excess work and out of pocket expenses that have to be mutually agreed upon before you take the leap. And why we like the terms and conditions the most is because it lays down a timeline and payment schedule which both parties sign at the start of every project. Which means you don’t have to make endless calls and send numerous emails to get paid for all your hard work! There still will be some difficult clients who choose to ignore your reminders and continue sending edits as if nothing happened – Heck we’ve got one now! – but for most it works out really well.

We have a fairly long terms of contracts which we feel might be a build up from many years of dealing with all sorts of clients but there are some terms that as a creative you shouldn’t miss in order to have an effective contract. So, let’s see

How to lay down your terms as a designer:


Scope of work:

Contract terms often scare clients away so we usually tend to keep the scope of work separate in a Design Proposal. However terms are a good place to lay down design related allowances such as types and number of variations provided at every stage of the design process or How many revisions will you give the client.

Other areas that you could focus are describing who will be in charge of providing the inputs such s text and pictures. If you are, then that’s an out of pocket expense that you are going to charge the client for stock photography or hiring a copywriter. And if it’s a website then who will be in charge of maintaining and hosting it? Ideally we like to design and host the website with us so that we can also maintain the website for them and any changes and edits made to the website are consistent.

Payment terms, termination and refunds:

As designers your expense is the hours you put into designing for your client and half way if the client decides to terminate the project that’s all your time and effort put to waste. Having proper payment terms agreed upon can save you from this misery.

We often ask for 50% advance and the remaining before submission of the artwork. Since websites are slightly larger projects, we do those in quarters at every stage of development. The start of the project might not have a lot of physical outcome but intakes a lot of hours of research and concept development due to which the advances are non refundable. Mention what happens if the client terminates the project and vis a vis. If we are responsible for cancelling the project it’s usually if the client is late in responses and payments, but if the project is cancelled for personal reasons we usually will refund the client.

It’s a good idea to state how you like to receive your payments and give the necessary details so that the client has a point of reference at all times.

Excess work

Sticking to the scope of work has a very thin line between excess work, for a client. A lot of times the client will ask you to “simply place the website header and some pictures to make a poster / flyer”. They don’t understand the time in editing text, placing images and creating layouts, which is why we keep it clear that if there’s any work in excess of the scope of work discussed it will be charged on an hourly basis.

A polite way is to let them know before hand that a certain collateral is exceeding their scope – so that it’s not a shocker to the client at the end of project. Also explain that a certain “simple” layout will take you ‘those many’ hours and hence will cost the client what it does. Educating your client along the way will keep your relationship a lot smoother and more pleasant.


When you work on larger projects for a client you are likely to have access to their social media accounts, hosting service accounts and even their bank details sometimes. It should be clarified that this is part of your service provided to them and that all that information is safe and confidential.


Copyrights of brand names, images or text provided by the client is not your responsibility. The client should ensure that they are cleared for copyright infringement. This should be stated in the terms so that you have your hands clean.

You are however responsible for the designs you make and present to you client. There are designers who will hunt the internet for “ideas” and make brand identities – So if something like that is caught.. then it’s your neck on the line.


Speaking of copyright, it is very important to clarify at the start of the project who the artwork belongs to and what the ownership rights will be. For example, if the artwork belongs to the client, can you as the designer display the work as part of your portfolio or alternatively if the artwork belongs to you, what is the client allowed to do with your work?

Either way as a designer one right that you must never give up is to be able to display your work as part of your portfolio on websites or social media. Thats your good will and your bread and butter. Another right that you also have is to be credited for any artwork that they display.. However we found that there’s no real way to control that or be legally secured by that.. We could be wrong – If there’s something you know or have experience in, please do share with us and all other readers.

If you enjoyed reading this post, leave us a comment below. You might also like How to create a Design Brief and How to Create a Design Proposal which also include FREE TEMPLATES to get your business kick started more professionally.

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2 Responses to “How to lay down your terms as a Designer”

  1. Stephen Church

    This is a terrific post – with a clear argument which is essential for to so many sectors. In my own field of copywriting, Terms & Conditions are a must. In order to protect my business, it’s critical that my clients have a clear understanding of what’s expected in terms of payment, ownership, confidentiality, scope, refunds etc.

    But – I would argue that there’s a good deal more to Ts & Cs than simply ‘protecting’ your business. Properly crafted, they can be used to ‘promote’ it too – in two ways:

    1. At the start of the ‘Scope of Work’ paragraph, you declare ‘Contract terms often scare clients away’. I suggest that well written Ts & Cs often have the opposite effect. They create the impression that you’re a ‘grown-up’ company; one which takes its clients, its rights and its responsibilities seriously – a company that is worth doing business with. I knew of a lady setting up on her own with a pub cleaning business. A number of clients confessed that they had taken her on, because of her clear Ts & Cs – not in spite of them.
    2. Your Terms and Conditions can be also great negotiating tool. Imagine you’re close to agreeing a ‘job’ with a new client but there’s a hiccup over your price. Imagine how powerful a position you’re in when you can turn to the client and say, “Well, you’ll notice from our Terms, that we ask for 50% up front. In your case, we can make a special case and cut this to 30%.”

    You can of course, ask a solicitor to write your T’s & C’s. However, it’s such an important field, I’d always recommend a specialist. When I set up Copywriter Pro, I turned to BEB Contract & Legal Services in Northampton. Bev Brazier and Hazel Napier performed wonders in producing Ts & Cs which rigorously both protect and promote my business.

    • zorb

      Those are good points Stephen and thanks for sharing with us and even more so for reading our content.. It’s always good to hear what others are think and are doing for their business..



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