Three principles your contract must align with

Being a freelancer is awesome. You are the boss, you manage your time, your projects, your mid-day naps (don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone about your naps. nuSchoolers believe that napping is great ). As a freelancer, you don’t share your profits with anyone but yourself. Well, maybe with your dog in case you got one.

On the other hand, there are a few dark sides to deal with, which have nothing to do with creativity or design. You gotta write contracts, give price quotes, be polite to your clients, and collect money from motherf**ckrs that “forgot” to pay you on time. And no one taught you how to do that. They don’t teach that in design school.

But you know what? I really learned how to love these tasks, and there’s some creativity to be found in them as well, if you care to find it. And if you don’t, I respect it. Then at least I can help you lower some friction.

Let’s talk about contracts. You’re not a lawyer – your mom might have wanted you to be one, but you decided to hang with the cool kids. And now they want you to deal with papers instead of typography and images?! What the heck?! So you are either scared or annoyed (or both) when you have to write your own contract, and you probably ended up copying it from someone else. Fair enough.

And still, you need to do it properly. Otherwise, when the day comes and you have to email your non-paying-customer that angry email describing how he must pay “or else”, you better be backed by a great paper you are both signed on. Or else.

Here are three basic principles your contract must satisfy. Without those, you could easily get in trouble. And when I say trouble I mean, you’ll have to give your money to the good boy who did what his mom wanted, and went to be a lawyer. How will you spoil your doggy then?


Your contract must be simple and readable. It shouldn’t be more than two pages, with medium-sized font. It should be so simple that even your sister, who just had her sweet-sixteen, could understand.

Look how simple it is:

  1. Things you need to design
  2. Things the client should deliver so you can start the design process
  3. Dates when the stuff has to be done (AKA “milestones”)
  4. That’s it!

Isn’t it simple? No lawyer’s language please. Lawyers are writing in their own language in order for you to feel good when you pay them, and miserable without them. But it turns out that when the contract is in a readable language, things are easier for everyone, including the lawyer. That is especially right when shit happens. And it can happen.

Equally good for both sides

A great contract is one that is fairly good for both sides. If it isn’t things will probably get messy at some point. Someone will start to feel as if she is not paid well enough, or he didn’t get what he paid for. So do yourself a favor – read the contract as if you are the client, not the designer. Do you feel that things are fair? Do you feel protected? Is it clear what the work is all about?

Covers “shit happens” from A to Z

Think about your work with the client from day zero till a month after the payment. What can go wrong? well, everything can, and at some point, will. Are these messy cases covered in your contract? What happens if the client decides to stop working with you in the middle of the project? What happens if you want to stop working for him because you got that offer you can’t refuse from that studio you always wanted to work for? What happens if he doesn’t pay on time?


There’s a lot of wisdom in how to write a contract. Maybe that is why some people dedicate their lives to writing such papers. But it shouldn’t be too hard to have a single great template you are using every now and again, customized per project. After all, you are designing something for someone, not marrying him, or building his house.

So just make sure this template is simple and readable; that it is as great for your client as it is for you; and that it covers everything that can go wrong.

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