The Importance of a Good Web Development Contract

October 20, 2022

Many web designers, especially those who do mostly small projects or work as sole proprietorships, do not use web design contracts. They say that it is too bothersome to write up contracts for every project, and, besides, they say, a contract is only as valuable as the piece of paper it’s written on.

These reasons for this way of doing business are quickly undercut, however, when they have a client who refuses to pay in a timely manner or the client demands so many revisions that the project no longer is profitable. The worst case scenario is when a client claims that the web designer did not create what he wanted, and, therefore, will not get paid.

On the other hand, clients who do not demand a written contract often do not know how much can go wrong in the web development process or they have a sense of trust with the developer, so they feel that they can work out any problems without a contract.

Clients and designers who do not insist on a contract are doing business at their own peril; that is, they could be wasting their time, money and the future of their business.

A more enlightened approach to web development would be to look at the web development contract as a document that protects the client and the designer. That is, both have a lot to gain and very little to lose (if they are reputable) by writing up a basic understanding concerning the scope of the project, the timeline, payment schedules and a process for resolving differences. Depending on the scale of the project, a web design contract does not need to be drafted by a lawyer.

Here are the elements that should be included: the scope of the project, a timeline, ownership of design elements, client/buyer responsibilities, limitations on revisions, payment/refund policies and limitations of liability.

The scope of the project needs to be defined clearly. Produce a sitemap showing what web pages are included in the project and specify and the use of open source or custom coded functions. Projects tend to grow after they begin, so a good developer will be able to require additional payment for items not included in the initial scope of the project. The buyer also benefits because she will have clear benchmarks to determine what has and has not been completed.

A timeline is important because it can serve as a way to help the developer schedule projects and determine his cash flow. A timeline will also help the developer to get necessary text, photos, videos and feedback from the client in a timely manner. The client benefits, of course, are able to plan his business around the launch date of the website.

The ownership of design elements can be a contentious issue. Many designers base their pricing on the buyer taking ownership of the completed website, but not the source files that went into making contract By this we mean, most designers work under the assumption that the buyer of the website is not entitled to the layered Photoshop files that went into making a graphic or the titles, backgrounds, and music that went into making a video. Clients often request design elements for business cards, apparel or print uses, assuming that since they are were made for their website, they own everything that went into making them-each design element. Designers usually don’t want to give these up for free, as they show work process (trade secrets) and they do not receive additional income if derivative works are made from them. Clarify these issues in a contract.

The designer/buyer responsibilities should include what the buyer must provide: website text, photos and timely feedback. Clarifying these issues will help the designer and the buyer know who will do what and when.

Another thing to clarify is the revision process and any limitations on revisions. Again, this protects the designer from unprofitable projects. It also helps to focus the buyer on providing comprehensive feedback and revision requests.

Finally, payment policies need to be explicit to both parties. If the designer bills separately for things like stock photos, email and server setup or other incidentals, this needs to be clear. Set payment deadlines and late payment fees. Again, these things in a web development agreement protect the designer and client.

There are many web development contracts online. Some are better than others, but none of them are likely to be perfect without modifications. They are, however, a good starting point.

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