Good Contract for Web Designers

When you are getting started as a web designer, finding a good contract can be a real obstacle.

Now, I am not a lawyer, but here is a contract for web designers that I used to use when I did consulting and web design projects for less than $10,000.  It’s a great contract for those small brochure-type websites in the $0-$5,000 range (we used a different contract for engagements over $10,000).  Why is it a good contract?

1) it describes the process
2) it puts onus/responsibility on YOUR CLIENT – VERY IMPORTANT
3) it is short
4) it is easy to understand
5) it breaks down gracefully

Over 6+ years I found this was all I needed for small web design projects.  In fact, it worked very well for me early on in my contracting career when a dodgy client tried to take advantage of me.

Feel free to use this contract if you like.  Please note that you ought to include a detailed description of the work you are going to do (i.e. number of pages, description of the functionality, etc.).  So without further adieu, here is the contract:


Additional Costs:
* Copyediting: $***/hour
* Additional graphics and HTML: $***/hour
* Programming: $***/hour
* Significant updates to site and/or database: $***/hour (minimum $*** fee)
* Search engine optimization consulting: $***/hour

Payment Schedule:
* 50% to commence design and development
* 40% upon delivery of completed site – certified cheque required
* 10% hold back for 30 days to ensure the site operates in accordance with project specifications

Upon, but not before, delivery of the completed web site and upon payment in full, all HTML and programming and finished graphics will become property of YOUR CLIENT. YOUR COMPANY’s liability will be limited to replacement of any defective works.  YOUR COMPANY will not be held responsible for any consequential damages resulting from errors in the work. It is understood that YOUR CLIENT is legally responsible for all project content (including, but not limited to, text and images).

YOUR CLIENT is responsible for the provision of all site content in a timely manner. A two-week lapse between a request for content and the corresponding delivery will constitute a termination of the contract, in which case YOUR CLIENT will be invoiced for the services performed to date. The fee for services is based on three rounds of design as detailed in Section 3 above.

Additional charges will be incurred by YOUR CLIENT at the rates outlined above for further revisions. Revisions/feedback will only be accepted in written form.

Please sign here to signify your acceptance of this Statement of Work:

Signature: __________________________   Date: ____________________


More great ideas to grow your business

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  • Zack

    me thinks part of the contract is missing.

  • Michael McDerment

    No…that’s it…I just was thinking that one thing you should add to it is the currency in which you work. We used to include this in the project description, that’s why it’s not the contract above

    Zack: did you have something particular in mind?

  • Zack

    No, you’re right. I breezed over the part about adding a detailed description of the work. That’s what skimming will do for you.

  • Roman

    Is there any whay you would publish the sample of the detailed description as you would have done it? It would be very usefull.

  • Mike McDerment

    Good idea Roman…I’ll sort through some old contracts and make another post IF I can find an appropriate contract for public display. That said, I would not be surprised if I CANNOT find a suitable contract…but I will see what I can come up with and make a post if I can.


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  • Canadian Dollars

    Hi there,
    Great blog post.
    Is it common practice to ask for money up front prior to development? Or is this common practice only in the web industry? I can see that for first time contacts with a client, it makes sense of the contractor to protect their own interest.

    Also of note, if a client says the job will take between 20-30 hours, always look at the worst case scenario (30) and create a total billing based on the higher amount.

  • Mike McDerment

    Good question. I think upfront payment is an industry specific thing. In development upfront payment is to be expected in experience and opinion – it’s important to get the proper investment from the client when they engage you for a project. By paying up front a measure of alignment is achieved as they want to be certain they get their ROI.

  • Jack

    The idea of separating contract and scope of work is right and less confusing to you and the client. And, money up front is absolutely correct when unique design work or copy writing drafts will be prepared and submitted for review and selection.

  • Investing Forums

    It’s best getting the money up front, especially in the designing of content and similar copy writing services. I usually use Paypal.

  • Mark

    My firm generally does one-third up-front to start the project, one-third when we post the site to a staging/test environment that the client can use for internal meetings and acceptance testing, and remaining third upon delivery. The distribution isn’t as important as getting the client “involved”, financially.

    Change orders during the project are generally 50% to start and 50% upon delivery to keep things simple (or, if a small change, all at delivery).

    All expenses, such as travel for meetings, are due upon delivery too though I’ve seen other firms invoice expenses monthly.

    If we don’t get the start payment within 10 business days, all work stops until the client understands that the project cannot move forward without their foot in the water. In each case, the up-front payment is about client commitment and participation.

    We also have a paragraph that basically says what we get paid if they cancel the project partway through. We’ve had to invoke that several times to get paid for work done in good faith. In fact, several projects were allowed to complete when client management realized they still had to pay something.

    I heard a quote from a collections agency some time ago (um, a client) that I found true, if not a little hard: “A contract is only as good as the sleaze who signs it.”

    While I probably wouldn’t use the word “sleaze” (not often anyway) I have experienced this first-hand. It is amazing the number of people who sign a contract then decide to change the terms or scope – and refuse to change budget or schedule – or just remember a completely different set of meetings.

    The lesson: always make sure the contract is clear and always make sure the scope is outlined well or the description includes your assumptions / project boundaries.

    While it may seem excessive to say “12-15 static content pages” and “all final approved copy provided by client at least 3 business days before launch” those boundaries can keep you from 55 pages, endless revisions, and red ink in your bank statement.

    Many of my repeat clients know the phrase “hmmm. that sounds like a change order..” I don’t start out confrontational but they know where we are going. The trick is knowing when to use the phrase and when to kick in a (little) freebie.

    For small projects (<15k) we keep the description in the contract. For large projects or if the client requires a separate detailed spec the contract refers to that document but the contract remains the control document.

    That is, if you detail functionality later, that document is always subordinate to the contract. How? The spec has a paragraph in chapter 1 that says “this document is subject to the contract terms, conditions, and scope”.

  • Andy Charrington

    Lovely. Thank you very much.

  • Bjorn

    Thank you very much! Just what I needed!

  • Scott Clark

    This agreement is woefully inadequate. I hope nobody using this ever gets into a fuss with a client.

    * jurisdiction
    * arbitration clause
    * opportunity to cure clause?

    I could go on.

  • Mike McDerment

    @scott – this is meant to be a light weight agreement for projects that are “small claims court” in nature . The clauses you are describing are designed for a document with a different spirit and scope, and while any project contract *could* include them, sometimes they just add weight to documents that don’t need them in most cases.

    That said, while I am the son of a lawyer, I’m not a lawyer…so take my advice with that caveat.

  • Kevin Heath

    If I was presented this contract by any of my suppliers, I would seriously consider their motives and professional experience.

    The ideal contract should be in place to protect both parties and manage expectations.

    This looks like a quickly hashed up “this should sort any nuisance clients out” type contract.

    I am particularly horrified by the line stating that you will sack the client and charge them for any time spent if they do not comply with your time frame.

    It is the clients prerogative to dictate time frames.

    Ever heard the phrase “The customer is always right”? Well they are. Even when they are wrong.

    Your customer support is clearly lacking in many many ways.

    In fact as I’ve typed this my view of your company has developed from naive to charlatan!

  • will

    Ummm… this isn’t Wal-Mart. If a client holds up a project that you have most of your (limited) resources invested in, how do you plan on buying more canned peaches and yogurt? With Play-doh?

    And sure, contracts *should* be there to protect both parties & manage expectations. But the truth is, lots of people are befuddled by the wizard-speak of law. And lots of people only bother with contracts because they want to “sort any nuisance clients out”. Doesn’t make it right, right?

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  • John

    I found some great documents over at that I now use in my own business. Theyre fantastic and much more comprehensive than this :)

  • Mike Annable

    I used to charge 50%, 25% on day 30 and the final 25% when done.

    I had a customer avoiding me when the first 25% was do. After a few weeks of chasing hi around, I got even.

    I went to his website, hit control and print screen. I pasted it in Photoshop and “cracked it in half”. I even went through the trouble of giving the crack cool looking jagged edges.

    I renamed his index file and made my own little file with a large PNG of his “cracked in half” website.

    He called me the next day to tell me his site was broken :) He paid

  • Jason

    At first, when our company was just starting we don’t ask our clients to make a down payments before we start with any project but we learned that that was a bad move for there were some clients who would just get ideas from you and get some other’s service.

  • Jody

    This is a good start for me. Thanks!

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  • Chase Buckner

    Love it. And I love that it completely turned Kevin Heath off; seems just like a few clients we’ve had who we wished we’d have weeded out before getting started with them!

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  • Joseph

    Thanks, man!