The Holy Grail of Contracting Tips for a Divi Project

“Yes, sir, we are very interested in buying this 20 bedroom, 15 bathroom castle. Our budget is $10,000. Can you work with that?”

“Ahem! After this wine, I would like the filet mignon, and my date will have the lobster bisque. Our budget is $22.”

“I’d like to buy this Rolls Royce. My budget is exactly $5,000, if not lower. Maybe you can buy me dinner and we can discuss how this transaction would be beneficial to your company.”

These types of conversations sure look different when you’re not providing web design.

My first project was a nightmare. I charged the client a low flat rate that eventually became a magnificent $2/hour for a beautiful, custom, 20+ page WordPress site. I also had travel expenses, I bought her coffee (three times, to show her that I was grateful for her being a customer), I frequently went to her house to “talk business” (which was basically unpaid consulting), and I hosted and paid for all five of her domains without her paying a cent.

Whoops.

Through horrific experiences like these, I’ve learned what makes a good contract and what doesn’t. Here are a few points to address in your contract to make your practice run more smoothly:

Wear revision armor

Client: I know we originally agreed on a single page website, but what I really want is a 50 page membership portal

A design never survives the first touch of a client, but you still need to protect yourself from doing unreasonable amounts of work. Set limits on the number of revisions your client is allowed to request – for instance, let them submit only two revision documents throughout the course of the project. Each time they submit a change request, let them know that they’ve used up one of their revisions. On their third revision, tell them you’ll need to charge extra. Clients usually back down after they realize that they’ll have to pay for your additional work.

Why this is reasonable: Clients often underestimate the time that goes into building a simple feature on a website. You have a practice to run, and after a certain point, even if you’re the friendliest design practice ever, you need to treat yourself like a business to protect your own time and sanity.

A faucet is better than a sprinkler

Client, morning: Please fix this typo.

Client, afternoon: I found another. Please make this change.

Client, night: Can you change the color of this section?

Client, morning: Oh, can you change the background color too?

Client, afternoon: Found another typo.

Continuing from tip number one, each time your client needs to request changes to the project, ask them to consolidate all the revisions into a single document. Pair this with the prior tip, and you can create an agreement such as “The client is allowed to submit two revision documents in a clear, concise document.”

Most designers under-appreciate the productivity and mental wellness that comes with having this kind of organization system in their projects. A revision document is like a checklist: it keeps you organized and gives you a plan of action.

Why this is reasonable: Clients may become edit-happy if they’re not forced to consolidate their revisions, and this can slow down projects and increase stress.

Make your clients do work

Client: Here’s what we have so far. I’ll fire over a few documents next Tuesday after our big conference. And I’ll have Donna (our secretary) contact you with the extra material I forgot about in today’s meeting. We’ll have the last bit of copywriting done for you in March. We are in talks with our photographer to shoot sometime later in the year, so those images can be added after she’s done.

Most projects take longer than usual because clients aren’t prepared. Life gets in the way. However, you still have a practice to run, so you can require that the client submits their finished content to you before you start working. This sounds like wizardry, but hear me out – if you request it kindly and professionally, clients will usually oblige. Instead of the example above, you’ll receive something like:

Client: Attached, you’ll find the copywriting I’d like on my website. Each page is labeled with a bold title. The images are also included. I look forward to seeing your progress!

If a client wants to make edits to their content later, you can direct them to tutorials and they can handle it themselves. Implementing this strategy into your practice removes a bottleneck from your projects and helps you stay ahead of schedule.

Why this is reasonable: A single unprepared client can consume huge amounts of your time and mental energy, and you can’t let their inaction get in the way of your future work. Hold them just as accountable as they hold you. This is a business transaction, after all.

Hold the high ground

Client: My niece took a class on Dreamweaver in high school and will help you with the design. She suggests we use our corporate font, Comic Sans, as the primary font on the website.

Your clients are experts at their practices and you are an expert at your own. When there’s a disagreement on the design, who gets the final say? How much micromanaging is the client allowed to do? Are they allowed to make the site look like this:

lings-cars

The infamous LingsCars.com.

If their design ideas are going to hurt their business, should you stop them? Can you stop them? Here’s an example of what to say to a client at the beginning of a project if you’d like to maintain a decent amount of control to make sure their project actually achieves results:

You to the client: Before we begin, you need to know that I take your success very seriously. You’re an expert at your practice, and I’m an expert at my own. That being said, we may have disagreements on certain aspects of this project. You’re welcome to voice your concerns, but please respect my informed decisions as a professional designer and allow me to make the final call when it comes to matters of design.

Why this is reasonable: Try to accommodate the client’s requests as much as possible. However, you need to draw the line if the client is going to make a decision that hurts their business, ruins their design, or goes against a moral or ethical code of your own. Your portfolio is a huge asset to your future success as a designer, and designing subpar sites won’t get you any closer to working with a major company on a future project. Great work in the present will attract great clients in the future; this rule helps clients’ businesses and fills your portfolio with quality work.

Don’t let clients send you Snapchats at 3 AM

I made the mistake of giving a young client my cell phone number. He called me nearly every day (and once at 3 AM) for the entire length of the project. His requests were contained in my voicemail, text messages, emails, and Facebook messages. It was a nightmare – I could never “log off” of work.

Require clients to communicate with you via a single medium depending on each stage of the project. Decide on a method that works best for your practice, not the other way around. For instance, I prefer to work almost exclusively over email for the majority of the project (this helps me work more efficiently).

Here’s an example of how you can streamline your communication with clients:

  1. Onboard the client via Skype.
  2. Once the project begins, move all communication to email.
  3. Present the final design to the client over Skype.
  4. Move all follow up to email.

Why this is reasonable: This method gives you a single, non-intrusive point of communication for all of your projects. This clears your mental space to focus on what actually matters.

Show clients the battle plan

Client: I know we’re already a few weeks into the project, but I really love the style of CompletelyOppositeDirection.com. Could you make it look like that?

Divi is powerful. There are thousands of sites built on it – like the one you’re looking at right now. Once you discover your client’s needs, create rough mockups with Divi and ask them if that’s what they’re expecting. After the client gives you the go-ahead, just put their favorite design under a maintenance mode and begin filling in their content from Make your clients do work above, then finish off the project by spending several days on the final visual touches.

Some clients will derive inspiration from another site when you’re already into the project. If your client requests major revisions, it’s best to quote them a price that’s fair to you and let them decide if their requests are worth it.

Why this is reasonable: A client goes to a restaurant and orders a steak. When the waitress brings out his finished meal, he rejects it and says, “I’d like a chicken sandwich instead. Also, I don’t want to be charged for this steak.”

Don’t hire bounty hunters

Client: I can’t pay you right now, but my first advertising campaign is running tomorrow and the site needs to be live for it. I’ll pay you afterwards, I promise.

The preceding quote actually happened to me during my first year of freelancing. It was a trusted friend whose business was about to take off. But after the site went live, she “mysteriously” started avoiding me, and it took me almost a year to collect her payment. I quickly learned my lesson.

Never put the client’s site live until they’ve finished paying you. Keep a tight payment schedule (more tips on this in Create money sandwiches ahead) and implement the policy in Make your clients do work to make sure that the only person who can hold up the project is you.

Why this is reasonable: If a client doesn’t pay you and you take down their website, emotions get involved – and this is likely to end up causing a fight (and possibly court). Nobody wants this. Make it clear that the client’s site will only launch after their payment is complete.

Miss the birth of your child to fix “teh” to “the”

Client, 3 months after project is finished: I noticed a few typos on my website. Can you fix them?

Define how you’re going to assist the client after their project is over. Maybe you linked to a government webpage that just went defunct and now 404’s; maybe the client needs a new link in their menu; maybe they need an image swapped out. What if you’ve decided to step away from web design for a while – or what if you’re busy with other projects?

If you want to avoid this, you can use a tutorial system to teach clients how to make edits themselves. If a typo surfaces, they can fix it; if they need to change an image, they can do it; if they need to write a blog post, they can handle it. If you’re using Divi, you can use our tutorial system for Divi clients; if you’re not using Divi, you can record and write tutorials of your own.

TCC Portal

A tutorial system made just for Divi clients, The Client Class.

Plant timed money-dynamite

Client: Sorry, I’ve been really busy over these past few weeks and I haven’t gotten around to looking at the designs you sent over. We might have to push back the website deadline.

If you plan to work with many clients each year, you’ll need a plan to keep your projects efficient. Some clients tend to drag their feet as life gets in the way; make sure the contract incentivizes them to stay on schedule. For instance, if you agree on a two month project with a client, add a provision to the contract such as:

The project is scheduled to take two months as evidenced by the schedule on Page 3. If the project extends beyond the allotted time frame, the client agrees to pay the designer at 2.5x the designer’s hourly rate until the project is completed.

You should add a margin of safety to all of your estimates – for instance, if a project is estimated to take two weeks, you might want to budget for three or four to be safe. Also, be a good human being: don’t charge the client extra if they’re caught in an unavoidable circumstance.

Why this is reasonable: If a client “gets busy” and stops responding to you, you’re the one who’s hurting, not them. Keep them engaged with a tight schedule so they can get the results they wanted when they hired you.

Create money sandwiches

Your new client, Badbusiness Corporation, decided to pay you in full at the end of the project. However, after three difficult months of work, Badbusiness continues to ask you for additional features that were never planned for. They refuse to pay you until those features are added. Do you take a three-month-long loss on the project, hire a lawyer, or build the features as fast as possible?

Instead of taking payment in full at the end of your projects, work with a simple payment schedule. Here’s an example of one way you could structure your fees:

Project begins 25% of the project cost
Design approved 50% of the project cost
Site launch 25% of the project cost

You’re welcome to create any kind of payment schedule or rates you’d like – this is just an example. The primary goal of this schedule is to create a steady stream of income for you and make sure the client won’t go delinquent. Payment schedules are also easier on smaller clients who don’t have sufficient funds to pay one lump sum.

Why this is reasonable: This method allows you to keep cash flowing into your practice while you design. It’s also easier for clients to pay in small amounts.

Conclusion

I understand that some people will disagree with the principles I set forth in this article, and that’s okay – it’s your business, and you have the ability to run it however you’d like. However, I’m hoping this served as some brain food for you to consider. To wrap up, let me summarize what I’ve covered:

  1. Limit the number of revisions a client is allowed to make.
  2. Ask them to consolidate their revisions into a single document.
  3. Have clients submit their finished materials at the beginning of the project.
  4. Define how communication is going to happen throughout the project.
  5. Ask clients to approve and agree on your initial design before moving forward.
  6. Decide who should be responsible for fixing minor errors after the project is finished.
  7. Decide who gets the final say on design.
  8. Incentivize the client to stay on schedule throughout the project.
  9. Create a payment schedule to increase your cash flow and make it easy on the client.

And, as always, consult with a legal professional when working with your contracts. I’m not a lawyer and I only pretend to be one after I’ve watched too much Law And Order: SVU.

If you’re a Divi designer and you like free things, check out The Client Class.

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