Contract, Contract, Contract

Contract, Contract, Contract
Never ever work without a contract. No excuses.

I always tell my students to always have a contract.

First, it’s the professional way to do business. Second, a contract spells out the expectations of both sides. It clarifies who does what and when, how payment is made and what happens if one side doesn’t follow through.

I’ve been an entrepreneur since high school. I started my first business my senior year designing and selling t-shirts. That was short lived as other projects (and boys) began to occupy more of my time. I started my second unofficial business in 2003. The second round I was client oriented and I didn’t use a contract. I was inexperienced, lacked confidence and was embarrassed to discuss contracts and money. A bad combination all around. I was lucky I never ran into a real problems but the issues I did have made me regret not being more on top of having a documented agreement.

My first real client was a nice older woman starting an online business. We corresponded primarily through email so there was documentation there. However, she didn’t have the internet at home. In fact, I question if she even owned a computer. You see where this is going?

Long story short, she asked for screenshots of the various pages which was outside of the project scope. She also continued to ask me to handle copy updates every time one of her friends proofread. What should have been a one month project turned into six months. When she received the final invoice she was surprised and argued the cost. Despite the fact I had outlined the project and costs in one of our first emails, six months later she said she didn’t have the email anymore and couldn’t be expected to remember everything we had discussed.

We wrapped things up and that was that but during that time I really regretted not having everything in a written, signed contract. Needless to say I have never worked without one since.

I was lucky.

Anytime you provide a service without a contract you are putting yourself and your livelihood in jeopardy.

Having a clear concise contract establishes a professional working relationship right out if the gate. You’re serious and you know what you’re doing. You have a expertise that is worth paying for and here’s how it all works.

There are books on the market that provide sample contracts that you can then modify. In addition, many professional associations provide sample contracts already tailored to your profession. Seek them out and use them. You’ll be glad you did.

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Kim Spencer is a designer, artist and college professor. She currently serves as vice president on the board of AIGA Richmond and previously served as chapter president and new media coordinator. Kim is the founder and resident creative of Protozoa Design. Kim's background originates in fine arts earning a BFA in Crafts from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1997. In 1999, she returned and earned a second BFA in Communication Design. In addition, Kim holds a Master of Liberal Arts degree in Film Studies from the University of Richmond. Kim spent the last seven years with an in-house team in higher education but as the work became more repetitious and considerably less creative she decided to strike out on her own. With over a year in planning, Protozoa Design opened its doors in January 2011. The creativity has over flowed into identity, print collateral and exhibition design. Now coming full circle, she’s found her way back to furniture design. Kim also teaches in the respective graphic design departments at Virginia State University and Virginia Commonwealth University. She resides in The Fan with her husband, son, four cats and extensive Star Wars Lego collection.

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