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Freelance Contracts: How Valuable is a Contract for a Freelancer

I've always been under no illusion, that freelance contracts are mostly worthless when it comes down to having to enforce it, as it costs money to hire legal help in order to do so.

A lot of freelance designers, simply can't afford to go down that route.

However, what the freelance contract does provide is a clear set of: rules, guidelines, specifics, and overall expectations, that help both client and designer agree on what exactly is being agreed upon.

A freelance contract, for the most part, is like a glorified Check-List; simply helps manage those expectations during the course of a project.

It helps keep both designer and client honest, and helps prevents those, "you said this, and you promised that" scenarios, that without a contract are hard to argue against.

Bonsai Freelance Contracts

My life has been so much easier since using Bonsai freelance contracts, and I can't really ever see a time when I'd now not use one.

With a few PayPal cases that I've have to deal with in the past, being able to show PayPal the contract that the client signed, has inevitably saved my bacon.

So, even though I'd likely never be able to legally enforce a contract (I know many other freelancer designers in similar situation), having a contract simply reduces overall anxiety, as it feels like a nice safety blanket, or reserve parachute.

It's there if you need it…


The Freelance Contract - A Free Design Contract Service by And Co

the freelance contract freelance designer contract 2

As well as Bonsai offering freelance contracts, there is also another offering from And Co.

The Freelance Contract is super easy, and very customisable , so it'll be something that I will try in the near future.

It also has some features that Bonsai doesn't yet have, and these are features I'd like Bonsai to implement.

It's free, so no real reason to not give it a try.


The Challenges Facing Freelance Logo Designers and NDA’s

Challenges Facing Freelance Logo Designers and NDA's

The Challenges Facing Freelance Logo Designers and NDA's

Thought I'd share a letter I once wrote to a client, regarding some compromises on an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) I was asked to sign, for a logo and brand identity project.

The challenge was that my client was an 'agency', acting on behalf of their client.

My role was to produce 3-4 logo concepts, that 'my' client would show their client. Their client would then choose 1 of those concepts for us to move forward with.

I felt it addressed a number of issues that I had been worried about before in other, but had not had the 'courage' to raise them with the client.In this case, I just felt I needed to raise these recurring concerns.

I'm very glad I did, as the client is question was only to please to accommodate my suggestions, which made it all the easier.

I have since added these points to a Contract template that is used in response to signing any further client NDA's.

The biggest lesson learnt here: Don't be afraid to question the NDA, if it doesn't 'flow' with your own contract, or way of working.

Note: I've pretty much just copied and pasted this letter as I wrote it, but obviously removing names etc.

The NDA Letter

With reference to your NDA and contract: I do have my own contract, but this may conflict with some of the aspects in the NDA, which isn’t a problem as I can change it as required.

The main topic of interest: relates to 'Ownership of Copyright’ of the logo design ideas submitted to you, and also my usual approach of putting my finished logo and graphic design work in my portfolio.

Ownership of Copyright

Typically, with OoC (Ownership of Copyright), this automatically passes from me to you once the balance has been paid ( I do also sign a form that I send clients showing Transfer of Ownership)

It is at this stage when I’d usually release the final digital files, concepts to the client.

No final balance; no final files or Transfer of Copyright.

One Logo Design Idea

The other issue is that the client will only always get the copyright for the one chosen logo design, and none of the passed-up previous concepts, ideas, sketches etc. 

In this case, the NDA would conflict this rule of mine as I am to present you with 3-4 logo concepts which you are to show to your own client.

If your client doesn’t go with any of the ideas, then this is a bit of a grey area: you would have 3-4 ideas, that you’ve paid for, but yet I would ordinarily only allow for 1 idea in relation to Transfer of Copyright. 

This is meant to protect me from a client using any of my previous ideas, that they’ve previously passed up. I might have created countless sketches and vague concepts, maybe a handful of more polished digital ideas, but my client will only ever get ownership of the one chosen idea.

I’d need to make some kind of provision that you are not permitted to use my concepts (except 1, as you have paid for that) for other works’/clients’ if your client doesn’t select any of mine.

Also, this would apply if your client does choose an idea, this means the other remaining concepts cannot be used or repurposed, by you, for other clients/future projects etc.

In Conclusion

• If your client awards you the pitch, and we get the go ahead to progress with one of the concepts, only this 1 logo design concept would be covered by the Transfer of Ownership of Copyright. 

The remaining logo concepts remain my ownership, but I’d adhere to the NDA and remove any mention/reference to the clients brand name etc, obviously. This would allow me to repurpose a logo mark, for example, that they passed-up, for another client. Not clear at this point if the Ownership of the chosen concept eventually goes to you, or to your client.

• If the client doesn’t award you the pitch, then you are only permitted to use/repurpose one of the concepts I’ve created, for any other project/client you see fit in the future. You’d  just need to let me know which one, and I’d arrange the Transfer of Copyright etc accordingly.

Showing of Client Works

Typically, after a project is complete, and the client is happy etc, then I’d put the logo design on my portfolio, external portfolios, and usually blog about the project etc.

I understand the NDA prevents me from doing this initially, but I’m not sure if this is a ‘forever thing’, or time limited?

So for example: you win the pitch, and we work on a final version of the logo. Would I, at any point in the future, be able to put this design in my portfolio?

Sorry for all this, but I’ve been burnt before, and seen other designers’ in a similar position see a number of their ‘unwanted’ concepts actually being used.

I hope this all makes sense, and feel free to suggest edits/amendments, then I can include this in my Contract and send it to you for your approval, along with the Invoice.

Logo Design Contracts, Proposals and Invoicing – Share your Methods

Note : This is NOT just aimed at logo designers.

Thought it would be interesting and useful to see how other designers word their contracts and proposals, so this post sets out to achieve just that.

I don't use a contract, don't believe they are worth the paper they are printed on. If someone wants to screw you, a contract is not going to stand in their way, more so if they are overseas. If you are freelancer with a non paying client, trying to enforce a contact will just send you to the crazy pit, or at the very least, cost you financially and emotionally. For personal reasons, I have had enough of the legal system, and have every reason to what to avoid the unrealistic dramas that unfold in a courtroom.

So what can we do to protect ourselves?

Up and till now, I have still tried to play the roll of 'reasonable and open to negotiation gentlemen designer', assuming there are people out there with integrity and honest thoughts. For the most part this has worked out well for me, no painfully dull and complicated contracts and a fair and reasonable deposit/payment option. But there has been a few instances of dishonest clients abusing my good will, that have had to make me question my methods.

Right now, I have had it up to here – stretching arms as high as the sky – and need to firm up certain areas.

As a freelancer, just one instance of a client playing silly buggers is enough to derail you emotionally and financially.

So to business

Do you have a water tight contract? Maybe you don't use a contract but have other means at your disposal to ensure that you are financially rewarded as promised for your work. Maybe you just have a detailed proposal that the client is bound to when they pay the deposit, a form of acceptance of your terms etc. Maybe your small print is detailed, your ass is covered, yet it all comes across as quite reasonable, because of the way you word it. Do you use any form of digital signatures that a client has to sign and approve before you take them on? Are your terms and conditions' worded neutrally or have you gone for the pre-emptive 'take no shit' approach? Do you get anything in writing, do you use Escrow for larger logo/design projects? Do you ask for full payment up front, regardless of the budget, or do you use one of a few percentage methods 50-50/25-50-25/75-25 or do you have another method to secure your work is paid for.

Whatever system you use that WORKS, would you consider sharing your reasoning and methods with other designers?

Share your methods

The more we can learn how other designers protect ourselves, the better it will be for both designer and client.

My plan is to highlight how a variety of designers prep their paperwork, prior to taking a client on, to ensure they are at the least possible risk of being caught out.

This isn't limited to logo designers, but any form of creative service where once a client see's a design/proof, you are at risk of them running a mile without paying.

Depending on how many replies I get, this may be a one off post, or ideally, a mini-series highlighting a designer and their fire proof method of handling the contractual/proposal and invoicing aspects of the client relationship.

I would like to feature each designer, with small bio and background and a run through of your procedures. Maybe a few real world examples of when you had been ripped off that lead to you firming up your back-end. And to top it off, a specially formatted template based on your own to make available as a download, either to be used as a whole or to only take the bits needed.

The reality is, not every system will be 100% appropriate for someone else. With a variety of examples to study, we can mix and match and create a much broader and well defined method of working that reduces the loop holes and makes for a better experience.


If you are interested in sharing your preferred way of working with clients, then please send me an email : [email protected]

Or leave a comment below, either or.

If you do want to send a detailed email, for now, just email and tell me in a few words how you work the 'contract/proposal/invoicing' aspect. Once I have this general outline in my head, I can get back in touch with you so we can work on a more detailed post of your methods.

A Bad Ass way to win over a non paying client

Pretty sure we have all experienced this at least once in our careers, some more than others. Last year I was unfortunate to get sunk three times, and it really affected my confidence more than anything else.

There was a fourth attempt but this time I tried a technique that initially, I didn't feel too good about enforcing, but it worked.

There are a number of situations that you can be faced with, all with differing variables, so I don't think there is a one size fits all solution, and often there is just not a solution at all. However, if you are faced with a situation similar to mine, you may want to try this at home.

A little background

Not going to name names as it was sorted out in the end, but I will explain the general scenario for you. A nice logo project for someone who needed a new identity for a reasonably substantial company. I had got a small deposit, so I didn't feel overly concerned about getting the full payment when invoiced.

Needless to say, the invoice was ignored. It was ignored a handful of times and my patience finally got the better of me. This was about 4 months down the line. I knew in this time the client had implemented the logo and had been up and running as a business.

So this was a perfect time to try this plan.

It's not actually that Bad Ass, but it sounded good in the title.

Counting on the fact that the client was using the new logo in day to day use, I wrote a reasonably diplomatic letter stating that if the invoice was not settled withing 7 days, I would take steps to either re-sell the logo design or re-use it in it's entirety for a new client project I had coming up.

I was simply counting on the fact that the client would hopefully not feel too good about seeing their unique identity being sold off a number of times to other clients, or re-used for another major company.

It's quite amazing how one can get attached to something like a logo, and only then realise the importance it has.

After a few emails of huffing and puffing by the client, the unpaid invoice was paid in full.

It won't work every time

This is by now means a sure fire method, but I think in cases such as this, where the client has used and is using the unpaid logo in day to day use, a motivation to pay is not out of reach.

This method is not really devious or unreasonable. It's just playing with the cards you have been dealt and recovering as best you can from a unfair situation.

Don't put all your trust in a contract

As I have written in other posts, I have a much tighter system in place now. I still don't have a contract, personally don't believe in them. A contract would not have helped me in the above situation. I require full payment or a 75% deposit for first time clients. Full payment upfront usually for all overseas clients as this is a tricky one to get bad-ass legal on.

For a current identity project I am working on, that has a high budget of around £3000, we have negotiated a staggered deposit arrangement. 50% up front, a further 25% mid way and the final 25% on completion.

The more you can get upfront, the less you will worry about collecting the final invoice, and that level of peace of mind is priceless during a lengthy project.