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Client Design and Freelance Contract Basics
This article is part of a larger series. Click here to read the entire “The Nitty Gritty on Contracts” series.
Whether we’re working on a freelance basis or for a design firm, we need to know how to prepare and read contracts. As in all service businesses, a written agreement needs to be generated in order to get down on paper what we’re offering and what we expect in return. Sometimes our work can only stand on the contract that we generate, especially if we desire to provide what we say we’re going to and also to get paid. This is going to be the first of a series of articles on design contracts and what should be contained in order to, hopefully, be successful.
The basic language of many contracts from legal firms contains wording that we’ve never heard of and can’t even begin to decipher. In design contracts, we can keep the language in plain English and still get the message across. After the standard header of a contract which states the name of the Client, the name of the project, and the date in which the contract originates, we can cut down on the redundancy of writing the Client name and our name throughout by just using the word “Client” when referring to them and “Designer” when referring to us.
For example, “ABC Company (Client)” can be written in the first paragraph and “DEF Design Firm (Designer)” can be written as well. This will set a precedent for the terminology and will let all parties know who is being referred to. We can then simply state Client and Designer throughout the rest of the agreement. It’s important to remember to set up the terminology early in the contract so it’s concise and understandable.
What Are We Offering?
Right at the beginning of a design contract, it’s a good idea to state just what we’re going to do for the Client as well. If the job calls for a brochure design, we should state what the task is. We can simply place a line of text at the top of the contract, possibly below the header, that states this task. We can be as specific as possible by stating “2009 Marketing Brochure Design”, for example, so the Client knows from the top what this agreement is all about. If there is more than one design task in a particular contract, we should state these as well.
For example, “2009 Marketing Brochure Design” could be on one line and “2009 Sales Sheet Design” on the next. We can then address these tasks separately later in the contract. The point is to be as specific as possible and not to assume anything. If the project is to be offered all in one “package”, it’s not necessary to prepare a separate agreement for each portion of the package, unless the Client needs it that way. It’s just important to address them separately in the body of the document.
There are times when a well-detailed, rather lengthy, contract is called for. At times, however, a “short form” contract will suffice and will get the same message across. Many freelancers or firms use “short forms” and “long forms” of contracts, depending on the task at hand. If the design calls for a quick business card, for example, and we’re familiar with the Client and have worked with them before, we can use a short form. It is still extremely important not to omit any important detail or assume anything, once again.
Rule of thumb: If it’s a new Client or a project that calls for a lot of items to be done, go for the long form. Long forms sometimes include a background of the Client’s company or organization, a description of prior communications, and the current communications task, if applicable. These items are always good to include so the Client knows that we know just what they do and just want they need from us for this job. Objectives of the project may be included as well so the Client knows that we get what they want to communicate to their audience.
A Final Word
Contracts and agreements are legal documents and need to be detailed enough so all parties know what is going on and all parties are all on the same page. In future installments of this series, we’ll go over the remaining portions of a design contract, including the detailed elements of the offer and the ever-important fees we’re going to charge. There will also be a discussion on the standard and customized clauses contracts should contain so we cover ourselves. One thing to remember, if we don’t put it in the contract, we can’t assume we can do whatever we want to get the job done. Our time is valuable and needs to be communicated as such.
Next:What to Include (and Not) in Client Contracts →
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Whether you’re new to the world of freelancing, a seasoned veteran in your field, or freelancing while working full time, convincing potential clients that you’re the best fit for the job is always a major hurdle.
Writing a strong freelance proposal that can beat out experienced competitors, is instrumental to winning the best projects and increasing your income as a freelancer.
If done right, a truly great freelance proposal will make your potential clients want you, even more than you want them.
To help you get started on the right foot, I’m giving away my proven freelance proposal template for free right here.
Free Download: My High-Converting Freelance Proposal Template
Now, beyond just the actual format of the template you're using, you should always strive to put together a freelance proposal that's designed to provide meaningful solutions for your potential client, not one that just lists out your service offerings like a menu for them to choose from.
And on top of that, in order to stand out from the crowd in a busy inbox, you'll also need to perfect your cold email outreach strategy.
Even more importantly, you need to communicate your personalized solutions in the way your potential clients wants to read it. Whether that's in the body of an email, through online proposal software, via mail, or by using the best freelance contract template, you need to have a strong understanding of who your client is before you even get the ball rolling.
This deep understanding of your potential clients is a core foundation that's been reiterated many times by highly successful freelancers and entrepreneurs in the business books they've written and online business courses they've taught.
Long before you approach your potential client, you should have a very clear understanding as to why they should hire you for the job. This will challenge you to understand the project, the client's unique needs, how your strong suits will fit into the equation, and exactly how you can deliver the most value. By time you actually reach out to them with a proposal, your goal is to understand their needs inside & out.
Considering that more people than ever are going it alone as freelancers and solopreneurs (54 million in the US alone), your freelance proposal needs to do an incredible job at selling your services and winning new clients.
In such a cutthroat environment, anything less than your absolute best probably won’t get you very far.
To help you write more effective freelance proposals and win higher paying clients, I created an online course, Writing a Winning Freelance Proposal (you can also pick up my free downloadable freelance proposal template over there).
With that in mind, pulled straight from my own business as a freelance content marketer (and online course), here are my five proven steps to writing the best freelance proposal you're capable of.
1. Making a Strong Entrance.
What are you doing to wow them straight out the gates? What makes your email different from everybody else throwing their hat into the ring for this gig?
A captivating entrance that excites, shows you did your research, and delivers actual value, is what will kindle an immediate interest in your potential client’s mind. Start by finding the right remote freelance gigs on sites like Contena (if you're a freelance writer), Remote.co, Hubstaff Talent, and read through my Ultimate Guide to Landing a Remote Job.
Then, if you're able to reach your potential client quickly after they've posted their request for help, you'll significantly increase your chances of landing the job.
If you're a freelance writer sending a cold email to open up a line of communication with a potential client for your blog post writing services, start with a subject line like, "My 6 Steps to Driving Traffic for [Company Name]."
This gives them the instant recognition that you've already spent some time laying out a proposed strategy, and that you've likely done your homework on their business & industry. Need to track down the email address for the ideal point of contact? Check out The Email Lookup Guide from Graeme Austen at Cultivated Culture.
In this initial email (a couple hundred words maximum), you'll touch lightly on each of your steps and continue to weave in how your proven experience and strengths in doing this in the past, will make you the obvious choice for this job. This post on Guru.com, gives you more tips on how to keep your reach out emails short and to the point—and remember to avoid any unnecessary business slang that doesn't add to the conversation.
Since a freelance proposal is effectively a form of an elevator pitch, explaining why you’re qualified for the job, quickly showcasing your strongest (relevant) abilities is essential to the conversation. You also want to convey confidence in your ability to get the job done without coming off as arrogant.
Making a strong entrance also means demonstrating your commitment towards the project. You want to show you've already got some skin in the game.
This can come in the form of crafting a quick and dirty wireframe for a web design project if you're a freelance developer, writing a 100 word outline for some proposed blog content if you're a freelance writer, or sketching out potential logo design concepts if you're a freelance designer.
Sound like too much work up front? Well, the reality is, this approach is how I consistently win nearly every project I bid on. What you lose in uncompensated time, you make up for by demonstrating your creativity and desire to work with the client, which will only increase your chances of nailing the bid. This is a form of what I like to call opportunity management.
2. Selling Your Strengths.
Whatever the task you're applying to do for a potential client, it’s your job to tailor your strengths to that particular job. Learning how to highlight your most attractive abilities for the specific needs of an individual client is an invaluable skill, and one of the most frequent pieces of advice I give to freelancers who want to start a business of their own. If you need a boost of confidence, take a quick break and browse through my list of motivational quotes that'll get you into the right mindset for pitching your A-game.
If you have the marketing skills to really sell yourself as a strong content marketer, and not just a freelance writer, then lean on those strengths—give them proof of the results you've driven for previous blog posts.
If you’re targeting a logo design project, make sure you elaborate on your creative skills first. Show them that your previous work aligns with the design aesthetic you think they're going for with their rebrand.
If the project is to proofread a highly technical neuroscience paper, focus on your relevant degrees, and if possible point to other papers within this space that you've edited in the past.
Don’t make the mistake of focusing on unrelated or irrelevant strengths (and always keep your proposals as short as possible).
Attempting to cram everything you know about writing or marketing into your proposal is an easy shortcut to landing in the reject pile. Consider listing two or three of your best qualities in terms of how they relate to this particular job, and elaborate on them one by one.
There's an art to providing just enough detail to help a client understand how your strengths are useful to their business, but not going too far and giving them a full resume highlighting every positive asset.
3. Anticipating and Answering Questions.
Unfortunately, not every employer provides a thorough list of expectations or questions for you about their project.
While vague project descriptions can be a bit confusing, you should capitalize on these opportunities by demonstrating your knowledge and experience right off the bat. Show your client that you can identify their problems and propose solutions proactively and you've already taken a big step toward closing the deal.
For example, a common question that I was frequently asked when applying for new projects, was if I had done this exact type of job in the past. Now, I anticipate and answer this question before they even have the chance to ask me directly. In my initial reach out email, I'll include a link or two over to examples of successful campaigns I've ran in the past (demonstrating my ability to replicate these results).
To help anticipate what your potential client may ask of you, try and imagine yourself in their shoes.
What sort of unspoken problems or issues might they have experienced up to this point? If you're seeking to help with a website rebrand, take careful note of existing disjointed branding, poor quality images or logos, and offer up your quick thoughts on the direction you'd want to take, if you're hired on to help.
Place a metaphorical warm blanket around them by addressing concerns with this project, that they may not yet be aware of. If they're looking to hire expert help, chances are they may not fully understand what goes into designing new website features, creating a brand book, or crafting compelling blog content.
If you’re already experienced in your domain, you’ll know what sort of expectations a client might have and what typically goes wrong when it comes to the type of work you handle.
Nothing will make a potential client feel more at ease, than hearing concerns (and advice) from a well-versed freelancer who’s been there and done that—even if this is just your side hustle and you have another job that commands more of your time. If you craft your answers with your experience in mind, it will place you squarely ahead of the pack.
4. Selecting and Including Relevant Samples.
It's essential that your portfolio and proven work examples speak for themselves. Make sure you cherry-pick only the best and most relevant samples to include with your freelance proposal.
Employers are eager to see that that you have formerly worked on something similar to their project. It makes sense, if you've done this exact type of job in the past, they have a sense of reliability that you'll be able to replicate or exceed your results from before.
Pick a couple of great samples and link off to them in your reach out email and within your freelance proposal. Briefly explain in a sentence or two, how your contribution helped the previous client accomplish their goals.
If you’re new to freelancing and don’t have any relevant samples to send over, then the best you can do is create some of your own. Build a portfolio website, write example blog posts, design your own logos, crunch sample data.
When you send over a link to your portfolio that shows you can accomplish for yourself, what they're seeking to have done within their own business,you'll immediately peak their interest. If you're still looking for the best places to find great freelance gigs and remote jobs, check out my ultimate guide to landing a remote job.
5. Using a Visually Appealing Structured Layout.
First impressions are everything, which is why a winning freelance proposal should be aesthetically pleasing, crisp, and well-organized.
Even before potential clients start reading your proposal, they will certainly form an attitude towards the content of your work, solely by the looks of it. Depending on what you’re proposing, you might need nothing more than a simple Microsoft Word document to state your case, or you might require something snazzier to sell your services.
In my own freelance business, I choose to use apps like Bidsketch, which I feel give my freelance proposals a visual edge above the average proposal. Bidsketch has an awesome free trial, so you can check it out for yourself risk-free. Here's the Bidsketch free trial.
If you prefer to send proposals purely in the body of your emails and want to avoid fancy-pants online tools, I'd recommend at least using an invoicing tool like FreshBooks.
If nothing else, using a more advanced visual layout tool gives me the opportunity to communicate that I place a high value on personal branding and maintaining high quality deliverables.
Utilizing these five steps to create your freelance proposals, will ensure you're doing all you can to set yourself apart from the competition. Whether your goal is to land higher paying clients for your existing business or validate your idea for a service offering to get into, starting with a solid foundation of being able to pitch yourself is essential.
For much more, including 90+ minutes of video instruction, step-by-step tutorials, and proven freelance proposal templates, join my online course, Writing a Winning Freelance Proposal today. Or, just head on over there and pick up the freelance proposal template for free.
Writer, side project aficionado, and part-time entrepreneur. Join me here, on ryrob.com and learn how to start a business while working full-time. Let’s chat on Twitter about business and side projects.