What You Need to Know About Web Design Contracts from an Attorney

What You Need to Know About Web Design Contracts from an Actual Attorney

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Hi, I'm Chris and I'm super glad you're here. 7 years ago I taught my self-web design and freelancing. Now, I do my best to teach others what I've learned so they don't have to struggle as much as I did.

Every week, I write an article and release a podcast episode. Sign up if you want to get notified when that happens.

There’s not much that strikes more fear into the hearts of freelance web designers than the need for having good web design contracts.

I’ve known web designers who wouldn’t even get started freelancing because they were so afraid of getting sued. OR, they feared messing up a contract in such a way that they end up landing in hot water.

There are so many questions to answer:

  • Should I use a free contract template as a web designer?
  • What kinds of things should I include in the contract?
  • What kinds of things should I leave out?
  • Will I scare a client if I give them a contract to sign?
  • How can I know that my contracts will hold up in court?

But, as scary as it may seem, understanding how legal contracts work as a web designer is well worth the effort. AND, it’s not as complicated of a subject as it might seem.

Advice From a Lawyer on Web Design Contracts

Attorney Paige Griffith who has made web design contracts for freelancers

This week on the Self-Made Web Designer podcast we are talking about all things web design contracts with an actual lawyer, Paige Griffith of The Legal Paige.

Paige was a freelancer herself. For years she ran a photography business and saw the fears and struggles freelancers faced with legal issues. So, she began The Legal Paige and started helping people with their legal questions with her background as a lawyer.

Paige is answering those burning questions we all have about web design contracts in this episode so you can stop being afraid and feel empowered to get busy doing what you do best as a web designer.

Spell Everything Out in Your Web Design Contracts

One of the important takeaways from this episode is that you need to make sure you cover absolutely everything in your web design contract.

You should address exactly what you’ll be doing for the client and exactly what you need from them. You also need to talk about things like timelines AND how long a client has to give you feedback before it’s considered automatically approved.

That way you’re not waiting in client purgatory for them to get back to you while you twiddle your thumbs.

The Heart Behind Web Design Contracts

The goal of a web design contract isn’t to screw over your client or just to protect yourself. It’s also to make sure everyone knows what the expectations are with the project AND to keep things moving forward.

So, as much as web design contracts are a scary subject, they are actually just another way you can serve your client and set you and them up for success.

From This Episode You’ll Learn

  • What you need to do to set up your business as a web designer
  • Whether you should set up your business as a sole proprietorship or LLC
  • The general things you need to include in all contracts
  • The right length of a contract for web designers
  • How not to scare off web design clients with a legal contract
  • The importance of two sided contracts for clients
  • How to make sure your web design contracts hold up in court
  • The danger of using free web design contracts

Resources

Use “CHRIS” in the coupon code to get 10% off all products on The Legal Paige site.

These are affiliate links and will help Self-Made Web Designer do what it does: helping freelancers build successful freelance businesses or careers as web designers.

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[00:00:00] Chris: This week, we are talking to an actual lawyer and learning everything that you need to know about web design contracts. Are you ready? 


There's not much that strikes more fear into the hearts of freelance web designers, then the need for having good. Web design contracts. Well that, and a bear that shows up in your office that would also be very scary. Great, but I've actually known web designers who wouldn't even get started freelancing because they were so afraid of getting sued or they feared messing up a contract in such a way that they ended up landing in hot water. 


But this week we are punching those fears in the face, the legal contract fears, not. Figures don't punch bears in the face. And when we're also learning the ins and outs of a good contract with attorney Paige Griffith, Paige was a freelancer herself and saw the need to help creative entrepreneurs, like web designers with their legal concerns. 

And so she started. Paige Paige being P a I G D, which is her name kind of cool. But before we dive in, I got to ask, have you subscribed to the self-made web designer podcast? That's doing that gets fresh new episodes in your pocket. Every single. Weak. And it's like a big freelancer web designer family around here. 


So it's just a lot of fun to be a part of. And Hey, stick around until the end of this episode, I'm going to tell you how to get a special deal on pages, contract templates, and show you how to get the transcription for this episode. All right. Are you ready to learn about the importance of web design contracts with Paige? 

Okay, let's do it. We'll Paige, thank you so much for being on this self-made web designer podcast. So good to have you.


[00:01:59] Paige: Thanks for having me, Chris. I'm happy to be here, 


[00:02:03] Chris: so I I'd love it. If you could just kind of share your story about where you came from, where you are today and what you do.


[00:02:08] Paige: Yeah, so everyone, my name is Paige Griffith. 


I am a certified jurist doctor. I'm licensed in to practice in Montana and federally as well. I. Used to run a pretty decent size photography business for about eight years. That's how I got into what I do. Um, and now I primarily just serve as the owner and lead attorney behind the legal page. If you haven't heard of it, it is an online legal education platform for small business owners. 


My background as a photographer kind of led me. Starting the legal page. I saw kind of a hole in the industry for entrepreneurs, where they didn't have access to good legal information and had a hard time even finding lawyers to talk to about just like minor problems they may have. And of course the access to legal information is costly. 

And so I wanted to bridge that gap a little bit, which is why I created the legal page. We've been up and running since 2018. And now we have a legal team on hand and I have lots of employees. It's, it's kind of grown beyond my wildest dreams, but I'm really happy to do what I do. So now I just. I still have that passion for photography and shoot on the side. 


Uh, but I don't run my photography business, like I used to cause I just, I can't do a bazillion jobs at once. As many of you know, we are all hustling entrepreneurs. Uh, so I run the legal page and then I also run my virtual law firm world where I help clients one-on-one as well. And then the legal page does have contract templates that we sell on our website. 


And that's how we're able to kind of offer people. An option to get legally legit, uh, kind of base level without having to go to an attorney to write a custom contract for you and spend an arm and a leg and thousands of dollars to get there. Yeah. And 


[00:03:59] Chris: I love how your background is. You were a service provider, like you had, you were freelancing, you were doing things. 


And then you realize like, oh wow, there's this really big need here. And so you have some really good insight into what a, a freelancer or a web designer or a photographer, whatever would be looking for when it comes to, um, you know, staying legally legit to coin your phrase. So, um, I'd love it. If you, you could just talk a little bit about the, some of the basics around, uh, around contracts, around staying above board legally. 


Cause I think this is one of the biggest things that a lot of freelancers almost keep them back from getting started entirely, especially in the web design community. Like I talked to a lot of folks who are like, I'd love to get started. I'm just so afraid I'm going to get sued and lose all my money. So what should I do? 

So maybe take a second and just kind of give a brief idea. Best practices of what you're kind of waiting into the waters when you become a freelancer or become a creative service provider, so on and so forth.


[00:05:01] Paige: Yeah. I think the biggest thing is first realizing that you're kind of turning a passion or a hobby or an idea that you have into a legitimate business that you're going to take some type of profit off of. 


Um, the minute you kind of have that touching moment that I tell people where you're really. Acting as a business and the side hustle is more than you're just like setting up a lemonade, stand on this side of the road. It's becoming something where, I mean, even if you're making a couple hundred dollars a month, um, that's all money that you're probably gonna have to report to the IRS. 


Obviously I'm an attorney. So I'm going to tell you that you need to do that. Um, and you'll know you'll like you said, Chris, you're going to have that innate feeling inside. Where you're like, I need to set this up legitimately. And so the first one kind of beyond contracts honestly, is you really just need to think about how you want your business set up. 


So I would say most freelancers kind of start as sole proprietors. You guys can go look that term up online. And essentially what it means is you're acting as an arm and extension. Yeah. So you're acting under your social security number. You're just filing a schedule C with your tax return, which shows your state government as well as the IRS that you have some type of supplemental income from this additional like freelance hobby that you've now created into a quasi business. 


You haven't actually registered your business with your home state. Um, but that's where most people start and everyone always asks me what the bright line is for, like actually registering your business. And it's really one your. Comfort level with when you're ready to like officially we registered the business with your state, get that additional legal protection by filing what's called a limited liability company registration. 


And this is only in your state. Sometimes people get confused that it's federally. It's just state-based. Uh, and then you're securing your business name in your state when you file that LLC registration. You're setting your business up for success. I call it the best insurance you can get for your business, because you're honestly separating your business assets from your personal assets. 


You're making sure that you have your LLC entity over here that LLC has its own bank account. It has its own business name. And then obviously once you figure out, if you just want to stay a sole proprietor or be an LLC, then you need to have. Some type of contract in place before you hire that first big client. 

Uh, and that's going to protect you from all kinds of things, because you have the added layer of protection of the LLC umbrella coverage on top of it. If you do register your business and the contract is like, step number one. Uh, yeah, the general kind of things that you want in your contract that is probably going to come up the most is like fees, retainer, clauses, um, scope of work is really important. 


Especially Chris for website designers, you know, like scope creep changes to project scope. Deadlines is really important in the web design world. Obviously cancellations of any magnitude or termination of the contract. Editing revisions is really important for website designers and like client responsibilities and feedback. 


I think that's a big one that people kind of forget you just assume, and you have the best of intentions going into the client, you know, relation experience, but then you start to realize, oh, I didn't set any expectations from the beginning of when. They were supposed to give me feedback by so I can move this project along. 


Those are all things, you know, as a general overview that need to be in your contract. And that's why I tell people like you have to have that. I think it's sets you up professionally, but it also sets the expectation from the get, go with your clients.


[00:08:57] Chris: The most contracts that I've seen, don't go. Deep into like deadlines and deliverables and expectations and even forms of communication. 


But it sounds like what you're saying is if, if there's any question about it, it needs to be put into a contract. 


[00:09:13] Paige: Yeah. And the reason I bring all of these up is because I've worked with website designers and I know we're kind of, we're using that, uh, you know, kind of bubble of what we're talking about here. 


And so I'm looking back on the past few years of when website designers come to me or have questions or pop into my email inbox. These are the issues that they're like. I forgot to address this in my contract or my clients. And I are now having this issue. Should that have been in my contract? The easy answer is you can put anything in your contract. 


Um, obviously you want it to be a legal term. Usually clauses like this that are just dealing with the services you provide and any communication type of things are totally fine to like draft and put into the contract yourself or modify or tweak in your own contract, because they're not going to have any legal terms in them. 


We have the freedom to contract in the United States. So you're probably not going to have any like, legally is that would make that term invalid. That's just how you're operating your business. And so, yeah. Uh, there, I, I get asked exactly what you said. Like, should you have it super lengthy or should you keep it short and sweet? 


Isn't going to push clients away in my professional opinion, the clearer, the contract, the better. If you have a long contract, you just want it to be very. Clearly written and not a ton of legalees and people aren't going to be confused as they're going through it. Make sure those longer contracts have the proper organization in there. 


They have headings. It's easy to read through, so it's not overly complicated and they can be like, oh, okay. I understand why all of this. Different provisions are in the contract because there's headings and each heading relates to a different subject and they can easily like point to it if they have questions. 


Uh, th that's kind of the difference in when you get a short contract. In my opinion, it's like, Maybe the professional, like isn't totally ready to work with me, or they haven't thought about all of these situations that could occur and maybe, you know, it's honestly not protecting them and I'm going to sign on the dotted line because this sounds like a pretty good deal for me as a client. 


And that doesn't really necessarily suit well for you as the service provider. So. You know, I always say the clearer the better. And if that means a little bit longer than what you're comfortable with, just know that it's there to protect you. And it's not there to harm you. 


[00:11:52] Chris: A lot of hesitancy that a freelancer or web designer might have when it comes to giving a long contract, is that it might, it might scare the client away of going like, oh my gosh, look at all these things I'm saying yes to, but it sounds like you're almost saying the opposite thing. 

When you see a small contract, you're like, man, This might not be a good situation where I've, you know, they're not really understanding the services that they're providing or what they're expecting from me is that, is that what I hear you saying?


[00:12:16] Paige: Yeah, totally. And I'm also just saying, I think the online world is getting more and more accustomed to detailed contracts is specially luckily the silver lining of what's happened in the past 18 months is people are like, Oh, boy, I need to have lots more in my contract than I anticipated. 


And people are looking at them more. Now my legal heart is happy because people are starting to realize the importance of contracts as small business owners with the pandemic that basically rattled every single person's contract. And I always say too, there's ways to go about making a longer comment. 


Seem less intimidating the best way to do this. Just I'm going to give a quick example here for everyone is to not send that template email. That's like, here's my contract linked here, please. Review, sign and date at the bottom dotted line. Then you're like not giving them any indication of what they're about to click on. 


And it's so open-ended then they're going to be intimidated by a longer contract instead. Pretend like you're sitting down at a coffee table, old school purposes, or you're going out to lunch where there's no way there there's no CRM systems. You're not like sending the contract online. You're legitimately have a paper copy in front of you. 


And you're having that open conversation before booking the client. That's what they will thrive off of in terms of understanding why this contract is going to protect you as the business owner and how it also protects them. And in that initial email, you're going to have an introductory kind of paragraph stating like, thank you for the discovery call. 


I definitely think I can help you design your website here. All of like, you know, the things that we talked about on the phone and now to get into some logistics, uh, you know, I, we definitely need you to review my business contract and then pay your retainer. But I know that sometimes that can be a little bit intimidating. 


So to ease that burden, I would love to point out a couple of clauses in my contract that I'd like you to take an extra peek at. And then I tell people to bullet point like two to three clauses and explain it in their own lay-person terms, what that clause means and why it's in there. And not only does this serve as like further proof that if something were to occur down the line, you not only have. 


Signing your contract, but you've pointed out this clause previously. So they can't like say that they didn't know this clause existed or they didn't know what your business policies were surrounding that situation. So it's kind of double backing and protecting you. But it's also opening the door to just a healthy conversation and leading your clients into a contract that they won't be intimidated by that they know you are a professional, you know, what your contract says. 


And then at the end you say, if you have any further questions, I'd be happy to jump on, you know, Online call or anything with you to kind of go over things that you may have questions about. So I think that's a good way to go about easing the stress of a longer contract, but I don't think long contracts are bad. 

And I'm going to try to empower all of you listening today. Better for you. 


[00:15:38] Chris: So it's just keeping it real relational and in the conversation and making sure that you're not, you're not trying to win one over the client. This is just to try to keep thing everything copacetic between you. So everybody knows coming into this relationship. 

Here's the standards and here's the expectation.


[00:15:53] Paige: Absolutely. And I always tell people a two-sided contract is going to be more valid than a one-sided contract. Always, of course, as a service provider and a business owner, your contract should protect them. More. So, but when you can point out clauses or have different terms in your contract that also give your client's rights and responsibilities, they're going to be more comfortable signing it. 


So it doesn't matter what length it is because they feel like, oh, I'm protected too, under this contract. 


[00:16:25] Chris: And talk a little bit about, um, What might be the case for, like, let's say you have to go to court and, you know, you bring the contract to the judge or whatever, and they say, oh, this isn't valid. Like what? 


I know that's a lot of fears from folks who are doing this. Like, am I going to write something or say something in such a way that it just invalidates the whole thing? Like, how do you get in trouble with that? And what's some ways that you can stay away from those types of situations. 


[00:16:51] Paige: Yeah. The first thing that comes to mind is this clause. 


So you guys go to the bottom of your contract and make sure you have this specific clause that says if one provision of your contract is deemed invalid due to like new case law precedent or a new law that came into effect that you have no idea about because it's like you booked the client a year ago, and three months later, something popped up that you would never have heard of. 


So nuanced in your state legislature, uh, then this clause says that provision will be crossed off, but the remainder of your contract remains in full force in effect. So that's a really important clause to have. So it doesn't like rip up the entire contract. If one provision is like a little bit murky in terms of your state guidance and laws. 

Um, but for the most part, I always tell people. We have the freedom to contract in the United States. There's very, very few provisions that have tons of laws around them. The main things that come to mind are like indemnification laws. Those are pretty tricky from state to state. Those are the clauses. So legalees heavy that, you know, you shouldn't touch it. 


But like I said, other provisions in a contract, they don't have laws surrounding them. It's more just, was there a meeting of the minds? Did all parties? I fully understand what they were agreeing to. And if so, and if like there's no conflicting contract language, that's a big thing that I, um, have seen people get into a pickle with in terms of drafting their own contracts. 


Writing in something or changing something that then affects another clause in your contract, because that is an easy way for those two clauses to be crossed out in court where the judge will be like you, it was not clear what you meant. So, uh, and two people could read these two clauses and interpret them different ways. 

And so that's a big thing. Of course, that lawyers like contract lawyers are trained to care. So, um, those are the, you know, that's like little minor things that would just make sure you're aware of. Um, but like I said, you can write a contract on a napkin in the United States and both parties sign a there's a, there's a huge case out there that we learned in law school. 


It's like the one that everybody knows in contract law class. And it's a valid contract. Even if you wrote it in a book. On a napkin. And so it's really interesting to people that they're like, oh, I have that much power as an individual and not an attorney to kind of draft my own contract language. You absolutely do. 

Especially when it's just dealing with your business kind of services and policies, um, be, be aware of those like boilerplate language clauses at the bottom. Those are the ones that probably have the most laws surrounding them. Then. Stiction transferability, indemnification, you know, those types of things where you're like, Ooh, God, those words are very confusing to me. 


And I have no idea what they mean. Probably don't write those yourself. Yeah. 


[00:20:00] Chris: Right. For sure. I, I wouldn't. So I wouldn't even, I wouldn't even dare to touch something that says indemnification. I feel like it's a cuss word. I feel like I'm being cussed at when I hear that. So I, there in the web. There, there are a lot of like free contract templates out there online, you know, like it's easy just to Google and go, okay, here's one, this looks fine. 


So what's your suggestion to folks who are like it? Should I be doing that? Should I, should I be using your services? Should I go to a lawyer and have them draft up? For me, like, what's, what's the best scenario that you've seen. 


[00:20:33] Paige: Yeah. I mean, I always tell people, like, be very cautious of free stuff online because one, you have no idea who drafted it. 


You have no idea if a lawyer even looked at it, uh, you have no idea what state it's coming from. You have no idea if it's valid. Uh, I can't tell people. I mean, don't, don't do that. Or you're going to get sued because some of those contracts, at least it's better than nothing. Uh, and you have something in there to protect yourself. 


Um, but I bet those contracts online that are free. Aren't nuanced enough to talk about the things that I discussed at the beginning of this episode, you know, changes to project scope, your responsibilities, your client's responsibilities. Delays to project schedule changes to fees if necessary rush fees. 


Um, you know, if those types of things aren't in the contract, like generally speaking, think about from start to finish your services with a client, what are things that need to be addressed in a contract? If you're missing things in that one that you found on Google, it's probably not a good contract. Uh, I always adjust looking for some type of virtual attorney. 


They are, there's tons of them. Now that it was crazy. Like if you would've asked me in 2019, it was a handful and the legal world. Was going to be slow to get online and like doctors and nurses and CPAs were all online, but I don't know. The legal world is like always 10 years behind. It's like an old boys club in my opinion. 


And they're really scared for change and they don't like it. Uh, but then they didn't have any choice in 2020, and it was crazy to see from a legal perspective. The legal world literally changed in an instant because we were considered essential services at the time, but we really had to provide those essential services online. 


And so everybody in the U S went online. And so now you can find lots of attorneys that can help you virtually, um, there's good virtual attorneys online that sell template contracts. And I always tell people like, that's the biggest bang for your buck you're ever going to get, because just spending a couple of few hundred dollars on a really solid template contract for your business is going to serve you because you can use it multiple. 


You can use it hundreds of times for different clients. And so it's worth it. It's just like, this is the best. Podcast to talk about. It's just like website designers who have a pretty decent fee where you could go get a free template from your website provider, or you could have a website designer designing something incredibly custom. 


That's not only going to get you better. SEO. That's going to have better performance. That's going to serve your business better and your brand. And it's the exact same for contracts. You could find a free one, but you could also use one. That's going to serve you time and time and time again for different varying clients. 


And so that's probably, you know, these are the steps and then. I would say once you're in business for a while, and maybe something pops up with your template contract, that's decently thorough and you feel like protects you, but then there's some sticky situations that happen where you're like, Hmm. I feel like I need to tweak that clause a little bit and you have a little bit more disposable income. 


That's when it's good to go to an attorney. Um, kind of in your hometown or in your vicinity to really tweak and craft that contract and make it more customed to you, but just be aware like attorneys charged hundreds of dollars per hour. And so I always tell people be prepared for a thousand, a couple thousand dollars or more to work with an attorney one-on-one, which is really hard. 


For freelancers. Um, so I think that middle option is always the best.

[00:24:25] Chris: This has been such great advice and I think brings a lot of light and a lot of, uh, I dunno, it's removing some anxiety off of my shoulders about what the best practices are. Uh, so if somebody were to want to connect with you online, where would they go.


[00:24:41] Paige: Yeah, I'm the legal Paige everywhere. It's pretty hard not to find me. Um, my, my first name is P a I G E. So it's a play on words and you can find the legal page.com probably has everything you could ever want in terms of additional information. You guys. So we have podcasts, we have blogs, we have all kinds. 


Free downloadable resources. We have a website designer contract. You can go look at it. You can click on the what's included tab on that contract. And it lists out literally all of the clause headings that are in there. So you can kind of do your own little checklist and see. If you have an existing contract, if you have everything that is necessary to include in that website design contract, and that can give you kind of a good starting base. 


I'm also on Instagram, I'm on Twitter. Uh, I'm kind of, I try to make the law more fun. So it's, it's nice to follow me on those platforms because I don't seem super lawyerly. I always try to be a little bit more relatable to people, 


[00:25:39] Chris: man, such good insight from Paige. I know you got some good advice and hopefully it helped us settle some of your nerves about all of your legal concerns. 


You know, the ultimate goal of a good contract is to protect yourself as a web designer, but also to help the project move forward the way that it should, it removes ambiguity. From what is expected of you and what you can expect from your client. So it's actually just another way to serve your client really well as a freelancer and as a web designer, I want to encourage you to visit pages [email protected] and that's page P a I G E. 


And use the code Chris to get a 10% discount. All of her products doing that will give you that discount, but it will also help the self-made web designer podcast. Keep on doing what it's doing. So hopefully you had fun hanging out with me this week. We're dropping another episode next week. Just like we do every single week, weekend, week out rain or shine, no matter what. 


And it's going to be a lot of fun. So you don't want to until then keep working hard and don't forget you don't quit you win

a judge's gavel to symbolize the importance of web design contracts

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Hi, I'm Chris and I'm super glad you're here. 7 years ago I taught my self-web design and freelancing. Now, I do my best to teach others what I've learned so they don't have to struggle as much as I did.

Every week, I write an article and release a podcast episode. Sign up if you want to get notified when that happens.

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