Web Design Contracts 101: Don't Get Snookered - InformationWeek

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Web Design Contracts 101: Don't Get Snookered

You know your company needs help with its Web site, but how do you sign a Web design contract that will ensure you get what you need at a fair price? These tips can help!

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Setting up an engaging online presence for your business is just about a given these days, right?

Well, maybe not. According to a Nielsen Online study earlier this year, almost half of small businesses don't even have a Web site. What's worse, the vast majority of those that do have a Web site spend a mere three hours a week marketing it, spending less than 10% of their marketing dollars on Internet-based efforts.

There's already plenty of great information out there to convince you why your company needs a well-designed Web site, but not every small business knows how to get there. Assuming you're going to hire a Web designer to create your site, how do you figure out what should be in the contract to make sure you get what you need at a fair price?

The Basics
Law school courses break down contracts into three parts: Offer, Acceptance, and Consideration. For practical purposes, this means that a contract can take many forms. Approving a written e-commerce Web design proposal, making payments on invoices for design work, and other actions can all constitute binding agreements -- agreements whose terms might not be entirely in your favor.

When it comes to Web design, it's important to have a formally drawn up, written agreement that outlines the basic responsibilities of both parties. The contract itself doesn't need to go into design specifics ("logo to contain pantone color X")-- in fact, many Web designers use service level agreements (SLAs) to describe the details of the design work. While it can be helpful to have an attorney draft this document, most designers have standard forms that they modify for each individual project.

Here's an outline of what should be addressed in a typical Web design contract:

Statement of Work
The Statement of Work (SOW) is a broad outline of the project scope, or a roadmap for the project. Since planning out the project can be a job in itself, many designers charge clients to prepare an SOW -- some call it a consulting fee or a project proposal. That's not unreasonable.

Whether free or paid, the scope of work or work description should include

  • Number of pages and/or page templates to be created
  • Number of programs or scripts (for browser compatibility)
  • Integration of other programs/applications (form set up, social media integrations)
  • Amount of written content
  • Ongoing work (hosting, maintenance)

Some designers also include graphic design time, browser compatibility efforts, and the time it takes to train the client how to update the site themselves (for example, changing product information on an e-commerce site) in the scope of work. The statement of work should describe the project, not the site itself.

A project timeline is a key component of any Web design contract. Web design is a very collaborative process -- from a designer's point of view, the provider is never fully in control of the timeline because the client has to approve elements like layout, content, and other design work before the project can move forward. The contract should include "benchmarks" for the completion of certain items, and a specified duration for ongoing services like Web hosting (if it's provided by the designer). With your launch date in mind, you can work backwards with the designer to identify the dates when each element of the job should be completed. Be prepared for the designer to hold you to this timeline and charge more if approval deadlines are not met.

The way a contract is worded is very important. Avoid ambiguity at all costs -- if your contract has an upcharge for "major revisions" to the design plan, it should also define the differences between a "major revision" and a "minor revision." "Design elements," "design changes," and other terms can be pretty ambiguous, which can lead to misunderstandings and even legal action down the road if the designer/client relationship goes sour. You should never assume the meaning of an industry term that appears several times in a contract. If you're not absolutely sure what it means, get the definition included in the agreement.

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User Rank: Apprentice
4/2/2014 | 1:54:27 PM
Offer, Acceptance, and Consideration - Always Important
Great article. It's always important to do business with firms you can trust. There are a lot of companies out there that offer website design services, however, finding one you want to do business with can often be a tall task. I always recommend trying to avoid lengthy contracts and beware of any jargon regarding minimum commitments.

My company, Home Instead Home Care in Laconia NH, has transitioned to having all of our website design done in-house by our parent company, so that has helped alleviate some of the issues we've had in the past.

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