7 Critical Documents for Freelance Designers

Most designers go into freelancing because of their love for creative work and the opportunities that are available to help clients. The business-related details almost always take a back seat to the creative work, and many freelancers wind up learning from their mistakes about the importance of certain aspects of running the business.

You can save yourself a lot of time and trouble by simply having access to a few key documents that can be continually re-used on your client projects. In this article we’ll take a quick look at some documents that are critical to freelance designers. If you’ve been freelancing for a while, hopefully you already have them. If you’re just getting started as a freelancer, make sure that you don’t overlook the importance of these documents.

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1. Web Design Contract Template

Probably the most important document for any freelance designer is the contract. Most designers have learned the hard way about the importance of contracts, and if you have done any reading at all about running a freelance business I am sure you have read many times about the importance of a contract.

Although collecting a percentage of the payment up front can help to weed out shady clients, having a signed contract is really the only way to effectively protect yourself. In addition to just having the contract, it should be a contract that clearly states the specifics of the project. This includes the details of exactly what you will be providing (along with sometimes covering things that are not included), how much you will be paid, and at what stages payment will be due. You may also want to include details about what is required of the client, for example if you need to get content from them.

The cost of legal services is one of the main reasons that many designers do not use contracts, but spending a little bit to get a good contract can save you time, headaches, and more legal fees involved with trying to solve a dispute later without a contract. The basics of contracts for web design projects are often very similar, so you don’t need to get a contract custom drafted for each project. You can purchase a contract template, download one, or hire an attorney to draft a template that you can use over and over again with only minor adjustments.

2. Website Maintenance Contract Template

In addition to having a contract for providing services for designing or re-designing a website, it’s also a good idea to have another contract for providing on-going maintenance services. Almost every freelance designer provides some type of on-going services to clients, and in these cases the typical project-based contract is not likely to be sufficient.

The maintenance contract should provide a description of the services you will be providing, as well as an explanation of how the client will be billed (An hourly rate? A flat rate per month?)

3. Design Brief

The design brief is a document that is given to the client at the start of the working relationship to help the designer get more familiar with the client and what they need. It will ask some basic questions about the company and it’s products/services, as well as some questions about the project at hand. The answers to the questions will help you to get a better understanding of the client and to know how you can help them to make the project a success.

If you have a design brief template you can quickly send it off to new clients or potential clients, minimizing the time that you need to spend on this stage of each project. You may want to customize the questions from time-to-time, but generally they are pretty basic questions that could be applicable to all of your clients without requiring changes.

4. Proposal

When you are ready to make a pitch to a potential client in attempt to secure the project, a proposal template can come in quite handy. With a proposal template you can break out the details of the project into line items so that it shows the client exactly what is involved and what costs are associated with each part of the process. Most clients appreciate this transparency, and it also can help to prevent “sticker shock” that happens when a client sees a higher price than expected.

Additionally, the proposal template also provides an opportunity to present a positive brand image. Whether you are sending a PDF version of the proposal or a printed proposal, having a document that includes your logo and branding helps to present a professional image.

Discover how to use the best web design tools on the market plus increase your income to $125+ per hour. LearnWebDevelopment offers the best in freelance training. Learn More.

5. Invoice

The invoice is obviously a critical document because it is needed in order to get paid! There are a lot of web apps out there that help to create and manage invoices, or you can just do it on your own. Some freelancers use simple Excel templates for invoices, or you can use something that will look a little better with an Illustrator or InDesign file. Like the proposal, the invoice template also provides an opportunity to use a branded document.

6. Project Completion Document

It’s also a good practice to have a simple document template that can be used to get the clients approval of project completion. The purpose of this document is to show that all of the required work has been completed by you, and that you and the client both agree that the project has concluded. It is a simple document, but it can help to prevent cases where a client claims that you never finished the work or that they did not approve of the way that the project was completed.

7. Stationery

If you are doing any printing or mailing, stationery or letterhead is also important. Not all designers deal with printing documents or marketing materials, so if you don’t, stationery isn’t critical. However, if you are sending letters to clients or potential clients, having stationery or letterhead that reinforces your brand is helpful and professional.

The Freelance Starter Kit

All of the documents that have been mentioned in this post, and more, are included in our Freelance Starter Kit ($49). The starter kit is our effort to help those who are new to freelancing by offering documents and resources that can save time and help to kick start a freelance design business. Get more information about the Freelance Starter Kit.

Freelance Starter Kit

Published May 4th, 2012 by

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6 Responses

Comments are now closed on this post.

  • Saya, May 5, 2012

    Please add couple headache and sleeping pills to your list/kit too:)

  • Elke Hinze, May 8, 2012

    As freelancers I think it’s easy to let things slide, but having a project scope document that is signed and agreed upon prior to work will also help alleviate many headaches. This way when the client tries to tack on something “that will just take a little of your time”, you can show them the document and what was agreed upon.

    I tell them I will gladly add the additional feature request (or whatever it is) for an additional fee.

    • Steven Snell, May 8, 2012

      Hi Elke,
      Thanks for your feedback and suggestion. Personally, for most projects I would recommend including the scope details in the contract as it is one less document that would need to be signed.

  • Gill, May 10, 2012

    Hi

    Would this kit be suitable for a UK business?

    Thanks

  • Steven Snell, May 10, 2012

    Hi Gill,
    The contract templates have been written by a U.S. – based attorney with U.S. laws in mind. I’m not qualified to say how or if UK laws would differ. I know some UK-based designers have used the contracts. I would recommend having an attorney review them because it’s possible that some changes should be made for use in the UK.

    Other things like the design brief, proposal, invoice, and stationery would be usable. The identity sets use 8.5 x 11 paper size.

    The project completion document comes in Word and Open Office format, so it could be used.

    Other parts of the kit not mentioned in this article includes things like interviews, PDF ebooks, and icons that could be used anywhere.

  • Gill, May 10, 2012

    Thanks for the quick reply Steven :)

    Gill