How to know if your web design contract will protect your business

How to know if your web design contract will protect your business

Before I say anything else, I will say this: do not hire any web designer or developer (or graphic designer …or anyone else) without a contract that you both sign.

This is the most surefire way to protect yourself and help you both be on the same comfy page together. In other words? Less conflict and more virtual hugs ← the way it should be.

I learned this the hard way. In 2012, the first client I ever had was for an unpaid project, for a friend. She is a sharp and strong and powerful woman and I was pumped about our collaboration.

But it quickly got messy because:

  • There were no boundaries regarding when deliverables (the content I needed to create her site) were due
  • She didn’t know how often she was supposed to get back to me, so I’d go weeks without hearing back
  • She didn’t know how long the project was supposed to take (there was no timeline)
  • Etc.

And nobody was to blame because we hadn’t set guidelines. That’s what a contract is for.

So 6 months into the neverending project, I put together a contract and asked her to sign it. From then on, the project flowed beautifully.

Since then, I’ve continued to refine my contract to improve both parties’ experience in the process, so we can all end projects with high fives and chocolate.

…Fast forward to getting a contract from your new fabulous web designer.

How do you know if your web design contract will protect you and your business?

Here are 5 ways to tell it’s legit.

Scope of Services

The details on your project — what your designer will be providing to you — are laid out neatly and logically. The list may not include something like the number of emails you’ll be sending each other, but it will include things you can actually know ahead of time, such as how many graphics are included and what kinds of graphics, how many pages your website comes with, and which functionalities (for example, a shopping cart setup so your peeps can hire you and pay directly for your products/services via your website). Yay clarity!

Client Duties

What materials and information are you supposed to provide and when? For example, I ask all of my clients to deliver their photos, copy, etc. before I begin the website design & development process, to streamline the project and keep things organized (if you’re struggling with your copy, ask me about my Copy Accountability Timeline!). I let them know that I need to hear from them within 48 business hours to help keep our timeline. And I also tell them what happens if they go M.I.A. Knowledge is power!


Will you retain ownership of everything on your website? That is, will you or will your designer own the design, the graphics, etc. she creates for your business? Make sure the website and everything within it will be your property. Otherwise, there’s kinda no point.


When are the payments due? How will you be making them? Will the web designer begin working even if you’re late submitting the first payment? Will you get your completed website delivered before or after your final payment? OH — and how much will you be paying? (Small detail!) Let’s not forget that one. It’s cool if you discussed it on the phone, but it’s not solidified and legally binding until it’s on paper and signed, sister.


You might not believe me, but it happens: a contract will be sent and one of the parties won’t sign it. Yet the project begins. And if there’s trouble? The party that didn’t sign won’t be held accountable. Lesson: make sure everyone signs it before the project starts.

ALL important factoids to keep your peace of mind and online biz protected.

Of course, there’s more that goes into a contract, but these 5 points will give you a strong start.

Let’s recap: how do you avoid a mess?

  1. Make sure you have a contract
  2. Read the contract to make sure it’s legit and meets your needs
  3. If something doesn’t work for you, ask your web designer if she can change it for you
  4. Make sure you both sign the contract before the project begins
  5. Keep a copy for yourself for future reference

That’s how you know if your web design contract will protect you and your business.


A legit contract won’t be helpful if you don’t read it.

I recently had a problem with a client because she didn’t read our contract (even though she signed it) or our communications in full. How do I know she didn’t read the contract? Because she continually breached it, especially the Client Duties clause, and was confused when I sent her reminders. How do I know she didn’t read our communications in full? Because after I spent an hour writing a detailed email clarifying things so we could be on the same page again, she replied with questions… that I had just answered in my message. And when I pointed that out to her (that’s how I roll), she admitted she hadn’t finished reading it.

As you might expect, this dynamic was extremely frustrating for both parties. There were no cupcakes and very few virtual hugs (and you know virtual hugs are important to me for a happy web design adventure!). It wasted 10 weeks of our time. It required extensive one-on-one clarifications (via our project management system and phone) going over and over precisely what was in the contract, and sometimes they were pointless because the information wasn’t getting across. (Since then, I’ve strengthened my contract and tightened my working process further to prevent such a situation from happening again, in addition to refining my idea of my “perfect partner.”)

Lesson: Read everything. Your web designer is writing you something for a good reason (unless it’s a ramble about submitting a viral photo of her kitten to LOLcats, in which case you can probably safely scan it) and because she cares.

Communication is queen/king/overlord/Darth Vader. Take it seriously.

Got questions about your web design contract? Shoot!

5 Responses to How to know if your web design contract will protect your business

  1. What do you think of including a stipulation for revisions in a web design contract? You might have run into it before, but we’ve dealt with a few clients who ask for sporadic and constant revisions for months on end. We end up wasting more money on hours than the project was initially worth, and we find ourselves with an unfinished website 4 months down the road.

    I think that revisions definitely need to be limited with clients, but also, we as designers, need to reasonable with client requests.

    • Hey Jon,

      Abso-freakin-lutely, my friend! I’m always clear on the number of revisions included in the contract, and typically clarify what is and isn’t included. For instance, a round of revisions includes colors, fonts, moving something on the page, even copy changes — but not things like adding a new functionality or new pages (that can be added, no problem, but at my hourly rate).

      I completely agree that revisions should be limited and that we should be reasonable with client requests. And I believe that a clear contract does most of the work to get us there. And sure, a lot of projects have helped me come up with new stipulations to add to my contract! Live and learn, right?

      Thanks for your input!

  2. Hello Nat,

    Do you have any suggestions for protecting your business from charge backs? Paypal is my primary method of taking payments from clients and in the past year, I’ve had a couple of significant losses due to charge backs. It was a frustrating experience both times, as Paypal favors the paying customer and the sole burden of proof is on the merchant. Both case, the client walked away with the design files, templates files and a refund….

    There’s got to be a better way to protect my interests…

    • Hey Brandon,

      Wow, that’s rough. I haven’t had that happen, myself, but I have had nightmare client situations. If your contract is protecting you (if the client is violating it by getting a chargeback) you can always take it to court, if it’s worth it for you. If you don’t wanna take that route because it’s not worth the money, for example, the best advice I can give you is to listen closely to your gut (you should do this anyway, always) — if you sense a red flag? Just say no. And I mean at the beginning, when you’re having your discovery/intro/whatever-you-call-it call (and if you aren’t, try it). That’s when you can start gauging if you two will be a good fit; email is helpful too but getting on the phone so you two can screen each other is priceless. Whenever I’ve ignored a red flag, I’ve suffered the consequences. Apart from that, you can request payment via check or direct deposit instead of PayPal. What do you think?

      Thank you for reading! I hope this was helpful for you.

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