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Proposals, Contracts, and Getting Paid

How to Make the Most of Your Web and Graphic Design Business

It is the best of times and the worst of times. Life as a web or graphic arts freelancer can be both rewarding and tough. On one hand is the indescribable pleasure of be able to charge what your worth; on the other is the often frustrating task of getting paid what you're owed.

Your time is money. That is why you went into this business in the first place. Learn it. Live it. Love it. This is the Golden Rule and you should chant it like a mantra because we'll be coming back to it in this article; I promise.

The reality of any design business, or service business in general, is that you must pay as much attention to the business end of your efforts as you do to the service end. Failure to do so exposes you to liability issues, profit loss, headaches, dry mouth, wasted projects and more. While you may be a creative design god, a visionary, genius-it doesn't mean you are running your business as effectively as you can. If you've ever watched a profitable project slip away because the edits just wouldn't end; if you've ever let a client push you around and make you feel uncomfortable; if you've ever found yourself wishing you had more legal protection for the work that you do, then this article is for you.

This list of steps will separate your design business from the amateurs:

1. Spend time interviewing the client about the job. Not only will this help you determine first hand what the client's needs are, but also it will help the client view you as a professional. A good first impression will help you later on when it comes time for payment.

2. Put together a work order based on what was discussed in the interview. This will be your proposal to the client to begin working on their project. You will need to spell out all of the terms, delivery dates, number of pages, editing guidelines, deposits and payment terms. You also need to include all of the options discussed in your interview with the client. A formal proposal says that you are a professional.

Your proposal should contain no less than the following:

Cover letter
Site Specifications and layout
Development Guidelines (include milestones and number of drafts)
Payment terms and conditions
Storyboards, diagrams, or examples
The contract

In considering each of these elements I cannot stress enough the following point: Leave nothing open-ended! Even if "open-ended" is a vital part of the contract, as in the case of an ongoing relationship for maintenance and updates, you need to spell it out!

3. Never work without a deposit. Go look at the Golden Rule again in case you forgot. A deposit does two things for you. It helps separate the serious clients from those who are not. A client is less likely to pull out of a project if they've made a financial commitment. See the Golden Rule.

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