Whether you’re an interior designer, graphic designer, artist or writer… freelance work, contracts, invoices and getting paid can all become issues if we aren’t careful. Right now I’m working on a side project, as I’m sure many of you are also, as we try to transition from full time professional to part time creative consultant. This post by Shannon Cooper provides some great insights into how we can all protect ourselves!
Independent Design Work & the World of Contracts
Contributed by Shannon Cooper
As an interior design student, one of the first classes I had was Business Principles, which covers all of the basics from how to establish a practice, legal issues and responsibilities, managing the business finances, marketing and development, and project management. Included in the syllabus of the course and the 650-page text book that goes with it explains things like determining design fees, contracts, invoices, insurance, pretty much everything that goes along with a business. As a designer employed by a company we don’t typically have to worry about these things, there are other individuals within that company that specialize in this department. This all changes as an unemployed designer, trying to freelance or in my case sell some custom artwork.
I quickly learned the hard way.
Word of mouth, friend or not, you must always have a contract to protect yourself. A contract is a promise or agreement that is made between two or more parties to perform or not perform some kind of act. A legally enforceable contract must have certain elements in it, or it may not be enforceable. Taken from the book, Professional Practice for Interior Designs, Third Edition by Christine M. Piotrowski, ASID, IIDA, These requirements are:
- Offer. One party proposes to do something or not to do something for another party.
- Acceptance. The party to whom the proposal has been made agrees to accept the offer and is bound exactly by the terms set up in the offer.
- Contractual capacity. The legal ability to enter into contracts. This must exist for both parties involved in the contract.
- Consideration. Something of value that is exchanged as it relates to the contract. It must be legally sufficient enough for a court to take it seriously.
- Mutual assent. The giving of the offer and acceptance of the offer must be done willingly.
- Legality. The contract must exist only to support the performance of some legal act.
Designers sometimes like to use a Letter of Agreement vs. a contract. A Letter of Agreement is considered a contract, however is less formal in content and terminology and appears to look like a letter. Most often a Letter of Agreement is used on residential projects, (or in my case, should have been used for my artwork). If you do use a Letter of Agreement it should be clearly understood that the Letter of Agreement is your contract and holds the same legal consideration for enforcement as a contract would as long as it meets the criteria numbered above. Either way your contract or Letter of Agreement should also include such details as:
- Given dates
- Identifies the parties involved
- Details what services are to be provided
- States how fees are to be charged and the terms of payment
- Is signed by the parties and especially the party being charged (the client)
These are just a few of the pointers that can be spelled out in a contract or Letter of Agreement. As a business owner, sales professional, freelance designer or artist just trying to get by, you must always have a contract to protect yourself.