cope of Work or Description of Work

Most people think that they know what this means, but after you've worked with more than a couple of clients, you will realize that most clients have no idea. They think they know what they want, but in reality, they often have very little clue. So, often when I'm working with a client, I start out with a "definition of work" contract. This is a contract where my client agrees to pay me a limited sum to plan the project in a limited number of hours. The idea is not to plan the entire project here, but to acknowledge that my time is valuable, and they should pay me at least a fraction of my hourly rate to help draw up the plans for the contract itself.

Whether or not you can get your clients to agree to that, you should draw up a contract that includes the scope of work to be delivered. This should include:

  • The number of pages to be built
  • The number of programs, scripts, or CGIs to be built
  • The number of graphics to be created
  • The amount of content to be written
  • A margin of error - ie. the percentage overage for the above where the contract needs to be revisited

For example:

5-7 Web pages with 1 contact form and CGI or PHP script. Each page will have between 2 and 5 graphics and 3-6 paragraphs of text to be created by the designer. If, in planning, more than 10 Web pages, 1 script, or 50 graphics are needed, the contract will need to be amended.

Remember, that the client must agree to your contract. I have found it good practice to have them initial the scope of work section as well, so that they are certain they understand what you are delivering and what needs more negotiation.

Dates on the Project

Good contracts include dates. While it can be tempting to leave it up to the client, after all they want the site fixed, don't they? Many clients will get busy with other things or just forget if you don't have hard dates written in the contract for both you and them. Some of the dates I like to include are:

  • Signed contract due date
  • Start of work
  • Plans or designs completed
  • Approval of plans or designs by client
  • Content due dates for client
  • Milestone releases for designer
  • Invoice dates (with amount that will be invoiced)
  • Site completion date
  • Review by clients due date
  • Updates complete date
  • Final review by clients
  • Launch date

I write these dates based on my knowledge of how long things usually take (or should take), how long the client has taken on past projects, and dates that the client has provided. If I am concerned about the timing of a project, I will work with the client to make sure they understand their deliverables and when they are due.

The other thing I make sure I include in the dates section of the contract is what happens if either party is late with a deliverable. This could be as simple as slipping the date, or it could be as harsh as losing some money. It depends upon how important the final release date is.

One of the ways I handle client delays is to build my invoicing for the project right into the contract dates. In other words, rather than saying I'll invoice for the second third of the money after the planning phase is complete, I state that I'll invoice on February 15th. When you've built this into the calendar of the contract, you show that that's when the invoice is intended to cover, but is not hinging on something required by the client. They aren't punished for being late and the client has incentive to stay on target because they have to pay the money either way.


Not only should you include how much the project will cost, but also how much will be invoiced and when. I strongly recommend requiring a deposit of between 30 and 50% of the total project fee. This will insure that the client is serious, and will give you some cash to go ahead.

If you will be doing things like buying the domains or setting up hosting service, be sure to get those costs into the contract. Include both how much they will cost, and when the money is due from the client. I recommend getting the money up front for service fees, and in fact, it's best to set up the accounts in their name with their credit card information so that you are not billed for their domain in a year.

Finally, don't forget to specify how you want to be paid. Most of the time you won't have to specify what currency, but you should at least define whether checks are okay or whether you'd like to receive payments to your PayPal account. You should also include what penalties (if any) will be assessed if payments are late or checks bounce.


Most clients will want to make some changes. If you include the number of revisions you're willing to do in your contract, you won't be stuck in a never-ending spiral of revising. Another way to handle revisions is to provide a date by which time all requested revisions must be submitted. For instance, if you complete the first draft, you could tell your client that they have 5 business days to provide feedback and revisions. But you should also include how many of these revision times you'll provide.

Copyrights and Source Files

Your contract should always specify who owns the copyright for all content, designs, graphics, multimedia and programs. If you are providing a program that uses source files, your contract should include who owns the rights to those source files at the end of the project. This includes:

  • images - especially modified images in programs like Photoshop
  • multimedia - such as Flash
  • programs and scripts
  • the website design itself
  • any content you write for the site


Along with the rights to the files, you should specify in your contract how you will be credited (if at all) for the work on their website. Some designers get all their business from word-of-mouth and having a small link on a well-designed site can be a huge boost for your business. You should specify:

  • Where the credit will be displayed
  • How you will be credited
  • Whether a link to your business site is included
  • How long it should remain on the site
  • And what things you are credited for - especially if you created things like Flash, photos, or content for the site