One sentence to dramatically improve your client contracts

When it comes to client contracts, I think most of us can agree that they’re generally a pain in the butt. There’s often legal language that’s hard to decipher, clauses and attachments to comb through, and if you want one that’s rock solid, you’ll need to hire a lawyer to create one with your business’s best interests in mind.

That said, contracts are critical to protecting your time, your assets, and your sanity. Not all projects go perfectly – communication issues, misunderstandings, and delays can happen in even the smallest ventures.

Important disclaimer – I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. If you have questions about any recommendations or advice shared in this post, I encourage you to consult a real lawyer.

Steal This Line From Our Client Contracts

Whether you call it a contract, a scope agreement, a signed estimate, or a proposal, you should have a written agreement with every client you work with. Back in 2009, we made our services contract template publicly available. Though we’ve iterated on this as our company has grown, much of the content still remains important, including this key line from the ownership section:

Additional licensing may be required with third party assets.

As a developer, having a line about licensing for third party assets probably seems like common sense. After all, someone has to pay for stock images, premium plugins, or other third-party assets used on a site.

The problem is that what’s common sense to a developer isn’t necessarily common sense to the client. In fact, it’s entirely possible that your client has no idea which plugins you’ve installed on their site are free vs premium. I’ve had clients that don’t even know what a plugin is – they just care that the end result does what they want it to.

So Who Pays For Third Party Assets?

Brad Touesnard wrote a post last week outlining why clients should own their plugin licenses that echoes our recommendation for our premium plugin suite. In the post, he hit the proverbial nail on the head when he explained the importance of setting client expectations up front.

I frequently see two big mistakes being made when it comes to contracts, third party assets, and expectation-setting:

  1. The developer rolls the costs of premium plugins and other third party assets into the project estimate or ongoing maintenance plan without explanation.
  2. The developer doesn’t account for the cost of premium licenses because they plan to use their developer or unlimited license on the site.

In both cases, there’s a critical piece missing – setting appropriate expectations for the client. Remember, this isn’t common sense for them. They don’t know that when they hire you to build them a new site, there may be additional ongoing costs beyond hosting and domain renewal.

Whether the client buys the license directly or you roll the cost into your bid doesn’t really matter, because either way, the client is ultimately paying for the license. What matters most is how the client understands the cost and how they are set up for support.

Use Your Contract To Set Expectations

Adding this one little line* is a helpful starting point.

Additional licensing may be required with third party assets.

You’ll want to take it a step further with your own contract to define which licensing is needed for the site, along with who’s fronting the cost and for what time period. If you bundle license fees in with a monthly maintenance package, be sure to let them know which licenses they’ll need to purchase (and when) should they decide to cancel their maintenance plan.

This section of your contract is also a great spot to outline any requirements or requests you have for support. For example, if the email used for the license purchase is the same one used to access support, you can stipulate that you’ll need those credentials to perform ongoing maintenance on their site. Alternatively, you can outline a process for purchasing the license on their behalf and transferring the license to them upon project completion.

Final Thoughts

Contracts help bring clarity to a project and create a better understanding of the responsibilities of both parties in an agreement. Create your contract in a way that makes sense for your business. If your processes change over time, don’t be afraid to go back and update your contract. It’ll benefit both you and your clients in the end.