Your Design Contract is a Life Sentence. No Parole.

Pardon me, I don’t mean to scare you. But trust me, no client wants to work strictly on your terms and conditions, especially as a designer.

Clients want to be part of your decision. They want to be carried along. It’s not all about you. Think about it, they own the project. Hence, they desire an inclusive contract — one that does not keep them in your prison.

We all know how stubborn and egotistic creatives can be. They hardly take into consideration what others want. And their contracts often reflect who they are — insensitive. Like a gun pointed to the head of the client, it says, ‘sign or die.’

Sigh! It’s hard to deal. So the client moves elsewhere.

Three years ago, I noticed a few clients who usually contact us monthly for design, stopped giving us jobs. I was so worried and depressed. Bills kept piling up, phones were not ringing; I was literally close to hell. There was no one to call.

I finally summed up the courage to walk up to one of our clients and politely ask why we no longer get projects from them. She told me it was nothing. They simply had no work for us.

Of course she expected me to buy that crap but I couldn’t afford it.

So I dug deeper and sought my answers elsewhere. After a lot of questioning, we managed to retrace our steps and to my surprise, the trend began immediately we started sending out design contracts.

That’s it. Our design contract has been the stumbling block. So I had to review the content again to figure out what the real issue was. But I found nothing; probably because I was still all out looking out for myself.

Perhaps I should remind you that this selfish contract of ours highlighted all we wanted as a design firm with little or no consideration for our clients. It was a money-grubbing piece designed to get us all the goodies. Pathetic, isn’t it?

It goes to show why they were not ringing us. Honestly, we did not deserve a call from our clients. We did a poor job caring about what matters to them. So, it’s payback time.

Unless we have the contract reviewed, we would be out of business in no time. Thankfully, we spotted our mistakes on time and did well to correct them.

But then, I noticed something quite interesting. It goes beyond what I’ve written so far about self-serving contracts by designers looking to get juicy deals.

On the flip side, put the client in the spotlight. Yeah, it’s only fair to do that.

How do clients behave when you send them a contract? What are their reactions, even if the contract does favour them?

Trust me, it’s a different issue altogether.

You see, Nigeria is different. Sometimes it’s a herculean task coming to terms with the business terrain here. We are known to be lawless. We constantly resist the long arms of the law especially if we anticipate things might go south.

We are often reluctant to sign papers that are legally binding. So don’t show us contracts; the sight of it causes panic attacks.

Or go ahead. Try it. Send a design contract to a Nigerian prospect and watch him or her give the job to someone else – someone who doesn’t scare the shit out of them like you.

Though it’s important to have one, some contracts would ruin your chances at getting gigs. I know because I had a couple of issues using mine until I found a better way to go about it.

An average Nigerian frowns at contracts. He thinks you’re trying to exploit him or protect yourself against him ( which actually, is the underlying intention in most cases). So he kicks at it and finds someone less dramatic.

Clients often wonder why they have to go through the trouble of signing a design contract just because they needed a logo. They are mad at you even before the business relationship begins to blossom.

I kept wondering why a design contract would pose such a huge problem. Why should it frighten anyone? I just didn’t get it.

So one day, I noticed the bold word written in serif at the top of the page. I assumed for a minute that I was the client. Seeing this before anything else could truly be traumatic.

There is no way this word was pleasing to the ears, despite the fact that it guarantees safety. Ironically, the moment clients see it, they smell trouble. They imagine a bunch of reckless Naija policemen coming after them for not keeping their part of the deal.

But that’s just their imaginations running away with them.

I wanted to try something different and subtle though – something that looks official but doesn’t sound legal.

So instead of having ‘design contract’ boldly written at the top of the page, I changed it to ‘our agreement with you’. Such a little tweak made a huge difference.

It worked.

I was happy to get rid of a demonic word which had denied me mouthwatering gigs and replace with simpler and understandable words. It changed everything; of course after I reviewed the content of the contract.

Problem solved.

Sometimes, the problem is not the person who changes; but the words that spur them to action.

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