Clients changing their mind in the middle of a project is a common occurrence in the web design field. It is important to protect yourself legally when this occurs. If you fail to do so, you risk not getting paid for the extra work you put into the project. To prevent this painful scenario, every web designer needs to have a procedure in place for documenting changes requested by clients in writing.
Changes Lead To Problems
A potential client contacts you about developing a social media site. The two of you meet multiple times and work out the specifications for the project. The client accepts your cost estimate and signs your contract.
The project proceeds smoothly through the first milestone. As you head towards the second milestone, the client gets the “I wants.” They suddenly want to add:
- A video component,
- An instant messaging system,
- An internal wink function, and
- An audio recording feature users can employee to leave messages for each other.
A price is worked out, and you complete the additional work on a rush schedule. When finished, the customer complains about the price and argues certain desired features are not present in the final design. The client refuses to pay the final invoice or tries to negotiate the total price down.
They say there are no absolutes in the world, but nearly every web designer has run into this type of client at one point or another. In a best case scenario, you get paid in full…after months of back and forth legal threats. In a worse case situation, the client must be sued to recover the money, which results in them leaving nasty reviews for you on Yelp and other review sites. Fortunately, one small step can often eliminate an adverse outcome.
Write the new specs and costs down. It is as simple as that. Any time a client wants to make a change of significance to their project; the change should be documented in a written amendment to the original contract. The amendment is usually just one page, but should cover the following topics:
- That the parties are amending the original contract.
- The specific changes being made.
- How the changes impact the project schedule and milestones.
- The additional fee for the change.
- When the fee will be paid.
Both parties should then sign the amendment. You, the designer, keep the original version. The client is now contractually obligated to pay you any fees associated with the additional work. If the client balks at doing so or tries to claim you didn’t do all the new work, they can be confronted with the amendment. If they still refuse to pay, a judge will force them to comply.
For this approach to work, the original contract must contain language allowing for amendments. The language should require the amendment to be in writing and signed by both parties before it is binding. You should be able to find this language in the standard clauses at the end of the original contract.
As a fallback position, you should also make sure the original contact has a copyright transfer provision. The provision should indicate copyright is retained by you, the designer, until full payment is made. If the client stiffs you, then you have the option of filing a copyright infringement notice with the DMCA agent for their host to force the takedown of the site.
Changes are common with web development projects. As a web designer, you need to protect yourself by reducing each change to writing. Do this, and you can spend most of your time building amazing sites instead of fighting with clients.
Not sure if your current contract allows for amendments or how to go about documenting them? Contact me for a consultation.
Richard A. Chapo, Esq.