What Should a Web Development Contract Cover?

Posted on Apr 30, 2020
Last updated on Jun 9, 2020
4 minute read

Are you thinking about starting a new web development job without a contract?

Tempting, isn’t it? It’ll be okay … I trust my client … what could go wrong really?

But having a contract in place is central to project success, and not just for legal reasons. Agreeing a set of basic terms and conditions is just good business practice and frankly, clients expect this level of diligence from professional web designers.

I used to operate without a web development agreement in place, often for the sake of just getting started, but then I got burned. Everybody gets burned at some point.

So today I’m going to share with you my web development contract template, essentially a set of terms and conditions by which my projects are signed, sealed and delivered. Buckle up!

To get clients to digitally sign my contracts I use Signable. If you try it and pay to use it, I’ll get a commission ✍️

How to write a professional web development agreement

Statement of work

My web design contract opens with a statement of work that summarises:

I don’t go into a huge amount of detail on scope here — it simply says we’ll deliver this project against an agreed spec, which typically refers to the proposal signed-off by the client. You might want to flesh this section out, but I find that that keeping it slim in this way makes it easier for the client to read, and means I don’t need to write huge chunks of legally binding deliverables each time I set up a contract.

Accessibility and browser support

For a technical web development agreement, stipulating how well-supported your solution is going to be is important.

I don’t support Internet Explorer. At all. This is made clear in the development contract, along with a clause stipulating that I will only support “modern” browsers:

“The website will be tested to meet AA accessibility standards and function correctly in all modern web browsers and devices. “Modern” is defined as any browsing software or physical devices which have been purchased new or updated within the last 24 months”

Web accessibility compliance is also worth including here, and I aim for AA standards. It is also made clear that this applies at handover. I train my clients in web maintenance and this covers accessibility concerns, but hey, if they let things slip I don’t want that to come back to me at some point down the line. Make certain that your web development agreement has a basic browser support checklist, lest browser compatibility issues come back to bite you in the behind!

Feedback and materials

Your client will need to roll up their sleeves and get involved in the web development process in some way. This means responding to feedback within “a reasonable timeframe”, and providing licensed media and text content when asked.

I once had a client send me a bunch of stock pictures, complete with watermark copyright. They had not purchased the images, and insisted I use them anyway. I was working for an agency at the time, and this wasn’t covered in the terms of service, so we had to have an uncomfortable conversation…

Make sure that your client is aware of their responsibilities in delivering against the website development agreement.

A case of death

By popular demand (😕) clients have asked me to outline steps taken in the case of my death. As a freelancer, this makes sense, so my development agreement now includes a clause about this. Essentially, the customer would be contacted by a trusted party and their website files, database and login details would be handed over should I die or become incapacitated for any length of time.

It took dozens of successful contracts being signed before somebody asked me what would happen if “I got hit by a bus tomorrow”, but then I kept getting asked (maybe I’m looking old), so it’s worth getting ahead on this one and adding your very own death clause 💀

Privacy, terms and data protection

*Yawn*

But! This stuff’s important. How does the website collect data? Is it stored? If so, where? What is the process for retrieval or removal of that data? The good thing about this is web developers are not typically lawyers, so we can bump the responsibility for this back to our clients. Data privacy is a business responsibility that sits well above the scope of a website project.

My projects generally include a cookie acceptance popup and a page outlining how cookies are used by the website. All other privacy policies and terms & conditions of use are provided by the client. And that’s agreed in the contract.

Work outside of agreed scope

Any website creation contract worth its salt will include a section on scope. This is largely covered by your statement of work but it is worth being explicit about. Here’s a sample clause from my web contract:

“Should the customer require design or technical changes to be made before launch which deviate from the agreed scope, the company will quote a fixed-fee for work to be done based on an hourly rate of £xx+VAT which will be added to the next invoice”

This is your golden statement — the one you can point back to if scope creep happens. Clients do read contracts, so it is worth your time adding this to the developer agreement.

Maintenance retainer and ongoing support

It’s quite likely that your project will include some post-launch service. It’s important to outline this here, if only in the form of a bulleted checklist. Here’s what my website maintenance contract covers, word for word:

* Minor changes are defined as changes that 1) do not affect the underlying platform, 2) require no strategic thinking and 3) take less than 15 minutes to complete. Change requests would be expected to fall under an “acceptable use” policy at no more than two per calendar month.

** Support does not cover third party applications or questions unrelated to the service itself. Support queries will be raised via email and a member of support staff may contact the customer via a more direct communication method (i.e. telephone, Skype etc).

Yours will look different, and this is a maintenance contract example that you should adjust to meet your needs.

It’s really all about professionalism

You know what? The only time I’ve ever needed a contract is when I didn’t have one.

There is something about the process of putting a fully-developed website contract in front of your client that instils confidence. So many web developers don’t bother (I never used to) but it is a simple mark of professionalism to cover your legal bases.

Take the time to prepare a simple web development contract, and your clients will take you more seriously, you’ll get paid on time and, if the 💩hits the fan you’ll have an agreement to fall back on.