Many of us need to face the fact that we're just not born web developers. I know that while I'm capable of putting together a little basic HTML, PHP, content management systems, databases and other more complicated areas are just beyond me. That's why it's sometimes important to hire out for your web design. Sure, you could take the time and put in all the effort to learn how to do your own design, but is it really worth it in the long run? After all, you're not planning to become a professional designer.
If you do decide to have your web design done by an outside firm, you're going to have to know you're getting what you really want. The world is full of companies that think they're better than they are, or are just outright scams. That's where a contract can protect you. Let's take a look at what a good web design contract needs to include if you're going to get the site that'll work right for you.
First, it needs to specify the scope of the services. That means the contract needs to say exactly what your developer is going to do for you. Start out with three to five sentences discussing what's going to happen, and who is responsible for what. This should include information on how your website will be updated and who's going to do it, as well as where the site will be hosted, by whom, and who's responsible for the site marketing. Some developers take care of these extras and some don't. It's important to know what you're paying for.
Next, specify what you're going to pay. State it exactly, and state what's being paid when. The developer should be able to tell you what rate you'll be billed at (hourly, by project, or some other method) and how that will be documented. A good contract should say whether or not you need to place a down payment, or if you pay according to how far along the project is. Ideally, the contract and payment methods should provide protection for you as a buyer, and for the developer, to prevent either party from deciding to take the money and run.
The term of the contract is also important. After all, most contracts don't continue forever. If you get halfway through the project and your developer turns out to have no idea what he or she is doing, you need to be able to get out. Make sure that penalties and time frames are specified up front. Find out who keeps the copyright or IP rights on the site if either party pulls out. Otherwise, things could get legally nasty later on. In fact, the IP right should be stated for the completed project as well. Tis keeps your developer from simply cloning your site for someone else later.
If you need to keep the information you're sending to the developer confidential, make sure that's written into the contract, too. Some developers aren't even supposed to mention that they're working for a client. If you don't specify what can't be disclosed, it will be assumed that nothing is confidential.
A good developer should also include a warranty. Make sure this is written into the contract, and that the term of the warranty is specified. Thirty to ninety day guarantees that the work will be functional and bug free are common. Generally, if you make a mistake working on the page, it's not covered under the warranty, either. If you want that coverage, negotiate with the developer in advance. Your developer will probably also include a clause that says they're not responsible if you lose money related to their web development, and that they're not to blame if your marketing efforts don't succeed. You'll probably also see a clause that says you can't hire any of the developer's employees or freelancers after the fact. This keeps clients from luring useful employees away under the pretext of web development.
This might seem like a lot of information, and it might even seem like some of it's unnecessary. However, every section of a contract is there to spell things out and keep both you and your developer safe from legal action or other problems. Make sure that you read your contract carefully, and if one of these things isn't spelled out, insist that it be inserted before you sign. That increases the chance of getting a solid page with no unpleasant strings attached.