Short and Effective WordPress Website Contract

Recently, our local WordPress group discussed how to write simple and effective WordPress website contract for web development projects.

What the lawyer says about contracts

We invited a contracts lawyer with Oracle to come speak to our group. I love that lawyers are no nonsense and to the point. He said a contract essentially needs to say:

  1. When will you be paid?
  2. What do you have to do to be paid (i.e. what are the deliverables)?
  3. Be a good person and work with good people.
  4. Have a limitation of liability.

That’s it. Essentially: I will do this for you, you will pay me, and I won’t get sued for something beyond the amount you’ve paid me.

He also said that if you are signing a contract written by a company, you need to read it carefully to be sure you understand exactly the terms of the contract, how you will get paid, and what the deliverables are. Contracts tend to be very modular, so one part of the contract can apply to other parts, so read them carefully. If the client wants to own “everything,” you need to identify what “everything” means. If you are working with a corporate client in particular, be careful about what they are expecting to own at the end of the project. If it’s a theme you’ve developed but use parts of on other projects, you want to be careful you didn’t just give them full copyright to your code. It really depends on what you are doing for the client. Certainly custom development work is going to be different than putting up a brochure site for someone. But be clear on who owns the copyright to the code and graphics.

WordPress Website ContractWordPress website contract: it’s all about relationships

Contracts are about relationships primarily. If you have good communication skills and a positive relationship, you don’t necessarily need a contract to get paid. Contracts protect you if the relationship breaks down. And contracts protect you against the “legal stuff” such as copyright, ownership, and licensing issues.

The Killer Contract

A favorite contract passed around development circles is the “killer contract” by Stuff & Nonsense. It’s short, sweet, and to the point. It boils down to:

  • We agree to work together, and I have the skills to do this job.
  • We create flexible designs.
  • You provide content and images.
  • We delivery web code and test it on various devices and browsers.
  • You are responsible for hosting.
  • We don’t do SEO.
  • We are open to changes but will provide a separate estimate for them.
  • Legal stuff about copyrights and errors.
  • Payment schedule.

Additional legal wording

What seems to be missing in the Killer Contract is a limitation of liability. One of the group members provided their sample “legal” contract which they make everyone sign whether or not they’ve provided a specific project proposal. This simple contract does contain an appropriate limitation of liability according to the lawyer present as well as an indemnity clause.

Scope of work

While not contractual per se, many people in the group add other things in their contracts that help get them on the same page with the client and more specifically identify particular features for budgeting purposes and to help control scope. These things might be articulated in a “discovery” phase if the client hasn’t already provided a detailed specification in writing.

  • Overall objective for the site and business need. An objective might be very broad such as “To design and implement a custom WordPress theme for X company located in X city.” This identifies the project as limited to a single WordPress site for a local business. If the objective were to create an e-commerce store, BuddyPress site, multi-site with multiple blogs, membership site, etc., that would be included in the overall objective. Or the client might have an existing site, and the objective is simple to update the site to adhere to current design trends and provide more customer engagement/conversion opportunities.
  • List of features. A list of features for the site can be helpful to be sure you’ve identified the client’s needs correctly and haven’t missed some functionality that will effect the cost or scope of the project, such as an events calendar/registration, detailed contact forms, integration with third-party services (such as Mail Chimp), and so on. The list of features might include a site map with specific design/content needs identified for each of the pages.
  • Design objectives. What is the overall look and feel objective for the site?
  • Scheduling of work. When will client provide content? When do you agree to work on the site?
  • Approval of work. Many people include specific signature points where the work is approved to be completed.

WordPress website contract cost estimates

I usually create a detailed estimate of work, even though my estimates end up being around the same for coding ($3k to $7k) and design ($2k to $4k). Writing, editing, and developing content are usually handled by the organization, but I employ writers and photographers as needed. If the project involves e-commerce or any other more complex functionality, then that is budgeted additionally.

A very simple, pre-designed theme site typically costs $1,500-2,500. I know several people who target this market and have even created turnkey businesses around them.

A great article by Post Status went around recently about how much a website costs. I think his pricing is right on and matches almost to the dollar my past budgets. WP Site Care also wrote a detailed article on how much websites costs in general (including the hosting, maintenance, plugins, etc.). What I always try to tell the DIYers is that, yes, WordPress is free, but it is far from cheap, and we really need to look at their business needs and objectives in making every decision about the website.

Getting a contract signed

Two good options were mentioned as to how to get electronic signatures for your WordPress website contract. One is HelloSign which allows you to get electronic signatures on up to 3 documents per month for free.

The other option if you are an Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber is to use Adobe Acrobat’s electronic signature option in a PDF. Adobe Document Cloud also offers specific eSign services for a monthly fee.

Maintenance and accountability

While we tend to write contracts with ourselves in mind, we could include wording about what we are doing to protect the client from problems down the road. One thing that was mentioned in our Meetup was how to account for licenses of premium themes and plugins. For example, I pay annual developers’ fees for several plugins, themes, and fonts that I use on clients’ sites. If a client chooses to not have me maintain the site, I could remove my license keys from it. However, letting the client know up front which licenses you hold is good to include in your contract should they decide to move onto another developer.

Remember, every new client and project might be the beginning of a long-term relationship, so perhaps letting your clients know how you will handle updates, maintenance, testing, validation, and your overall approach to coding with their best interests in mind would be good.

Training and documentation

Some people include documentation and training in their proposals and scope of work. I write a detailed 10-20 page document for most of my clients outlining the features of the website and how they can edit their content (including formatting tips, sizing of images, and a few basic WordPress tips).

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Your thoughts…

Please comment with your thoughts and questions, links to articles or sample contracts you’ve found helpful. My goal is to have one quick/simple contract that covered the basics (how much I’m being paid, when and how, what do I have to deliver, and the legal stuff) that I could give to all my clients. And, if I have time and think it’s necessary, I could write a more detailed proposal that outlined the scope and business need for the work to be done.

Angela Bowman

Front-end WordPress developer since 2007 building highly custom websites for nonprofits and small businesses. Experienced in nonprofit administration, grant writing, and technical writing. Love high altitude hiking and backyard chickens.

View all posts by Angela Bowman

10 comments on “Short and Effective WordPress Website Contract

  1. Great post as always! The examples given are superb. I’ve noticed that the bigger a project is, the more important it is to have milestones and deliverables with specific payments. Hard-won wisdom. :-<

    • Milestones are hard since it can be so challenging to get people to delivery content timely. But, one thing someone said that I thought was a good idea is to provide a deadline for the content and if that is missed, the project goes back into the queue.

  2. Thanks Angela, this writeup is great. (As is that post on how much a website costs—wow that really nails it)

    I like the idea of talking about how you pay attention to longevity and good coding practices. I talk about the latter in my proposals, but not necessarily the former. That sounds like it could be very reassuring to a client.

    • Yes, letting the client know that you are thoughtful in your use of themes, plugins, and coding strategy is good. I don’t think anyone really talks about that, and it can differentiate you among the novice WP implementors who might profess to be experts but aren’t.

      • Yes, there are too many one-off sites that don’t end up being very easy to maintain and are more hackable.

  3. Awesome follow-up post, Angela. Admittedly, I have been pretty lax with my contracts. After attending the meetup last night, I have a new perspective on the power that a written contract can have, even if it’s just in a small claims court. Please keep up the good work!!

    • Thanks, Matt. It gave me a lot to think about, too. In particular, I’m thinking of taking Scott and Betty’s legal contract which I posted a link to in the post and using that at the very least to cover the legal stuff. I’m realizing not all projects are going to require the big write up about Scope of Work and Detailed Cost Estimate if the communication is good. I could just pop the $ figures in and use a rewritten version of the Killer Contract and Betty’s legal wording and be done. Then, getting the legal signature will make it all done. Luckily, I’ve had very amazing clients over the years, but covering those little legal things would be good, not for small claims court, but for the limited liability piece.

    • I read somewhere a reminder that a contract is simply an agreement in writing. While I don’t always do this well (sometimes just from being lazy) I am usually happy when I do. That said, you mentioned that many of your projects weren’t big enough to warrant it. That is always a consideration. Keep trying to repeat myself so I don’t have to rewrite things. But then I rewrite things.

      • Most of my projects do warrant a contract, so I have one I recycle and modify. I think it was someone else who had the smaller projects. However, even for smaller projects, that quick, legal contract that isn’t customized other than perhaps total cost would be good to dash out and get signed electronically.

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