In the early stages of your business, you may have worked with familiar freelance clients or with family and friends. Perhaps you didn’t feel the need for a contract, but as time went on you realized a contract is a good idea to protect you legally and also help with any communication issues with your customers.
According to NOLO, contracts need two things to be valid legally–parties must be in agreement and something of value should be exchanged. While most contracts do not have to be in writing, a few situations demand it, such as agreements lasting longer than 12 months and those falling under specific state laws.
If a digital contract is a viable option, how can you send it and collect a digital signature to ensure everything is legal and binding?
Conversations between you and the client serve as proof the other party knew about your policies and what the contract entailed before they even signed it. Try to have such conversations via email whenever possible so you have a written record of the agreement.
You can also avoid a lot of misunderstandings by having some in-depth conversations and reiterating what was agreed upon before you even send out a contract.
Printing, signing and scanning contracts to confirm them takes a lot of time out of the client’s day. A mere 33% of companies use current e-signature software for contracts. Adding this element to what you offer clients can make you stand out as easier to use than the competition.
E-signatures should go through a couple of steps to ensure they’re binding. Using third-party software to collect digital autographs is your best bet to ensure you follow legal standards.
A PDF file so that the look of the contract remains as you intend. If you send in Word .doc or some other format, the layout and placement could change, thus changing the overall meaning of the agreement.
Send the PDF file as an attachment or a downloadable link. Make sure you’ve left the areas you want the user to fill out editable, so they can plug in their information on their computers and then save digitally with the changes.
Do you work with clients who have disabilities? You should ensure your forms and communication is ADA compliant. Make sure any images have an alt tag. Take the time to test the document with various popular reads to see how it works.
Approximately 54 million Amercans have a disability of some sort. The way those with vision impairments interact with your digital contracts makes a big difference in their overall impression of your brand.
Once your client sends the signed document back to you, sign it on your end and send them an updated copy of the completed contract. Just as with pre-contract negotiations, a written documentation that the contract is in your possession and now active can serve in court should you ever need it to prove intent.
Send a quick email with the signed contract attached and thank them for coming aboard as a client. You want to keep things professional and avoid any misunderstandings. A signed contract makes sure everyone fully understands expectations.
Make sure all the details on your contract are correct. Is the company name spelled correctly? What is the location of your business? Where must things be litigated if there is a breach of contract? Smart business owners set the location to where they live to avoid added travel expenses in case of a lawsuit.
You don’t have to be scared of a digital contract and signature. You simply need to be smart in how you handle communication and ensure you cover all your bases to have a legally binding agreement.
Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the creative director at a digital marketing agency before becoming a full-time freelance designer. Eleanor lives in Philly with her husband and pup, Bear.