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We hear horror stories from people who use freelance website designers: missed deadlines, non-functioning sites, disputes over payments. Some clients never get a website at all!
On the other side, we hear stories of customers who want thousands of pounds worth of extras free of charge, who don’t provide the copy but are stunned when things run late.
How did we get into such a mess with web designers?
In the 1990s, websites were commissioned by advertising and marketing agencies, or media agencies. They stood between the client, who had their commercial requirements, and the web designer, who had the technical requirements.
They acted as middlemen – managing the project and soothing the way. Websites were for bigger companies, with teams to manage and resource the project. It all started with a project plan that everyone tried to stick to.
Solopreneurs and micropreneurs don’t work that way. The owner deals directly with their web designer. But who is managing the project? The web designer is sat there waiting for the client and the client is oblivious to what is needed in what form. We all want a cheap website, so we are not paying the web designer to take us by the hand and explain it all. But when our expectations and the web designers expectations don’t match disaster can strike; deadlines, costs and relationships can get out of hand.
If you are unlucky enough to be working with a friend you can lose the friendship as well as your money when things go wrong.
Lack of contracts and onboarding can leave you and your web designer legally naked
According to our survey of web designers’ clients:
- 30% have no written agreement of any kind
- 60% have no timescales or clear list of who is doing what
When things go wrong, it is impossible to untangle who should have done what. The web designer and the client can both be unhappy. Each one will go away thinking this is not what I signed up for. But no power on earth can untangle the mish-mash of expectations and needs that were never properly shared and agreed.
GDPR and designing for privacy
Clients don’t really know how to brief a web designer about GDPR and privacy – despite the fact it is your responsibility if the site is hacked. There are no shared assumptions about who is doing what. Our web designer clients often view cyber security as a separate discipline (along with SEO, copyrighting and image sourcing) and the lack of shared process and assumptions can lead to legal problems later on.
According to our survey of web designers’ clients:
- Almost 40% have no agreement on confidentiality and access to subscriber/enquirer data
- 30% + third have no proper agreement about who owns code and licenses
- Almost 30% have no agreement about copyright, intellectual property or even who gets paid when!
The gig economy and web designers
Unless you are a legal geek you won’t have spent a lot of time thinking about how the law applies when contracting for a website. But assuming it works like employment (or worse still the way that bloke down the pub told you it does) is going to lead you to problems.
Most people don’t understand how the law applies to freelancers – and simply assume either there is none at all, or that it is exactly the same in terms of copyright and confidentiality as it is with employees.
As numbers of freelancers increase rapidly (see the statistics here), the number of clients, and consultancies who are standing on shaky ground is bound to increase. If you are not an experienced website design agency you are bound to miss a few tricks but this can get seriously out of hand.
We hear horror stories on both sides of the web designer fence
I paid £5,000 in advance and I never got anything usable at all
I did a quick website for £500 and they keep insisting I add extra things in we never discussed
Cheap and overseas web designer?
While it can be great to use freelancers from outside the EU, you must be careful that you are not exporting personal data via your web site databases in breach of the Data Protection Act (GDPR). If your contracting, security and policies are not right this can end in tears and some very cheap freelancers are not used to our security and confidentiality environment and can create sites that are simply not appropriate for a UK based business.
If you are storing data to show compliance with the last EUVAT regulations for B2C transactions, you must keep that data securely on an EU based server for 10 years. You can’t just randomly host your site anywhere in the world.
It has never been more important to make sure you have a proper data security plan in place and contracts to match them.
How to get web designer contracting and onboarding right?
A key part of your process needs to be setting out a clear contract and schedule that identifies who does what (and who is not) and who is getting paid what at which stage. We have worked with web designers and their customers to produce some simple contracts that will help you sit down and have that conversation before it is too late.
If you are about to hire a web designer, find out more about our web designer hiring agreement here – get yourself some clarity for a fraction of what you are about to pay out on web design.
If you are a web designer who needs to get more clarity with your clients, find out more about our web designer terms of business here . The time you save on disputes alone will more than pay for your contract.