Understanding and Negotiating Creative Service Agreements Like A Pro

Table of Contents

tl;dr Ten Key Issues


The Service Agreement

Services and Deliverables

Fees, Costs, and Invoicing

Intellectual Property

Term & Termination


Limitation of Liability and Disclaimers

Other Provisions




It Always Starts the Same

You get a great lead and deliver an awesome pitch. The client is ready to sign up. Over comes the form of Service Agreement with the usual prod:

<aside> 💡 It’s all the standard stuff. Just sign and we'll get started!


Until today, you’ve held your nose, signed on the dotted line, and sent the contract back–probably happy to be rid of the thing. But you also probably wished you understood contracts better or (again) promised yourself to learn a bit more for next time...

That next time is now. So take a deep breath and let's dive in.


Who is this Book For?

This book is for any creative firm facing client drafted service agreements. While you likely have your own form of Service Agreement, it (hopefully) has been drafted specific to your business, preferences, and risk tolerances. Incoming Service Agreements are different. They are often generic and extremely one-sided in favor of the client. This book will help you understand and negotiate those agreements into a contract you can live with.

This book considers the issues typical to design, development, branding, and related types of creative services. Regardless of your creative specialty, the agreements you face will likely contain many of the provisions in this book. Unfortunately, we can’t cover everything. Every contract is different. There will always be specifics to your business, a project, or your industry that require advice and customization beyond the scope of this book. So, use your judgment about when to rely on this book and when to ask for help.

How to Use this Book

This book is arranged around the major sections common to creative Service Agreements. For each section, we’ll explain in plain English what the clause means, key issues to watch out for, and some alternative approaches to consider during negotiation. Next time you are faced with a clause you don’t understand or gives you concern, simply skim the table of contents for the relevant section or do a word search to find discussion on that topic.