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Mind Your Business: Handyman Contracts

In Mind Your Business, Mark Simon steps foot on the creative construction site, putting on his hardhat contract for not only his safety, but also that of his client.

Hey! Ill work hard for you! Ill be on this worksite sweating in the heat for weeks. Building creativity is hard work and I want to make sure Im safe and that I am compensated fairly.

Yes maam. Im here to do the best job I can but Ive had a couple of miscommunications with clients in the past and I dont want to have that happen again. Do you mind if I put on my hardhat contract for protection? It actually protects both of us from hazardous misunderstandings.

  • (Thought to self: she better not mind. The only clients Ive ever had problems with were those who didnt want to sign a contract. Some of them made it sound OK by saying, We dont need a contract. I always work with a handshake. Trust me. Boy did I learn the hard way. If they dont want our agreement in writing, I dont want them as clients.)

Well start with the blueprints of the job, maam. These blueprints are a list of assumptions on the contract of what you and I both expect on this job. Lets make sure we both know what you will be supplying, what I will supply, when the inspections should happen and how Im delivering the finished work. With these mutually agreed upon assumptions, I will hit the nail on the head with each job.

Mark Simon, Creative Contractor.

Have you ever heard that joke about what happens when you assume? No? It makes an ass out of u and me. Get it? Ass u me? No maam. I dont find it very funny either.

Maam? Yes, drafting a contract like this will take a few extra minutes now, but it will probably save us a lot of time later during creative construction. Ive found that it can also save a professional relationship, so I thank you for your patience. Contracts are like these work boots, they keep me from stepping into deep sh No maam, I dont find that kind of language funny either.

Where did I get this contract? A couple of places actually. A good friend of mine who runs an art studio gave me a copy of his contract. I also grabbed some pieces that I liked from my clients contracts. And I found some really good sample contracts in the books, The Artists & Graphic Designers Market, Selling Your Graphic Design & Illustration and the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines, which you can find by visiting the Graphic Artists Guild website.

Ive improved this contract over the years. Each time I get a splinter, I try to sand down the lumber a little smoother to make the construction of my contracts better. As I work I learn more and run into different situations that require me to update my base contract and even make a couple of different contracts. I have one contract for animation work and another for illustration work. I save each change and my contracts get better all the time.

Can we finish the assumptions? Great.

Lets see. We need to agree to who owns the walls and ceilings when Im done. This answer usually is dependent on a lot of factors, but we need to be clear on it now and put it in writing before I start knocking things down.

Ill bring all my tools, but what about matting materials? Scripts? Voice talent? Do you want me to bring in my own tunes? No? OK, great. You bring the music.

Excuse me? Why do we need to go over all this before I get started? The assumptions provide the foundation for this project. I cherish our professional relationship and I dont want any misunderstandings at the end of this project. I would like you to want to work with me again.

  • (Actually, its also because if I wait until the project is over, I have a bad position to negotiate from.)

Now, lets talk about when you need the job to be finished. Wow. Really? That soon? Yeah, I can do it, but its a pretty tight schedule. You will have to get everything to me by tonight or I wont be able to make the deadline. Lets put in here the schedule when you need to get everything to me, right next to when I need to deliver. Whats that? Because if you dont deliver what I need on time, I wont be able to deliver on time and we need to be clear on that.

One last thing on the schedule. Id like to point out this line in the contract that states that any approvals which take more than 24 hours will increase our deadline by the same amount of time or I will have to charge you rush fees.

Believe me, I dont want to have to do that either, but I cant keep missing dinner. You know how it is.

Right. So heres the total. Maam, why are you crying? Do you need a tissue? Yes maam. Im worth that much. No maam. I didnt put the decimal in the wrong place. For small projects I invoice once Im done, but on larger projects, such as this one, I need to get an advance and well put the payment schedule right here on the contract.

We also need to include in the contract charges for expenses and supplies. Some of my projects have extra expenses such as freight and materials. If I buy the materials I will mark-up the cost of buying them. Why? Because Im then investing in the project and the mark-up helps pay for the time it takes me to find and purchase the materials.

Now, how would you like me to deliver the finished work? Digitally? Hard prints? Carved into a granite slab? Very good. Ill put that down right here.

I would like you to take a look at the rest of the contract, which covers rights, cancellation costs or kill fees, change orders, promotion, licensing and other boring stuff. Let me know if you have any questions.

You do? What a surprise I mean, what would you like to know?

What if you cancel the project? Kill fees discuss how much I will bill you if you cancel this project and that is dependant on how much I have completed. No maam. It doesnt matter if you change your mind and dont want to cook in the new kitchen. I charge for the work I do, not what you do with it.

Facial Expressions by Mark Simon.

Yes maam. If you change your mind about any part of this project after youve given approval on it there will be change fees. If I get halfway through painting your living room and you decide you want it to be a different color, I will have to bill you for repainting it. While it may seem to you that this is what I do and you only want to pay for the finished product, my time is valuable and my rates are based on both the value of my work and the amount of time it should take me to do it. Changes take time. Even small changes add up.

No maam, I cant start until you sign the contract. It is my work permit.

Yes maam, Im glad you feel confident in me and like that Im being upfront about everything and how professional I am in handling your project. Yes maam, this project should go very smoothly. Um No maam. Im a married man but thank you for the compliment. My wife doesnt approve of those kinds of side jobs.

Mark Simon is an award-winning animation producer and lecturer who is also the author of Facial Expressions, Producing Independent 2D Character Animation and Storyboards: Motion in Art. He can be found lurking around at and may be reached at Marks books may be found and purchased at