Your First Agency Design Contract – What You Must Know Before You Sign

| 5 min read

Having an agent can be a genuine boon for a designer. It means much less work spent on selling your work and closing business. It can free you up to create and that’s a huge benefit. However, before you sign on the dotted line you need to know a few things and ensure that certain items are fully understood or you may end up with a deal which is so loaded against you that it outweighs any benefits you receive:

What Does the Agency Want?

Author/Copyright holder: Dave Dugdale. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 2.0

Agencies are going to expect a commission. This commission should be clearly laid out in the contract. There’s no legal standard for commissions so an agency can set their own rates. In general anything more than 35% is probably too much and anything less than 25% would be unusual. Some agencies may use sliding commissions based on earnings. Others may operate a reducing scale based on time served and so on… whatever the commission take is – you need to know before you sign up.

What Does the Agency Expect Regarding Marketing?

Agencies often expect their designers to kick in some cash towards their marketing budget. This again needs to be clearly laid out in the contract. It’s OK to kick in towards a pool that markets all designers but you should understand how much of that pool will be dedicated towards your brand and what you can expect in exchange for the cash you pay in.

Where Does the Agency Represent You?

Author/Copyright holder: OCLC. Copyright terms and licence: All rights reserved Img source

Small agencies may only represent you locally, medium sized ones may represent you nationally, other larger agencies may offer continents, regions, or global arrangements. You want to ensure that the representation they provide is clear so you can seek other representation in markets that they don’t cover. If you already have representation in certain areas that the new agent covers – you can ask them to exempt the area you already have representation in.

What’s the Deal with Copyright?

Author/Copyright holder: CHRISTOPHER DOMBRES. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0

Typically, designers release the work to a client under a specific license for use and retain copyright to their own work. Make sure that your contract doesn’t require surrender of copyright to either your client or your agent unless there’s a big financial incentive for doing so.

What Happens With Your Current Clients?

Ideally, you want to agree that you can continue working with your current clients and that the agent will not approach them and that you will not pay a commission to the agent for this work. Alternatively, you might want to sit down and agree that the agency does manage these accounts for you but they take less of a slice for it.

How Do You Get Out of the Relationship?

Relationship termination clauses should be as painless as possible. You shouldn’t bail on an agent within a couple of weeks but if you’re not seeing results after a few months – it’s probably time to move on – so make that process easy, just in case.

Header Image: Author/Copyright holder: Dan Moyle. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0


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