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Mary's Question #2.
Are there contracts involved; if not, do I pursue one for the understanding of both parties?

You need and you want some form of written agreement. Call it a contract, call it a letter of agreement (LOA), call it what you will. But you'll need a written understanding -- in their words on their stationery -- which dictates the following:

  1. The scope of the project - everything.
  2. When it begins, and at what point does it end. Note here that web sites are NEVER done. You need milestones along the way at which point you expect certain results, and the webmaster will expect to be paid. This needs to be very clearly declared.
  3. The conditions of hosting (who hosts, where, etc.)
  4. The conditions of Domain Name (what it is, who buys it, who owns it.)
  5. The conditions of raw materials (scans, photos, clip art, etc... where does it come from, who gets it, and who owns it.)
  6. The conditions of raw information (Product literature, information, charts, graphics, etc... where does it come from, who gets it, and who owns it. Will they write it? Will you write it?)
  7. Terms of approval. How you will approve the various stages of the project, and how you will designate it as "finished"
  8. Terms of author/client/artist changes. You need to have some sort of understanding on what will be considered YOUR changes or additions, and how they will affect the amount of money to be paid. I've designed $250 websites that turned out to have $3,000 worth of client additions and changes. You don't want that surprise when the bill comes due.
  9. What will be the terms of continuing work? Hour, day rates for 'webmastering' retainers all have their own specific operations and obligations which need to be documented. Webmasters can spend an incredible amount of time doing little or nothing. If you sign up for an ongoing relationship you need to understand what specific operations that entails, and how much they'll cost. (See my WARNINGS side bar)

Are there stock or canned contracts?

Maybe. You can find literally hundreds of them on the web ready to go. However you'll need your OWN contract or LOA because yours will be very unique to your own situation. Do you need a lawyer? Probably not.
__ The best way to acquire this from a prospective is to require a Request for Proposal (RFP). List your questions (as outlined above) and get the answers back from them in their own words, on their own stationery. If you disagree with anything, ask about it and negotiate a new compromise. Then have them re-submit the RFP with those specific changes. You're after a document authored by the individual or firm which clearly dictates what they'll do for what money. Such a document is strong in the event of litigation... contracts are putty in the hands of lawyers.

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