Contracts etc

Hi to all.

Today makes it a year since I started out on my own and although Im doing well, I think I have alot more to do and learn. I wanted to know more about contracts, do I really need to have them? Will it scare clients off? Most of my clients is just the routine charge but now Im getting a few others, particularly abroad, I was wondering what other people have done, would advise to do etc. They all know my base rates but do you also think i should be getting a percentage upfront as well? So many questions really, sorry if they seem daft but Im learning as I go along!

I'd say absolutely YES. A contract protects you and, together with a proposal (a confirmation of the client's brief, what you have agreed to do/what you have understood the client wants you to do and the related fees) form a tangible document that is there to be referred to (should you ever need to) when you occasionally need to remind a client about something they agreed to months ago.
I have heard a saying that if you're at the stage of needing to refer to a contract then the relationship with the client has long broken down.

The proposal is also a great way of condensing the facts from a 'woolly' brief.

Having a contract shows a level of professionalism and I've found that the non-serious are filtered out when a contract is mentioned. (Though there aren't that many services that don't require some form of written acceptance, so don't feel awkward about insisting on agreeing to one before starting any work.) A deposit or advance payment for new clients is something I insist on - it's then up to you from then on whether you request one for on-going projects, as your trust/relationship builds. You don't know who they are and giving away first stage concepts to find them uncontactable later on is gutting. Having this initial payment covers this should it ever happen (and it has to me a good few times.

Be prepared for the clients that love to pull a contract apart. The contract is to protect you so again, it is up to you to decide which bits you decide to change/allow the client to tweak for their purposes. I've had a few US clients that have a different view of what a designer should provide and I've spent time and money on having their requests checked and replied to...ultimately I walked away and added it to 'experience.'

Hope this helps.
Cheers Paul. For the clients abroad, they all have paid me a percentage upfront and Ive had ongoing work from them but think a contract would as you say 'show a level of professionalism'. I take it I would be best to get someone to set me up a contract? Then I can amend to each clients needs I presume.

I've been lucky so far but have heard alot of horror stories and now Im getting more calls in from unknowns, I just want to step my level up.
I used an online lawyer/solicitor service who have intellectual property lawyers specialising in design contracts. It cost a few hundred pounds, but has been very worthwhile and I'm comfortable that they are understandable for both myself and my clients.
If you'd like the link then PM me.
I've found full blown contracts difficult to broach in the past. I have however found a well written proposal/quotation works well when coupled with a brief outline of the main points in your Ts&Cs (ie; X% payment must be made prior to commencement of work, artwork remains the copyright of me until full payment has been received, by making initial payment/giving verbal or written approval of the above proposal/quote you are accepting my full ts&cs (available upon request) and assume responsibility to meet all payment dates as agreed in proposal/quote.) This isn't what's written on my quotes (I cant remember the actual wording off hand) but you get the idea.
I'm with Dave here. I find a brief outline of my main payment related terms and conditions included on my quotes/invoices does the trick. I then give them a brief outline of what I'll be doing for them with the price. That being said, I have written up and 'designed' a T&C's document that I send over with my quotes for all of my new clients. Whether they choose to read it or not is up to them, but I know I'm always covered.