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The Value of Protecting Your Work

Authored by: Michelle Rodriguez, Graphic Designer

This April, Dallas Startup Week took place, giving entrepreneurs, investors, business owners, marketers and innovators an opportunity to network within the Dallas community and gain insights on trending industry topics. Hosted across various locations in the heart of Dallas, I had the pleasure of attending a few sessions conveniently held within walking distance from the MonkeyTag office. One of these panels called “The Power of Creative Partnerships” focused on the business side of design – a role that agency designers don’t necessarily partake in. Being fresh in the industry, this panel was a real eye-opening experience, and I walked away with some critical techniques to help protect my work as a designer and protect myself in business.

In the panel I attended, one voice that resonated loudest to me was Tom Maddrey, founding partner and lead attorney for Maddrey PLLC. He discussed the importance of creating personal contracts for every partnership or agreement you join into whether it be a business venture you have with an established company or a friend. What surprised me most was what he considered contractual agreements. Maddrey stated that any written form (web or print) can constitute as an agreement and can be pulled up to settle disputes in a partnership. A formal contract, email chain, or text message can carry the same weight in form of documentation for contract approvals or evidence of project scope and agreed changes. An important lesson to keep in back-in-forth communications. Even when discussing details over the phone or in-person, an email summary of the conversation is good back-up in case any disagreements later surface.

During the Q&A session, a DSW attendee asked the panel when it is most appropriate to craft an agreement in writing with a company partner. Maddrey, in conjunction with the other panelist, pushed the severity of creating contractual agreements at the very start of any project. Whether a startup trying to get your foot in the door or a freelance designer, any form of partnership needs to be clearly defined so both parties understand expectations. It isn’t fun to have those “hard conversations” when unforeseen events occur. For example, a panelist had partnered with a friend who was deported. Without an agreement in place, many questions about future involvement and business plans were left unanswered. I think it is admirable to be optimistic that business will run smoothly, but my time in the industry and the knowledge shared with me by industry veterans, shows that it is hardly the norm.

The topic of creative partnerships was a great lesson for me as I grow my career as a designer. The business aspect of marketing is usually out of my element – but still necessary to know as I play a role in communications with my account team and clients. I believe all creatives should practice solid communication practices in their agency life, as well as in freelance projects, to avoid the consequences that may come with up-in-the-air contracts. I plan to integrate the tips I learned from Dallas Startup Week into my everyday creative life, and to always remember to get things in writing.