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Protect Your Proofs in the Client Approval Process

June 19, 2019 | Productivity

When it comes to the client approval process, any experienced creative can tell you horror stories. Whether it’s forgetting to pay their invoices, modifying your completed work, completing seven rounds of revisions, or bringing in another creative, clients might actually be more “creative” when it comes to muddying the proofing process.

Through trial and error, all smart creatives inevitably develop their own client approval process. Experience teaches us how to protect ourselves, communicate more efficiently, and avoid potential pitfalls that can cost us time and money. It’s the darker side of the creative world that we don’t necessarily like to think about, but it’s important to ensure your time, skill, and sanity are not wasted by proof-stealing bandits.

In this article, we’ll examine how to protect your work even before the proofing process begins, and how to improve your communication during the client approval process. It begins by knowing your rights, setting up the right contract, and protecting yourself.

Understanding your rights

Understanding your legal rights can give you more confidence in the creative process. Laws can be very confusing though. Legal jargon might as well be Greek. Whether photography, design or writing, the legal term that applies here is “copyright”. Nearly everyone has heard of copyright, of course, but it is still surprisingly misunderstood. At its most basic definition, you own the rights to copy what you create; you have say in where your work is published, how it is used and who uses it.

How do you go about getting a copyright? Do you need to go through a legal process, form a company or some other convoluted process? The quick answer is: no. If you made it, it’s your intellectual property and the copyright is yours. You, the creator, make the decisions about the work. However, having a copyright and having a registered copyright (©️) are two different things; you will always have more legal backing if you go through the process of registering your copyright, which can be done online.

Now there’s an exception to the “you make it, it’s yours” rule of copyright. If you were hired to create something, you may not own the copyright. In those cases, you might have signed a “work for hire” agreement that says the copyright belongs to the entity that hired you. In these instances, you need to read whatever agreement or contract you sign carefully – and in all instances where you are creating work to be used by someone else, you need to make sure you clear up your contract.

Clearing up your contract

Your contact might actually be the most important part of the client approval process. For a creative freelancer, for example, you might need to work with an attorney to draft a creative contract that works for you. You’ll likely need to modify it slightly for each client. For larger companies, such as print shops, this might be your “terms of service”. You’ll likely want your client to sign this before engaging your services.

Before you begin a project, your contract needs to be agreed upon and signed by all parties. The clearer your contract is about deadlines, revisions and copyright, the less woe and confusion there will be later. Seriously, we can’t emphasize this enough. In terms of copyright and ownership, a contract can make clear who owns copyright and where the work may be displayed. The “work for hire” agreement mentioned earlier may contain a clause allowing the creative to display the work on their website or portfolio, even if the hiring entity owns copyright.

Another instance where contracts are useful is when collaborating. Collaborations can create great work, but can leave copyright and royalty rights in a murky area. No matter the relationship between you and your collaborator(s), it never hurts to define the terms of the collaboration in a contract. It’s all about laying out your expectations at the beginning of your process.


Knowing your rights and having a clear contract are excellent foundations, but to protect your proofs during the client approval process, allow me to introduce the glorious watermark. A large, faded phrase plastered over your work may not look pretty, but that’s really part of the point. A watermark is a blatant and obvious way to discourage the unscrupulous from making off with your designs halfway through the approval process, leaving you without payment and having wasted time. Once your approval process is over with and payment is received, you can easily deliver your client the crystal-clear image for their use.

Part of the watermarking process is the metadata. Metadata is something that can be easily forgotten, even if the thief carefully removed or cropped out the watermark. It is the hidden information about your image, and can be added in programs such as Photoshop or you can make use of a plugin to add the data. Including your name, date, and other relevant information in the metadata can be very helpful when your work is stolen.

Protecting Your Client Approval Process

Your client approval process can be vastly improved with a proofing tool, where you can consolidate communication and have a clear view of all your work at once. A good proofing tool saves you time that can be better spent actually doing your work. A great proofing tool helps you protect your work.

One of the benefits of using a proofing tool rather than sending an email is that the files are uploaded to the program rather than emailed directly to the client. It is much harder for a client to steal your work when they don’t have access to the file itself. A proofing software allows your client approval process to run smoothly but maintain enough distance to protect your process.

A proofing platform such as Ashore can also help with file delivery at the end of your process. Ashore gives creatives the option to allow their clients to download the files, which can be very convenient when you’re finally done with a design. This feature can be toggled on or off at any time, giving you the ability to allow downloads in the middle of the client approval process or the very end. It’s whatever works best for you!

Ashore has an armada of features to protect your proofs and see them through the client approval process safely. You can learn more about bettering your process and fending off pirates by creating a free account with Ashore today.

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