Once you've developed and installed software for a client, your work may not be done. In many cases, software developers provide ongoing software maintenance and support for their clients. Offering this service is an excellent way to build a longstanding relationship with your client while potentially gaining a long-term source of income.

But what happens if your client thinks that upgrades should be included for free, when you expect to be compensated for them? What should you charge for, and what should you do for free?

To be sure that both you and your client are clear on what your ongoing services will include, it helps to have a custom software maintenance and support agreement, signed by both parties. This type of software service contract will:

- Protect your rights over the term of the engagement

- Establish the terms for your maintenance and support services

- Specify any enhancements or updates you agree to provide

- Identify which maintenance, support and installation services will require additional compensation

- Limit your company's liabilities

- Prevent your clients from hiring away your support and maintenance employees

What's In a Custom Software Support Agreement?

A typical software maintenance contract begins with a detailed statement of work that clearly defines the project's background, as well as the scope of technical support services you will perform for your client over time. Your statement of work can also set your pricing, as well as the terms under which you expect to be paid. Putting all of this in writing establishes each party's rights and responsibilities over the term of the agreement.

This type of agreement generally sets a defined length of time that you will provide ongoing service for your client, as well as the level and hours of support and maintenance that you'll be responsible for providing. It may also be wise to spell out exactly which updates and enhancements you agree to provide, and if you're charging for those services, how much they will cost.

Perhaps even more important, your agreement can identify specific maintenance, support and installation services that are outside the scope of your basic engagement, and for which your client would need to provide additional compensation.

At the same time, a software service agreement can protect you from liability by specifically stating that you’re not responsible for any errors caused by client misuse, alteration or damage. And, a separate clause in the contract can prohibit your client company from attempting to hire your own maintenance and support employees onto its staff.

Additional considerations you may wish to include in your contract are:

- Who can terminate the agreement, and how

- Who owns intellectual property

- What information is considered "confidential"

- Warranties and disclaimers

- How disagreements will be arbitrated

- How your expenses will be reimbursed

How To Create Your Contract

While the prospect of writing a contract may be intimidating, you don't need to rely on guesswork, and you don’t always need to spend thousands of dollars to have an attorney create an agreement from scratch. To be sure your software maintenance agreement covers all the bases, you may wish to purchase a contract template, customized for the IT industry, that allows you to simply adapt the content to suit the needs of each engagement.

Many websites offer customizable software maintenance and support agreement templates designed just for software developers, as well as many other agreements you may need:

- Custom software development agreements

- Employment contracts

- Software customization agreements

- Subcontractor and independent contractor agreements

Most online contract templates are affordably priced and can be used an unlimited number of times, saving you time and money. Typically, an easy Q&A process automatically populates each form, and sample contracts are provided for comparison. It is always recommended to run your completed contract by an attorney for a quick final review.

Author's Bio: 

Jim Cochran is the founder and president of ContractEdge, a website offering online contract templates. Jim understands the needs of small businesses and independent contractors to protect themselves, so he developed agreements for software maintenance contractors. Jim also offers the 1099 Independent Contractor agreement.