A freelance contract is your safety net. If you take on a job without one, then you’re making yourself vulnerable to countless issues with no way to defend yourself. You’re running a business. It’s only natural and appropriate to protect your interest.
And BTW? It’s in your clients’ best interest, too.
I know this is scary territory for freelancers, especially ones who are new to the game. “I’ve hardly made any money,” you’re thinking. “Who am I to ask them to sign a contract?”
I promise you, though, a simple but thorough and concise contract is an excellent way to make sure that you and the client are on the same page.
Now, what exactly do you include in your contract? Full disclosure: It’s probably obvious that I am not a lawyer. What I’m going to share is details that I make darn sure are in my own contract. There are tons of free templates you kind find online and fill in the details yourself.
And when in doubt, it never hurts to check in with a lawyer to make sure that you’ve got all your bases covered.
Psst! I have a YouTube video on this, too.
7 Things to Include in Your Freelance Contract
1. What the Client Agrees to Pay, When, and How
I want to stress this because the absolute last thing you want is to put in the work and not see a dime. Sadly, there are still some freelancers — especially those just starting in their career — who feel awkward discussing this topic. I get it. Many of us feel uncomfortable talking about money.
But you must.
You’re working to get paid. You’re not doing work for a charity or as a volunteer. So, it’s only natural to charge money for the services rendered. Thus, you and your client should agree on the rates before you start doing any work for them.
How Much Are You Charging Them For Your Work?
Your rate depends on you. Just make sure that what you’re charging doesn’t undervalue all your hard work (or, on the flip side, take advantage of the client).
You should specify in the contract the amount you’re charging for the work agreed upon. It’s also important to state the amount they will pay if they ever ask you to do additional tasks on top of the work you’ve established in the contract.
One simple way to do this is to clarify your hourly rate for any additional tasks, or you can simply state that additional work will be reviewed and a new rate will be provided. The point is that they need to know that you won’t do extra work for free.
Here’s a video to help you set your rates as a freelancer. (Do me a favor and like/subscribe?)
When Should They Pay You?
Another freelance contract must-have is when they must pay you. Will you be requiring a deposit or retainer fee before you start work? After you’ve turned over the completed work to them, how many days after should they send the full payment?
Get specific and be sure that the client understands what’s expected of them.
How Should They Pay You?
You also have to stipulate the mode of payment for clarity and convenience. Will it be through PayPal? Check? Bank transfer? Or another type of payment method?
In my experience, clients usually prefer PayPal, because it’s something that they already know and trust. I do have a couple of clients who do bank transfers, maybe three who send paper checks in the mail, and one who does direct deposit (my favorite — instant money!)
Be prepared to be flexible, but also make sure that you’re comfortable with the terms. I don’t force my clients to use PayPal because some either can’t within their company or prefer not to, and that’s okay. These days, we have plenty of options.
Having these things in your freelance contract can help a lot in ensuring that you get paid on time and you get paid properly for the work that you’ve put in.
2. The Scope of Work and Timeline
Another thing you have to clearly define when you’re creating your freelancing contract is the scope of work and the estimated amount of time you will need to complete said work. This way, you and your client will have a clear understanding of the project boundaries and timeline.
With clear scopes and a reasonable timeframe stated in your contract, doing extra work not specified in the original agreement can be prevented. Moreover, it also gives your client a concrete idea of how long the task will take and when they should expect the final product to be provided.
Don’t forget — this should also include any deliverables of the unfinished. In fact, if the project is more large-scale, these deliverables are a smart idea. For instance, if you’re writing a 10,000-word eBook, don’t wait until you hit 10,000 words to send them the draft.
Should you have gone about the project the wrong way, you’ll have a whole lot more to fix. Hopefully, this won’t happen, but it can. We’re all human.
Imagine, instead, that you send them the draft for their review every 2,000 words. This ensures that you’re on the right track and everybody is happy. These are your deliverables, and you should put them in your contract.
3. The Writer Owns the Content Until the Client Pays
Again, ensuring that you get paid is normal. After all, you’re running a business. If you’re selling your freelancing services, you have to find ways to make sure that you get paid for your work. One way to do it is to state in your freelance contract that the content remains your property until the full payment has been made. Thus, they can use the content only after they’ve completed the payment transfer.
Some freelancers will tell you that this is “implied,” but a lot of things are implied. It’s implied that you need to get paid, and yet there are still clients who try to get out of it. Don’t make any assumptions. Put. It. In. Your. Contract.
4. How Many Edits Your Rate and Freelance Contract Include
Doing revisions is normal, but you have to specify a certain limit to prevent one party from going overboard and taking advantage of your time. Read: asking you to work more but not wanting to pay for it.
If you don’t set these boundaries, your client might misunderstand and think that it’s okay to ask you to make a number of changes anytime, without paying additional fees. This isn’t to say that clients always do this maliciously. Some really just don’t understand. They’ll ask you to do something “real quick,” not realizing that it might take you a couple of hours.
This can increase your workload considerably. And, the sad thing is that you won’t be getting anything out of it. So, be smart and state your terms ahead of time.
My rates include up to three edits. Normally, clients ask for very minimal edits, if any, because I get very clear from the get-go about what they want. I do this to save us both time and to save myself a lot of energy.
But! I still have it in my contract so that clients are aware that their payment doesn’t include infinite edits.
5. What Happens if They Pay You Late
To prevent late payments, it’s good to include the repercussions of paying late in your freelance contract.
For instance, you can charge a set fee or a certain percentage of the amount receivable. You should also point out that if they don’t pay you on time, you will pause all services.
6. What Happens if They Cancel the Project After You’ve Started Work
Here’s another clause you should add to your freelance contract. What will happen if your client cancels or terminates the project when you’re in the middle of it? Will you require them to pay in full? Pay for the part you’ve completed? Will you nix the payment and charge a separate late cancellation fee?
Having this covered in your contract will allow you the option to claim something from the client for the work you’ve done, even if they change their mind. We use contracts to avoid this from happening in the first place, but it might still come up.
7. What Happens if You Decide to Cancel The Project
As freelancers, we want to complete projects and provide our clients with the best work as much as possible. But in cases where something comes up and you have no other choice but to back out of the task, having a clause in your freelance contract telling the other party what happens should you do so gives you both peace of mind.
To be clear, this is for extreme circumstances only. For example, I once had a client who made my life an absolute living hell. It was affecting my mental and physical health, and I decided I would no longer do it. I notified him on a Monday that I would be finishing out the week and then ceasing all services.
This was the one and only time I ever did this, because you certainly don’t want to flake on clients. But if you have an emergency that prevents you from working or end up with a horrendous client as I did, you need the option.
If you want to make freelancing your career, whether you’re a writer, graphic designer, social media marketer, or another type of creative, then you have to think of it as a business and not just a hobby you enjoy doing. Start by taking measures to secure your interest and to make sure that you get paid for the work that you’ve done. Your freelance contract is your means of protection, so don’t take it for granted.
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