We already know that people communicate differently and every client brings their own unique experiences to every conversation we have; however, this simple fact can be often overlooked and we may think our client already knows what we mean when we tell them what they will receive. Contracts are vital in the freelance world, since they spell out in no uncertain terms what work a freelancer is expected to do, payment plans, and cancellation policies. They are designed for the protection of both the freelancer and the client and, if written well, can clear up any miscommunication before it happens. The contract you write should be reviewed by a legal professional, but there are tools that can help you get started, as well as things to note when you begin writing.
Scope it out or face the consequences.
The scope of work should be clearly defined in your contract, stating what work you plan to do so that you and your client can decide what best meets their needs. Laying this out in the beginning saves you headaches down the road because clients can (and will) claim that you did not do what they asked. You want to make sure you protect yourself from this when it does happen.
Revisions are a freelancer’s best friend (said no one ever).
A clearly stated plan for your work also (hopefully!) cuts down on revisions the client needs made. Your policy on revisions should nevertheless still make it into your contract regardless of whether or not you think you’ll need to make them since we can’t read our client’s mind. It’s a good idea to draw up a signed and agreed upon plan for what revisions of work look like and how much it will cost. Do you want to be paid per revision? Are any revisions included in your original fee? What constitutes a revision? Spell these out clearly in your contract so no one is left stuck or caught off guard.
But more importantly, who actually owns this?
Before the start of a job, it’s important to consider who owns the work once it is done. There are few things more frustrating from the client’s end than not knowing if they actually own the rights to the work they just commissioned. Deciding this with your client (or having it clearly stated prior to collaboration) is arguably one of the most important things for both parties. Generally, you either assign your client ownership, so that you no longer have any rights to it, or you grant them a license to use the work in specific settings. Either way, you need to have the terms laid out clearly in your contract.
How to never miss a deadline (seriously!)
Have a deadline written into your contract and make sure you give plenty of bumper room. It might be hard telling a client a project will take longer than they expected, but it’s definitely worth not putting yourself under so much pressure, only to still turn it in late. Also save yourself the frustration of a pushed up deadline by stating the final deadline before the work begins. It can also help to remind the client that they are not your only job and they, while still important to you, need to be mindful of your schedule and other jobs you are doing. Include in the agreement terms that if the scope of work needs to change, your deadline may need to change as well. Your cancellation policy also factors in when making your agreement. It happens to every freelancer at some point: a client starts work with you, but cancels before the job is finished. As a freelancer, you’ll want to protect yourself and be paid for this work so remember to define your expectations in regards to early termination.
PAY ME MY MONEY.
Duh. It may seem obvious, but this is the most important part of any freelancer’s contract. Decide with your client what the payment looks like (hourly, per job, etc.) and write this clearly into your contract with them. Do you need to be paid prior to the work or when the work is delivered? Write it in. Do you need to be reimbursed for anything related to the job? Write it in. It never hurts to go above and beyond the call of clarity – especially where it relates to your pay check.
Factor in that most clients pay on a net 30-day schedule and that around half will pay late (trust me it happens). Include a late fee into your contract and when that fee applies (typically after a grace period.) This is intended as more of a friendly but stern reminder that you have bills to pay too!
Now write it like a lawyer.
Now that you’ve decided what your contract states, it’s also important to know how to write them and where to store them. There are good free and paid options for freelance contracts and you don’t need to look far to find them. One easy option is to download a free contract template and edit the language on any word processor to suit your own needs. This is easy enough for the freelancer, but can be inconvenient for the client.
Here are a few recommendations that made our lives easier. Your clients will never know you didn’t pay that lawyer to get you a fancied-up contract.
Voila, you’re a contract meister.
Whatever route you choose to go, remember that the smartest thing you can do is be clear about your work and expectations and have a legal professional look over your contracts. Contracts make your business run more smoothly, keep your clients in the know, and all around make the freelance world a little better place.