If you’re a freelancer, you’ve probably heard about freelance contracts and why you should always have one in place when working with a client. In a nutshell, a freelance work contract protects you from getting stiffed on payment. Granted, you’ll probably have to take legal action to get your client to pay up, but at least this approach will be possible thanks to that document.
You can retain a lawyer to create your freelance work contract, but it’s not mandatory. Thanks to sites like Docracy.com, just about anyone can create a contract nowadays. These sites provide free contract templates that include terms that make those contracts enforceable in a court of law. However, because the provided contracts are only generic templates, they should still be looked over by you and “fleshed out” with the following clauses.
1. Detailed work description
Spend some time describing the work that you will do for your freelance client. Include details about the brainstorming and/or outlining process, the number of client/contractor meetings you will attend, the length of the work item, how many hours the project will take to complete, etc.
For example, if you have been assigned to write a weekly blog post for your client, describe what the standard blog post is to cover, its expected length in words, and if it’s to include pictures.
The reason why you need to detail your work as thoroughly as possible is so you can prevent what is commonly referred to as “scope creep.” And speaking of which…
2. Scope creep.
Scope creep occurs when you agree to do X for your freelance project, and over time the client adds Y and Z. You end up doing much more work than you initially signed up for, yet for no added compensation.
You should always include a clause regarding scope creep in your contract. Add a few lines outlining this possibility and your right to adjust your project rates as a result. Scope creep is typically included under an area of the contract dedicated to project changes.
3. Rates and prices
Outline your rate per hour or per project, or both. Make sure that your client is aware of your rates- this way, she won’t dispute your invoices or withhold payment.
You may also wish to include minimum and maximum work amounts in your contract. For example, you could state that a given project will take a minimum of 20 hours and a maximum of 30 hours to complete. Stating the minimum and maximum amounts of time ensures that you will get paid at least the minimum amount of estimated time, and it also reassures the client that he will not pay more than the maximum amount of estimated time.
4. Payment terms
Describe when you’ll invoice the client and how long of a grace period will be given before payment must be submitted. Include payment options such as direct deposit, cashier check, money order and Paypal.
For bigger projects, you may wish to outline milestone payments that are due when the project is half or a quarter done. For example, you might outline installment payments that include 50% being paid upon project initiation, another 25% at the project’s halfway mark, and the remaining 25% at the project’s completion.
5. Kill fee
Sometimes, freelance projects get cancelled. Companies go bankrupt. Clients get fired.
If you’ve been working on a project that is suddenly dead in the water, you need to have a kill fee clause in your contract that protects you from being stiffed for the work that you’ve already done.
A kill fee clause outlines how much you’ll be paid if your project is axed. Freelancers charge different kill fee percentages, and they can range from 25% to as much as 100%. Try to negotiate for the highest rate possible, because this might be the only rate you’re paid if things go sideways.
6. Revisions and updates
Some clients change their minds halfway through the work project and want something completely different than what was originally outlined. Other clients nitpick the project to death and want a hundred changes made to it every week.
To prevent your project from becoming the subject of endless edits and changes, include a contract clause that explicitly states how many project revisions, redesigns and/or updates you will provide for your agreed-upon fee. If the client asks for additional revisions, you should include rates for those items in your clause.
Incidentally, most freelancers provide two free revisions/updates and then charge for additional ones.
It’s imperative that you estimate a reasonable deadline for your freelance project and stick to it.
Without a deadline, a project can stretch for months, or even years. During this time, the client will balk at wrapping things up so that you can finally get paid. The more time and effort you spend on his given project, the less time you can devote to working on other client projects.
With a set deadline in place, your client will be more prompt with turning in edits and feedback. She will also be less inclined to nitpick small details or ask for drastic project changes.
8. Final approver
If you’re dealing with a business, you may have 10 individuals providing you with feedback and asking for changes to the project. With this much activity, it’s challenging to know when/if a project is finally deemed complete. To this end, you should designate a single point of contact who will be your final approver. This person will give you the yay/nay on the project at hand after gathering feedback from the other nine individuals. This says you a ton of time and frustration.
To this end, you should designate a single point of contact who will be your final approver. This person will give you the yay/nay on the project at hand after gathering feedback from the other nine individuals. This saves you a ton of time and frustration.
The Bottom Line
Freelance contracts are designed to protect both you and your client from unexpected work and payment commitments. Take the time to create a good contract, and make sure that both you and your client sign it. Provide your client with a copy of that contract so she knows what is expected of her -and of you.