Freelancing is one of those many career paths you may want to consider if your dream is to become a solopreneur but before, it will be important to learn how to write a freelance contract.
Despite having a relatively low barrier to entry, freelancing comes with a good load of challenges, most of which are caused by misunderstandings which can easily be prevented if you know how to write a freelance contract. It’s especially important for freelance web developers (or photographers, web designers, writers, etc.) to write a freelance contract between himself and a new client that will spell out the essential elements for things like payment terms or time frames.
If you are new to freelancing or an experienced freelancer, this article will certainly give you more insights into how a freelance contract should be written and why you need one.
Disclaimer: Though this article was not written under the counsel of a legal expert. I, therefore, recommend that you seek legal advice while constituting your freelance contract.
What is a freelance contract?
First of all, a contract is simply a legal agreement between two or more parties. If necessary, a contract can be used in a court of law as proof in the course of a dispute.
A freelance contract is basically a regular contract designed to detail the scope of the project the freelancer is going to work on and what kind of work he will be doing and won’t be doing (to protect him and the client alike from conflicts due to misunderstanding).
Why should freelancers use contracts?
Let me give you a scenario of how an informal freelance project may look.
Let’s assume one day, a prospective client emails you to find out if you are available to pick up a project and at the same time asks about your rates. You quickly get to the phone and after some negotiations, you send over an estimate. Your client agrees on the rates you propose and you get started on the project, happy to know that money is on the way and looking forward to getting to work.
Then, before you even realize;
- Your client keeps emailing you asking if you can do a bunch of quick tasks that have nothing to do with the project and “shouldn’t take much of your time.”
- When you send a draft to your client, it takes an eternity before you receive any feedback and as a result, it brings the project to unexpected halts.
- Your client does not send important material in time when you begin working on the project.
- The client surprises you with a last-minute change but still needs you to meet the deadline.
- Overwhelming revisions and delays in response put you under deadline pressure.
- You finally succeed in making the final draft, but they still have more revisions for you to make.
- Meanwhile, this project has demanded so much time that you haven’t had a chance to work on other business priorities, like marketing, so once this project ends you won’t have a new business in your pipeline.
- Finally, the day comes when you deliver the final product, along with your invoice, and the client, who had been emailing you on a daily basis, suddenly vanishes. Your reminder emails get increasingly forceful as your bank balance gets smaller. If you hear back from them at all, they act huffy about having to pay you and try to weasel their way out of paying the full amount.
Sad to say, but most freelancers have passed through this torment and many will still pass through it. As a matter of fact, it has even been stated in a Paypal survey that 58% of freelancers have experienced not being paid.
At this point, I am pretty sure to have provided you with enough reasons for you to see the importance of operating under the terms of a contract.
What should a freelance contract include?
Names, contact information, and dates
Both parties should put their full names at the beginning of the document. Parties should avoid using abbreviations or simply putting in their initials to prevents possible mix-ups with other people and companies.
Contact information (physical address, email address, phone number, etc.) should be included for each party as well.
Finally, make sure you date the document including in it the day it (the contract) was written as well as the date in which each party signed.
Your scope of work
The scope of work is a detailed description of the service you will be delivering to your client.
When you outline precisely what your client hired you to do and how you will go about doing it, it prevents changes or uncontrolled growth of a project while it’s still in progress.
It is generally recommended to include additional rates for services outside the boundaries of the project.
Outline a revisions clause and an approval process
In this section of the document, make your client understand how many free revisions you will be offering and how much he will have to pay for extra revisions.
For marketing purposes, you may structure these sections as you wish, but always make sure it does not tie you down.
Define copyright and ownership
This section depends largely on the type of work you will be carrying out.
In essence, you will be describing who owns your work after you must have delivered it.
Most times, the client will own full rights over the product you produce but sometimes you might be able to be credited for your work, even if you don’t own the rights to it. It never hurts to ask. Credited works look great in your portfolio—but you should confirm with the client that they don’t have a problem with you placing work you did for them in your portfolio before you go around displaying it as one of your creations.
There is an endless debate on which billing technique is best to charge your clients with, but the short answer is: you need to decide for yourself, based on your own unique needs as a freelancer.
On one hand, you may bill your clients with what is known as a “fixed price” which will be based on whatever variables you take into consideration. This can provide a sense of relief to the client, but sometimes a fixed price can cause you to lose money should the project require more hours than you’ve estimated.
On the other hand, instead of charging your clients with fixed rates, you may bill them based on how many hours you spend working on the project or/and materials needed. However, clients usually want an anticipated parameter so they can work within a budget.
Ultimately, always charge according to your worth and your business model and financial needs will best dictate which billing system is best for you.
While constituting a freelance contract, you have to make it clear that the client will be responsible for all delays if they fail to provide you with the materials and feedback in time.
The last thing you will wish for is having a project on halt just because your client is still deciding on which color is best for his brand.
Freelance contract cancelation clause
The cancelation clause in a freelance contract describes how you’ll be paid for your work if the client decides to cancel the project.
Make sure you include the following:
- The amount of notice needed for termination
- When you will stop working
- How you will deal with refunds if you end the agreement early
- Any “kill fees” to ensure that, if the client terminates early, you get some kind of financial compensation for the abrupt loss of planned income
Legal consequences or indemnities
Lastly, always make sure you include the legal consequences of not honoring the agreement as outlined.
If you happen to deal with international clients, it will be advisable to state that any legal proceedings in the event of nonpayment will be under the jurisdiction of your local laws.
Working under the clauses of a freelance contract is a good way of taking matters into your hand.
Displaying a contract to your client is a good way of displaying your integrity and professionalism. The skill you’ll need will be to do so without irritating your client.
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