Do You Need a Contract for Freelance Work?
Taking charge of your career is one of the biggest advantages of being a freelancer. You get to pick which jobs you take (and which ones you turn down!), how often you work, and where and how you spend your days. But there’s a potential flip side: the autonomy that freelance jobs offer comes with additional responsibility. One of the most significant duties that independent contractors face is drawing up freelance contracts for their work.
Most freelancers can tell you about at least one time that they didn’t get paid for their work and wished they had a signed freelance contract. Perhaps a client ran out of funds even though the job was completed, or additional hours got tacked on to a project, which led to unpaid work.
Fortunately, creating a written freelance agreement isn’t complicated or difficult. By thinking through what you do and how you do it, utilizing a freelance agreement for every project can be simple.
And while you don’t have to consult with an attorney for every freelance agreement, when in doubt, reach out to a qualified professional for expert advice.
What Is a Freelance Contract?
A contract for freelancers is an agreement between you and your client(s) that outlines everything you and your client need to know about the job. Specifically, it’s a legal document that, should it become necessary, can be used in court.
Do I Need a Contract for Freelance Work?
In a word: yes! You should always have a written freelance contract. Oral agreements may be easier to create but probably won’t do you much good in court. And the fact is, a written freelance contract protects both you and your client.
If you hold up your end of the bargain and turn in all the work on time and the client doesn’t pay you, you’ll have a written agreement that you can bring to court. If you don’t hold up your end of the bargain, your client has a written agreement that they can reference.
They really are a win-win.
Your agreement doesn’t have to be long or complicated. But a back and forth email chain about what you and the client agree to is probably insufficient in court, so a written document that’s signed by you and the client is your best bet. And, yes, electronic signatures are acceptable!
They Do More Than Protect
Freelance agreements, though, do more than protect you and your client in court.
A good freelance contract acts as a reference guide. It outlines everything you said you would and would not do for the client. If there’s ever any doubt on your side or theirs (did we say two revisions or three?), simply refer back to the contract and voila, problem solved!
The other main reason to have a written contract is to help demonstrate that you are a legitimate, professional business, not some fly-by-night operation.
Lastly, freelance contracts help you separate the good (read: legitimate and paying) clients from the…not-so-good. Any client that balks at signing a contract (yours or theirs) is a red flag. So, consider dropping them if that’s the case.
What Should I Include in a Freelance Contract (and Why)?
When it comes to creating a freelance agreement, you don’t have to consult with an attorney. You can create your own, or find a free boilerplate with fill-in-the-blank spots online.
However, no matter how you go about creating your freelance contract, and whether it’s one you create or the client provides, make sure that—at a minimum—the agreement includes the following essential elements.
Include your name and the client’s name. That doesn’t necessarily mean your first and last name, though it can. It should be your legal business name and the client’s legal business name. That makes it clear that you and the client are doing professional business as businesses and not individuals. Keep in mind, though, that a contract alone won’t necessarily protect your personal assets, so consider setting up your freelance business as an LLC if this is more than just moonlighting or casual side work.
If possible, name a specific person who’ll be your point of contact throughout the project. In the short-term (like for the duration of the project), having a single point of contact as your main source of feedback and information can save you confusion and headaches. In the long-term, this person can be a potential reference after you’ve completed the job.
Dollars and Cents
Clearly state what type of pricing you’ve agreed to (hourly, per project, retainer, etc.). This helps establish ground rules from the outset and avoid payment disputes later. Without this element, you’re risking that a client might misunderstand your rates and debate paying you what you’re owed at the end of the project.
Be very specific about what you’ll be paid for each element of the services delivered, and make sure you’re paid what you’re worth. Your prices should “level up” according to your experience and expertise. Clarifying your right to getting reimbursed for expenses is another critical element of a sound freelance contract.
You should also include when you will invoice the client (30 days after delivery, for example) and what types of payments you accept. Credit cards charge fees, so you may want to pass that to the client or offer a discount for paying via check. You should also include the penalties for payments that don’t go through or are late.
Along with clearly defining your pay rate, you should also outline exactly when you’ll get paid, and what happens if you aren’t paid or are paid late.
Drawing up a specific payment schedule will hold the client to dates when they must remit funds for your services or milestones, and defines the specific penalties for late payments (such as, 3% of the amount due per day of late payment).
Price of Work
Many freelance contracts also outline how much work you will do for each payment. If you’re requesting a deposit (and in some cases, you should), clearly outline if the deposit is refundable or not, and under what circumstances you’ll refund the deposit.
Many agreements will also include a payment schedule. It could include payment every 30 days or payment 30 days after you’ve completed a milestone. If the job is small, you might have a payment schedule of 50% upfront and 50% upon completion.
Scope of Work
The scope of work outlines the specifics of the project. It defines exactly what you are doing for the client, what the client has to do, and sets up timelines or due dates.
This defines what you’re providing the client with. If it sounds a little silly to include that in the contract, it’s not. Your definition of “logo” and your client’s definition of “logo” may be two entirely different things. It’s important you understand exactly what the client wants, and it’s equally important that the client understands what you can and will provide.
Clearly defining what the project is and what the final product will look like is critical to the project’s (and your) success.
Freelance clients sometimes will request changes to your draft work. But without specifying limits upfront on how many rounds of revisions are included in your fee, you may end up doing far more work for far less money, something known as “scope creep.”
Include a section in your freelancer agreement about revisions or edits. Be very clear in your contract language about how many versions of the work the client is entitled to under the initial fee, and specify any additional costs that will accrue for changes that extend beyond the original scope established at the outset.
Deadlines are important for freelancers and clients, and having an agreed-upon delivery date in advance for the completed project and project milestones can save potential frustration. Freelance contracts should be as detailed as possible about turn-around times, drop-dead deadlines, and any penalties resulting from missing specific timeframes or target dates.
Figure out how long you expect each part of the project to take you, and build a cushion of a few extra days longer than you expect it to take. That way, if something unexpected happens, you’ll still be able to make your deadline.
It’s important to set firm deadlines, not just for when you’ll deliver work, but also for when the client gets back to you with feedback and requests for changes. Outline how quickly the client must return their edits or revision requests to you and also define exactly what happens if the client is late (for every day the client does not return the edits, the project due date is pushed out by the same number of days).
Milestones help establish when each phase of the project is “done.” They help you and the client define when that phase of the project, or the entire project, is completed to the client’s (and your) satisfaction.
These are what milestones could look like:
- You turn in a completed rough draft to the client.
- The client returns their edits, suggestions, and requests to you.
- You return the project to the client with all of their suggestions and requests incorporated.
While there’s no need for you to be a legal expert, it’s to your benefit to understand and spell out in the contract what rights you have to the hard work you’re doing. If you’re ghostwriting something for the client and you won’t appear as the author, that should be clear in the contract. If you’re creating an original logo for the client, it should also be clear that they own the rights to the logo, not you.
Along with who owns the rights to the final product, you also need to spell out when those final rights transfer from you to the client. As a rule, that should not happen until you receive final payment from the client.
While you’re at it, spell out in the contract if you can use the completed work as part of your portfolio. Some clients are perfectly fine with you showing off the project in your portfolio, while others are not. Make sure you spell out if you can or cannot use the project as a work sample, so there is no misunderstanding in the future.
Termination and Kill Fees
To protect yourself and your reputation, your freelance contracts should spell out in detail the conditions under which your services can be terminated, as well as any kill fees to which you may be entitled for work performed.
For example, if the client cancels a project because they changed plans, a kill fee states that you’ll still be paid for the work you’ve already completed. Likewise, if a client fails to return feedback to you or refuses to pay you for work you’ve completed, you can terminate the contract without reprisal.
You’re Worth It
While developing a contract and tailoring it for each client and project does take some extra time, it’s well worth it if it helps you get paid for your freelance work. Figure out what’s important to you and your client upfront, and put it down in writing.
If you’re looking for freelance work, FlexJobs can help. All of our jobs are fully vetted and verified, ensuring that you have a safe and positive job search experience. Learn more about our platform and how we can connect you to freelance jobs today!
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