I’ve been asked by online copywriters more times than I can remember if they should use a contract with clients.
I have a great history with my clients. Nearly all of my experiences have been positive, and even though I do use a freelance contract, I’ve never found it necessary to invoke one legally.
But there is always the chance that you’ll run into a client who wants to change the scope of a project midway through without adjusting the agreed upon fee or who seems to keep forgetting to pay you. Neither of these scenarios is likely, but a freelance contract will protect you in the event that something comes up.
Your best defense takes place at the outset of each project. The rule of thumb is simple…
GET EVERYTHING IN WRITING!
Unless you’re working with a much-trusted client who has a proven track record of paying on time and sticking to the project scope, you should get a SIGNED freelance contract before you begin work. With established clients, you might choose to be less formal, maybe conveying the project details via email instead of through a formal contract.
But whether you use a formal contract or a less-formal written work agreement, make sure each agreement addresses the following:
The names of you, the client and anyone else involved in the project.
A brief description of ALL the work you’re expected to do, including preliminary work (e.g., research) and “extras” (e.g., formatting).
The client’s role in the project including the information or materials the client will supply (data cards, product samples, pictures, and the like).
The payment terms, including “start” and “kill” fees. The start fee is what you’re paid before you begin-don’t expect a start fee if you are a novice writer. A kill fee is what you get paid if the client decides not to use your work after you’ve given them a finished draft or if the project is cancelled midway through. Also include payment deadlines for mid-project or final payments. Some common payment terms include “Payment due upon receipt of invoice” or “Net 30” or “Payment due upon acceptance.”
The deadlines for first and final drafts as well as any interim deadlines, if applicable. Interim deadlines may apply to the client as well. For example, if you’re deliver a first draft by May 30 and the client wants a final draft by June 13, you should include a deadline for the client to provide feedback regarding desired changes. If the client is late, then you can negotiate a new final deadline if necessary.
HOW TO GET YOUR CONTRACT SIGNED
The simplest way to convey contracts with signatures is through fax. Put your signature on the document. Fax it to the client with a note on the cover sheet that you’ll begin work once you receive it back with the client’s signature.
Contracts may seem like a stiff, stuffy formality, but they are a formality that will keep everybody happy.