Freelance contracts are an essential part of the daily routine for busy freelancers. For every project, there is usually a freelance contract signed and agreed to by both parties to ensure the terms of service of the freelance job are upheld, and both parties are in agreeance as to those terms. However, the unfortunate reality is that many freelancers fail to dot their “i’s” and cross their “t’s” when it comes to protecting themselves, their clients and the objectivity of the job at hand, by offering up ‘loose’ or ‘legally-flawed’ contractual agreements.
As a freelancer, you really need to be on top of this as part of your daily business. The regrettable fact is that all it takes is one unhappy client, and things can turn very sour for you and your business if the client does not feel you provided a service which was inline with what’s in your freelance contract. The good news is however, that it doesn’t take much work to get your contract template right, just some careful planning and review. Because this is truly a must-have element to success as part of your business ventures, we’ve created the following guide to providing a tried and true freelance contract. This will allow you and your clients to work together in harmony over the course of each and every freelance job you partake, and hopefully lead to an enhanced reputation as a freelance professional.
Every contract must have a start, and most freelance contracts start with the following elements:
- Who the contract is between.
- When the contract was written, and potentially when the contract becomes null and void.
- Which human resources will be attached to the project, and what will their roles will be?
- An index of all document elements with page references.
Although this is a very simple and probably a highly obvious list of items, these are necessary items to include in all freelance contracts. The reason for providing these items first, is that they provide a framework for the document to come, and allow the employer to become at ease with what can sometimes be a complex document with numerous items the employer may not be familiar with, and may need clarification on a later date before signing off for work to begin.
It may sound negative to look at a freelance job as a “problem”, but at this point in the process, the client has a problem they need solved. Whether it’s a new website, logo, or any other freelance service, you as the freelance contractor are the person hoping to solve that problem in reward for payment, based on your abilities in the subject matter area, and affordability to do so. By defining the “problem” or “request” which needs to be solved in a short, concise manor, you’re setting precedence for a more in-depth break down of the freelance job at a later point in the document. We recommend no more than 3 – 4 paragraphs breaking down a freelance job, but of course this can vary based on the project size, timeline, and numerous other variables.
Breaking down projects into smaller, more manageable pieces is a great way for a freelance contractor to both run a project, and communicate the elements and progress of a project timeline to a client. Depending on the scale of the project, it’s important to make very clear each and every project element, even if it seems obvious and unnecessary to you. Remember, the client is employing you because you possess a particular skills set they do not. Ideally you don’t want to spend all of your time writing an incredibly lengthy explanation of each item, but it does need to be clear enough so that someone who has a limited knowledge of a topic area could easily pick it up and read it. The level you need to into go to will vary from client to client, and especially as you undertake repeat business for that client, but it does need to be relatively non-technical, or at least explain why you have chosen to do something a certain way. Remember 9 times out of 10, your client will want to know why something is done a certain way, so be up-front about your choices.
The best way to start this process is with a spreadsheet or document that lists each project phase. This way you can really think through the project, and begin to get an idea for how much you’re going to quote the client. By breaking the project down into sub-elements, you can then begin to group each sub-element into project phases; both technical and non-technical, and define the requirements for each. When you’re happy with the structure of your key deliverables, you need to expand on each item in enough detail so that it explains your methodology. For example; if you were developing a shopping cart for a payment gateway on a customers website, it would be wise to explain what technologies you are using to complete the job. This may be an out-of-the-box solution, a custom PayPal build, or something else, but the client needs to know your thinking on this as it would be a key project element for them. In the pre-mentioned example, you might mention that you have worked with a particular payment gateway before, and found it very effective, and that it would seamlessly integrate with the customer’s already existing infrastructure.
From the start of the project, all the way through to testing and delivery, a client will often have a project manager looking after the project who won’t want to have to encounter any surprises. Be open and honest. This way, if you over scope something, or the budget blows out, you can easily determine where to cut back and work with the client if you get a chance to resubmit your agreement, and you will have created a rapport ensuring things do in fact get signed off.
Documentation is sometimes a “dirty word” in the freelance industry. Very rarely is it mentioned, and it’s often not provided at all. This leaves clients very much in the dark with what they have actually paid for, and how to best use it. The best approach any freelancer can take with regards to expectations around documentation is to be open and up-front as to whether this is to be provided as part of your services, or is to be charged at any extra cost. Remember, you’re providing a service, and should realistically be paid for the work you do complete, documentation included. Often clients will see your openness to discuss documentation as a sign that they can trust you, and will often choose you over other contractors if you offer this service, as it as seen as a premium feature. Many freelancers who have managed to work with large-scale organizations often use documentation as a way to guarantee their services. If you’re not comfortable writing detailed documentation, whether it be technical or otherwise in nature, documentation specialists can be easily outsourced at an affordable rate on Job Stock.
Resourcing break down
Clients love to know who’s working on projects. If a client can see that a senior level staff member is working on their job, it makes them feel appreciated, and much more likely to become a repeat customer. Not only this, but if you’re completing a lengthy project timeline, as you progress with a client through the timeline, you may be required to either meet in person, or via Skype with the client to discuss a particular project element. As projects can often require specialists to handle individual elements of a project, it’s helpful to provide an introduction as to who the client may be working with down the track, and reassuring that the appropriate level of staffing is attached to their project.
The project timeline
Making sure your freelance contracts are well equipped with a full set of deliverables is vital to the success of any project. Whether you’re building a logo, writing some copy, or simply delivering a single element project, you must clearly define your project timeline. This is not only helpful to the client, but is helpful to you. Because you’ll need to cost the amount of hours required to complete the project, by breaking down when you’ll be delivering project elements, piece by piece, you keep yourself accountable, and your costs in check.
One of the most effective ways to determine a project timeline is to look at project work you have done in the past of similar nature. Look at how long it actually took you to complete the work, and whether it was a profitable workload. Ask yourself whether you handled the project element well, or could you be better served outsourcing that project item to speed up the project timeline and boost the project quality. Remember to also include not just when you’ll be delivering a project element, but the items that you require from the client to successfully achieve the due date for delivery. This is important, because if you do miss a deadline because a client did not provide you with the items you requested on time, you have not made any error, which has not been documented.
Project costing with clear explanations
Project costing is often the part of a freelance contract that a client will quickly jump to. In this area of your contract, you need to make sure that you’re not charging too much, whilst not sending yourself to the poor house in the process either. Again, by reviewing each project element, and then scoping out the number of hours, day and weeks you believe it will take to get the job done, you’ll be able to cost each element out accurately. Clients traditionally prefer projects to be broken down all the way down to each particular element so they can tweak the final costing if it’s outside their budget or they feel they can make a saving by cutting costs somewhere. They will want to do this regardless of the situation, so make it easy for them to get a grasp on the project costing. Often other contractors in the mix for the work will give a high level overview of their pricing, which leads to more questions on the client’s behalf. Make it easy, and they will sign on with you because they feel you can make things simple for them. We recommend providing progressive sub-totals or sectional sub-totals as a way of clearly breaking down costs in a tabular format. This is easy to read and easy to query.
Revisions and alterations
There’s nothing worse than a client who is constantly requesting minor changes to your works, and expects to pay nothing for it. Even worse, when you tire of this, and then do attempt to charge them for the changes and they become frustrated, you run the risk of losing the client or having them negatively mention you online or in your local city. The best approach is to have a dedicated section in your freelance contracts that outlines the agreement on revisions and alterations. It is common to see the following terms of service in place in freelance contracts:
- The client is allowed 2 revisions of work prior to delivery.
- Following delivery of the job, any further revision on this job will be charged at a certain amount per hour, and will be subject to changes outlined in a new freelance contract.
By clearly defining what a client gets when they enter a contractual agreement with you, you’re going to save yourself a bundle of time and energy answering calls, and instead will be spending your time on profit generating exercises, which are really the end game for you as a freelance professional.
Ownership of intellectual property
Clients are often fearful about who owns what and what rights they have to digital content such as photography, video, or even creative works. It is in your best interest to add a quick paragraph or two outlining the terms of ownership of any intellectual property. If things are outside of the usual “client owns all” type scenarios, then you will need to explicitly define the terms of that IP. This may be usage of photography or similar content, but will need to be defined very clearly before moving forward.
The fine print…hire a contract lawyer
This is where you need to know that the document template you’ve created is bullet proof, and you are protected by your freelance contract. At this point you will need to get a legal professional to review your document, and help you with the fine print. I cannot stress how important this is. If just one of the pre-mentioned items is out of line, or you fail to clarify ownership of content or intellectual property in some way, it could all end in disaster for you. The smart freelancer dots their “i’s” and crosses their “t’s” at this point. Do this, and everything should be OK. Fail to do so, and your freelance contract really won’t be up to par. These days, it’s simply not enough to download a template off of the web to protect you. You’re a specialist contractor, and need a contract that reflects the individual nature of your role. After all, this is your livelihood, take care of it, and you will soon be knocking back offers for work!