Your 7-step guide for writing a bulletproof freelance contract

Last checked and updated on November 25, 2020

That rush and excitement of finally landing your first client, it’s quite overwhelming, isn’t it? You instantly focus on what you need to deliver, how you’ll organize your time to make sure you’ll provide the finest work out there, and of course, how you’ll charge for your work upon completion most efficiently. All of these might be crucial pieces of a successful relationship with a potential employer, even if it’s just for a single project, but how much thought have you given to their role in this collaboration? 

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Too many freelancers, especially those who are just starting out, fail to take into account the precautions for ensuring timely payments, as well as a relationship with well-defined expectations that cannot backfire and damage your reputation. The risks are too big for someone who doesn’t have other clients, and if your financial independence is in the hands of a single client, there’s a key step in the process to ensure you’re covered: the contract.

Odds are, you don’t know your way around legal vocabulary and other intricacies of your freelancing rights and options. Here are a few guidelines for an ironclad contract that will protect your rights and ensure you get paid for the work you do!

Get the scope of work right

With all the joy of being a freelancer comes an occasional buzzkill, too. One of the biggest on the list is definitely a misunderstanding in terms of what the project actually entails. Without a precise list of clearly-defined tasks, subtasks, and any complementary work, you risk getting a slew of emails with a bunch of unexpected work that your supposed employer needs done and considers it a part of the original agreement.

Before anything similar happens, use your email correspondence and all of your conversations to outline the scope of work down to every single deliverable you’re in charge of. As well as the details they are meant to provide to enable you to complete the work at all. 

Customize your template

Luckily for all eager freelancers, you can use business document templates instead of writing one from scratch, since templates are tried and tested and based on legal regulations specific to your region. Instead of handling the entire process, a template will be a handy first draft. However, you should customize it to fit your needs perfectly, as well, so make sure that you add all the clauses, bullet-points, and details that clearly define your relationship.

Be clear with fees and payment structure

Of course, if anything is a freelancer’s worst pet peeve, it would be clients who avoid payments. No matter how nice they seem on that Skype call, or how grateful they seem for all the work that you do, chances are they’ll try to wiggle out of paying if there’s no contract to keep them legally obligated. So, in order to avoid any grey areas and loopholes, make sure you add an entire section to clarify your fee, what you’re charging for, and if you’ll charge for late payments. It’s good to discourage late payers, but you can also add a discount for early payers!

Define expectations and roles in writing

In addition to the scope of work you’ll complete for the project, your client needs to understand your participation in the project, your availability, and their own role in the process. Although this might take time, write down the description of your service or product that you’ll deliver. However, remember to add the requirements your client needs to deliver for you to be able to complete the work.

Furthermore, let them know how you’ll structure your relationship, so that they don’t get in touch with you in the middle of the night if you work in a different time zone, or they send dozens of emails every day instead of saving their questions for the weekly call. As a freelancer, you’re not an employee, and you can work per hour, per project, or per any other measure you agree upon, so they have no right to keep you busy for the time you’re not charging for. 

Clearly establish deadlines

On that note, deadlines are something both parties need to uphold. Make sure that your contract gives you the freedom to breach a deadline when your client fails to deliver the necessary materials, guidelines, or anything relevant to the project in the given time. In such circumstances, some clients might complain about you not delivering your work on time even though it was their responsibility to share their needs with you. 

Define communication channels 

As a freelancer, you might find yourself struggling to limit your client’s access to your life. What that means is that they might send you texts, emails, voice messages, documents, and chat messages at random times outside of the scheduled calls and catch-up meetings – and you need to nip that behaviour in the bud. Let them know what your preferred method of communication could be, whether it’s email, or via a project management platform, and make sure to keep your communication limited to your work hours, otherwise you risk turning your entire life into a massive work-zone.

Always make sure you define revisions and approval

Finally, one major part of the contract you should pay attention to is how you’ll conduct work revisions and changes. This is especially important for any type of creative work such as graphic design or writing. If you start with their design brief, create a logo they initially ask for, only to get twenty changes requested until you deliver an entirely different design – you’ve completed two projects for the price of one. Define exactly what those revisions can entail and how you’ll perform them, how many they are entitled to, and how you charge for them.

The life of a freelancer is never an easy one, and although it’s rewarding, it comes with numerous challenges. Make sure to use your contract for every single collaboration and to protect your rights, and you’ll increase your chances of getting paid in full, and in time, as well as of preserving your reputation.

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