So … why do you need a contract?
Maybe you thought that getting into freelancing gave you more freedom and less time filling out boring paperwork? Well, don’t worry, you do have a lot more freedom but there are still some basic things you’ll want to do to protect yourself and your business. According to a study conducted by PayPal and mentioned in Forbes, over 58% of freelancers have experienced not getting paid.
Unfortunately, some clients take advantage of freelancers, taking the work they provide and then screwing them over. You can mitigate this in a couple of ways:
- Providing a contract that clearly spells out as much of the working agreement as possible
- Clearly laying out payment dates and what happens if payments aren’t made on time (hint: stop working!)
- This is perhaps most important of all — seek out high-quality clients, the type of people who aren’t going to screw you because they themselves have too much class
What does a contract really do?
The primary purpose of a contract is to organize the working arrangement in writing. What is due when? Who is doing what? Who is providing which tools? What is the product or service that will be delivered at the end of the contract?
Organizing all of this in writing is SUPER important because otherwise, in a disagreement, it comes down to a he said/she said, he said/he said, she said/she said — or in other words, a disaster.
Putting this all in one place, i.e. a contract, helps to keep things super streamlined. You don’t want to leave it in email because even though, yes, that’s in writing, it’s super messy. (If you’ve ever been a part of a 47-email back and forth chain you know what I’m talking about!) Additionally, let’s say you end up in a battle with a client that ends up going to small claims court. The “contract” you two created exists in all your emails. They need to pull those emails for court purposes but guess what, they just don’t pull those, ALL of your emails get pulled. Personal, other client emails, everything in your inbox, folders, archive, someone’s pawing through it all!
So seriously, a specific contract written up in one nice clean document is a must.
What are some things you should include in a contract?
I’ve found that clients don’t like a huge big fancy contract with tons of legalese so if you’re just starting out (and again working with high-quality people) a simple contract written in plain English is good. Here are just a few ideas of things that should be included:
What are you doing? No seriously, what are you doing for the client? Be as specific as possible. Are you creating 16 social media posts per month? What social media channel? Instagram? Facebook? Are these posts graphic imagery or written content? Creating content for a client’s Instagram page is going to be very different than if you’re ghostwriting 16 witty tweets for their Twitter account.
How long is the contract good for? Is it ongoing or for a specific amount of time? If it’s ongoing how do you cancel or how does the client cancel? Do they have to provide a certain amount of notice in writing? All of that should be hashed out.
These are so important. Done right, they take all of the guesswork out of things and provide both you and the client with a feeling of calm and consistency. If you keep to due dates, it goes a long way toward building trust and making the client feel safe and protected working with you
What does the client owe in this working relationship? Are they supposed to give you weekly feedback on something? What happens if this feedback is late? Does it hold up your ability to do your work? If so, you’ll need to spell out what happens when/if their feedback is late.
Do you need them to add you to some of their company’s tools? WordPress, perhaps, or Google Analytics? Do you need to be added to their company Slack account or be given editor access to their Facebook page? Spelling all of this out in the contract will give you a fallback if they ask you why something isn’t done on time but you can point to the contract and say, “Look, I spelled out the things that I needed in order to do my job properly. Unfortunately, your team hasn’t given me access to XZY and that is what is holding things up.”
One more important thing you should know
When I first started freelancing a client told me something really important. He had been in a business partnership where his partner ended up being dead weight and wasn’t contributing to the business. They had a contract but the partner was being stubborn and digging his heels in about being pushed out even though he knew he wasn’t a good fit for the business.
My client told me, “A contract is only as useful as how much money you’ve got in your pockets. Because if you can’t afford to go to court/mediation to go after a client, then at the end of the day, it’s just a piece of paper.”
Unfortunately, this is reality for most freelancers (although if you live in New York you’ve got some legit protection thanks to the Freelance Isn’t Free Act). You CAN protect yourself, however, by putting some serious thought into the contracts you write, what you include in them, and how you manage the entire contract process with clients.
In fact, if you want to know my #1 tip for contracts (Hint: It’s not so much about what you put in them!) then check out my free bonus below. It includes more tips for what you should put into your contract AND a valuable extra that will keep you from falling into the unpaid 58%.