Freelancers need contracts; hopefully, that’s a statement you agree with and you understand why it’s so, because I’m not here to convince you of it. I’m here to tell you what needs to go in that essential contract, to ensure you and your work are protected.
- The name, address, business name (if relevant) and signature of both you and your client, and the signing date
This is contract writing 101. The bare basics of any contract are the correct and legal contact details of both freelancer and client. The contract should be signed and dated by all the parties involved.
- The exact content of your expected input
It’s practically impossible for this section to be too detailed. It can be useful to ask the client to define exactly how they envisage the finished project; this can reveal details of things you didn’t realise you need to achieve, include or take ownership of.
- The exact scope of your expected input
You need to know the expected limits of your work, availability, obligations and responsibilities. Does the client expect to be able to contact you out of office hours? Are you expected to liaise with others, arrange meetings, travel to other locations or oversee/coordinate the work of others? Are you expected to seek client approval expected for each tiny detail or change, or alternatively do they expect you to have full freedom over the project and total responsibility for its delivery?
- Interim and final deadlines, with specific details of the hours or tasks expected to have been completed at each stage
It’s important to put into writing any agreed deadlines – not just for the completion of the whole project, but also those for phases of the project or specific tasks. Ensure that the scope of the work requiring completion for each interim deadline is clearly laid out. If these deadlines are dependent on external factors that may make them liable to change, this needs to be mentioned, as does any type of work or time-tracking system or software they may want you to use.
- Interim payments and the total cost, plus if, how and when these may be changed
What happens if the work takes longer or unforeseen costs (such as for research or transport) are incurred – will this be your financial responsibility or the client’s? Will you be compensated if you’re forced to lose time waiting on input or responses from others?
- The terms and conditions for ending the contract
It’s essential to be clear on the period of notice you and the client can expect if either party decides they want out before the project is complete. Make sure there are no grey areas such as the consequences of any time taken off during the period of the contract etc.
- The consequences of contract breach
What will constitute a breach of contract and what will the consequences be? This is as much to protect you as the client. Awkward, uncommunicative clients can make completing a job satisfactorily and on time difficult, so ensure it’s clear what’s allowable (delays due to illness or bereavement etc.) and what’s not, plus any financial penalties incurred by breaches.
- Legal details such as any confidentiality, non-disclosure or liability clauses, plus the usage rights, usage scope and copyright of any work you produce
It’s fine for a client to require a degree of confidentiality regarding the work you’re doing for them, providing they’ve made that expectation clear in your contract. They also need to clarify who is liable if things go wrong, who owns any designs or work you produce and if and how they intend to use that work in the future, particularly if they plan to share it with, or sell it onto, third parties. If they expect to take ownership of your work and carry on making money for it, ensure you’re being adequately paid for this.
This list may seem overwhelming and it can be tempting not to verify these details if the client doesn’t initially include them in a contract. However, making sure both parties understand exactly what’s expected from the start is the best way to ensure a good working relationship.
It also protects you and your clients, helping to prevent disagreements and misunderstandings that can lead to legal disputes and financial losses.