I’d like to start by saying this article can’t possibly cover everything that should be included in your contract. Every writer and client relationship and project is different. However, when it comes to preparing your freelance writing contract, some elements are non-negotiable and should be part of every contract. If you are new to the game and need some pointers for creating your first contract, this is for you! Also, I am not a lawyer, so seek out the advice of a good contract lawyer to make sure all of your bases are covered. Just saying.
Include Project Outlines and Details
Your contract is where all the fine details of the project(s) need to be stated. Everything from the contract start and end date, to how many revisions are included in the price. You will be glad you included a revision limit if you ever get a client who wants 13 revisions on a 2,000-word piece. Each item of work needs parameters from the word count to your exact responsibilities. For example, do you only write and deliver the piece, or will you be responsible for posting it on the client’s site and making sure it’s SEO compliant? What do you need from the client to complete the project? Be ridiculously detailed. If you don’t explicitly list ALL of the work you will complete on this contract, it’s an opportunity for both of you to be disappointed.
You need to list all of the deadlines for the project(s). This includes your deadlines and any the client may have as well. Be realistic when setting your project deadlines. Carefully consider the time you need to complete the work. If your client has a deadline to provide you with information or items, be sure their deadline is crystal clear and that yours matches up. Once you have reasonable, clearly outlined deadlines… meet them. Nothing is worse than a freelancer who fails to meet a deadline or makes excuses.
List All Communication Expectations
One of my most frustrating experiences was not setting appropriate communication expectations. I have now made this a part of every contract I submit. I include the methods of contact that are appropriate to reach me, my “office hours,” and how often I am available for meetings or phone calls. All of this will affect your work. A client who thinks they have a right to three meetings per week is a client who is monopolizing your time. A client who thinks they can contact you at 8:00 PM on Facebook is a client who did not receive clear boundaries from you. Save yourself the headache and include all of your communication expectations when preparing your contract.
Define Work Ownership
Writing ownership can be tricky. Every freelance writing contract will need to outline who owns the work when completed. Will you retain ownership as the author? If you do, it means you might be able to resell the article. If you don’t keep rights, it’s possible it can be published again without you getting paid. You can also negotiate partial rights. If you do SEO work, most of the time you are acting as a ghostwriter, so what then? What about photos? Graphic creation? Do diligent research on writing ownership and talk it over with your client. Whatever you are creating, be sure to define who owns the completed work in your contract and avoid potential lawsuits.
Copyright & Plagiarism
Speaking of lawsuits, every writing contract should include a small paragraph about not intentionally violating copyright. This applies most often to images, but can be applied to writing that may be quoted, or inadvertently included without permission. Include language in your contract about being responsible for any copyright violation and that you hold the client harmless. The same applies to plagiarism – include language that states all of the writing will be your original work, and that the client will be held harmless. As the writer, it is your responsibility to avoid violating those laws. If you are not certain you can do that, or don’t feel comfortable including this language in a contract, you are probably in the wrong business!
Specify Payment Terms
Your rates should be clearly outlined and easy to understand in every contract. Whether you bill hourly, or by word count, your client should never be confused about what they are paying. Include the rate for the project, and include your hourly rate for any work that is outside of the scope of your contract. Include a rush fee for anything requested earlier than the specified deadlines. Include how you will bill for this contract and your payment terms. Specify any late fees for payments that fail to meet these terms. Also, don’t forget to add language about what should be paid if either party wants to end the contract prematurely. These are all things that will come up, I promise!
Signatures & Dates
This is a “no brainer”: make sure everyone signs and dates the contract. I also advise including language with the client’s signature that says something like, “I, [Client’s Name], affirm that I am an official representative of [Client Company] and authorized to enter into this legally binding contract with [Your Business].”
Protect yourself and your client with a well-written, detailed, and legal freelance writing contract!