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#FreelanceFriday: Making Contracts Work for You

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  • Tip Bones

Welcome back!

This week, I want to talk about something that scares many new freelancers to their very core: contracts. It can feel unnecessary, especially if you're new to the game, or even unprofessional to have a contract before you start work. Not to mention, the legal knowledge required can be incredibly daunting. On the other hand, if you don't have a paper trail, you risk losing out on valuable revenue! So, how do you protect yourself from legal backlash and getting stiffed, without coming off overly formal and pretentious?

One way to make sure you're always safe is to communicate in text format. Email is a good bet, and a message chain is a good piece of evidence of any agreement made between you and the client. Always check in with a client to confirm your work via email or another kind of text, even if you chatted in person or had a phone call. Not only does it protect you from revenue loss and them from shoddy work, but it also has the added benefit of making you look super professional and organized. Repeat business, anyone?

That's fine for small gigs, but what about a really big project? Some freelancers land huge jobs that have a lot of considerations-- and a lot at stake. For these, you might consider drafting a standard contract that can be altered as needed. You'll probably want the expertise and guidance of an attorney on this, especially if you have a really niche industry or client base. In fact, if you're getting a lot of big jobs that need this kind of contract (you lucky dog!) then it might be time to put a lawyer on retainer.

If you can't afford the legal help, there's three things you absolutely MUST be sure to include in your contract: compensation, scope of work, and completion date. Always be perfectly clear about how much you will be paid, exactly what work you will do, and when you will be finished. It doesn't pay (literally) to be vague here, so if you need a big section to explain your project, take the time to carefully write it out. You could also think about a payment schedule and ownership. You might need to be paid in installments for certain projects, and you need to outline when those payments are due, or risk getting a lump sum at the end. As for ownership, you want to be clear who owns the work you've completed. Who owns the deliverables? Does the client get full ownership, or are they basically purchasing a usage license from you? If so, how will your commissions be paid? Again, if this applies to you, I really recommend seeking a good lawyer to help.

Honestly, good record keeping with thorough and clear communication is the best way to make sure you're protected, and show your client you are invested in the work. Any great client will understand if you need a contract, though, and if they refuse a reasonable written agreement, work with your counsel to determine whether the job is a good idea for you, after all.

That's all for now! Tune in next time for #FreelanceFriday!