As a freelancer, you likely enjoy flexible hours and tackle a variety of projects.
But a lot goes on behind the scenes. Self-employment means you’re on your own when things get tough, and you may face challenges like navigating boundary issues and chasing past-due payments.
One way to make things a little less stressful – especially when it comes to getting what you’re owed – is to ensure you write a binding freelance contract. No matter your industry, a formal service agreement is essential to ensure a smooth working experience.
Never work without a contract
The benefits of having a freelance contract are extensive. By defining the terms of the project, a formal service agreement will protect you from late payments, scope creep, and disagreements should any issues arise.
A solid freelance contract should outline the exact items you and the client expect from each other, and encourage a positive business relationship. Keep this in mind while you write your service agreement, and be sure to include key information and clauses such as:
- Your rate or project fee, along with the scope of work (SOW)
- A project timeline with milestones, deliverables, and revision limitations
- A timeframe for how quickly the client must respond to your submission
- Payment information, including details surrounding deposits and late fees
- Termination and indemnity clauses—that is, clauses that protect you in the event of a breach of contract or third-party litigation
Now that we’ve gone over the importance of having a binding freelance contract, let’s detail some strategies for writing an effective one.
3 tips for writing a freelance contract
Not sure how to write a binding freelance contract? AND CO has you covered. In collaboration with Freelancers Union, we’ve put together a freelance contract template independent contractors can use at their discretion. Using our template, you can quickly fill in the project timeframe and scope, along with your rate.
Whether you decide to use the template or not, keep in mind these three strategies for writing a strong freelance contract:
1. Use specific, quantitative language
Avoid being ambiguous in your freelance contract. Specificity will save you time and energy in the long run, so focus on those pesky details and make an effort to quantify your terms. You may include in your agreement: “Rate is set at $75 per hour, not to exceed 15 hours” or “Total project cost is estimated at $1,250, not to exceed $1,500.” This will protect you and the client from unwelcome surprises like endless revision requests and higher-than-expected invoices.
Similarly, rather than saying“payment is due at the end of the month”, include something along the lines of: “The client will be invoiced on the last day of the month; net-30 payment terms apply. After a seven-day grace period, the client will incur a late fee equal to 15% of the amount owed.”
2. Define the project scope (including what’s out of scope)
Clear communication is essential to any partnership. In your freelance contract, be sure to define the elements of service you will provide. Then, include a paragraph on those elements you will not provide.
Say you work as an editor, and offer both proofreading and copyediting services. If the client only requests proofreading but wants a more detailed edit, defining both services in your freelance contract will clarify the SOW and eliminate confusion before you get started on the project.
The same thing applies in other industries. Designers, for instance, should list the exact number of logo options they intend to deliver in their service agreement—and all service providers should include how many revision requests they are willing to accommodate.
3. Be concise and use bullet-points as needed
We’ve discussed the importance of being specific in your freelance contract. It may sound counterintuitive, but it’s equally important to be concise.
This means you should steer clear of legal jargon, and instead write your freelance contract in plain language. Yes, you want to be thorough, but legalese—and wordiness in general—may bring confusion. Besides, terms like “hereafter” and “therewith” are archaic and unnecessary.
Say what needs to be said in as few words as possible. A sentence like: “The project will not take more than 30 hours to complete” can easily be summarized as “Project not to exceed 30 hours.” Pay close attention to formatting as well, use bullet-points as needed, and focus on clarity above all else.
Need help getting started?
We said it before, but it’s important enough to say again: never work without a contract. If you’re having trouble getting started, give AND CO a try.
Using a standardized contract vetted by a third party eliminates back and forth, establishes trust, and speeds up the signing process. Get started here.