Freelancers are notorious for not having firm contracts in place. Larger corporations have learnt their lessons and sometimes have an entire legal team behind their brand. But, us? I see you there…looking sheepish and remembering that you put this on a to-do list somewhere in the basement of your already-overflowing mind. It’s a must. Non-negotiable. Put down what you’re doing and start getting your contract template in place.
Because, without one, you and your clients are left in the dark. Sometimes, you may even be exploited and have no recourse because there’s no contract in place. Usually, though, it won’t be a case of someone trying to schnaai you. It’ll simply be a case of your expectations not matching those of your client.
There are seven things that are essential to include in your freelance contract:
1. Let’s Talk Money
Don’t hold back. Outline exactly what your rate is and how it is calculated. Do you charge by the hour? Or for a completed project? If it is for the whole project, discuss exactly what you will include under that umbrella. For example, if you are a graphic designer that is designing a new logo for a client, specify how many logo options you will provide, based on what information from the client, how many changes they can make, and in what formats you will make these logos available once a design is chosen.
If you charge by the hour, include a minimum and a maximum hour clause, which could read along the lines of “This project will not take fewer than two hours or more than six hours”.
And always (ALWAYS) get a deposit.
2. Payment Conditions
The contract should include details on how and when the deposit should be paid, and then when the remainder is due. If the client can pay in installments, specify the value of each installment and the date by which it is due.
Then, also be clear about how they can pay you. Do you only accept EFTs? What about cash, checks or PayPal? If they are a larger company, do they pay immediately? Or do they have their own systems in place that may delay payment? Find out before you commit to the job.
3. Cancellation Fee
If, for whatever reason, your project gets cancelled, you and your client need to be protected. A cancellation fee clause needs to ensure that you still get paid for the portion of work that has been completed, but that your client is not obligated to pay the full amount. You’ll need to decide on your own cancellation fee. Some freelancers charge 25%, while others can charge up to 50% of the final quoted amount.
4. Revisions and Changes
I find that, sometimes, my clients need to see the first draft before they really know what they want. Before that, they can give me a brief, but it just can’t take shape until I’ve produced something, a base from which to work. This is different, though, to a client changing the direction or opting for an entirely new style after you’ve done a massive chunk of work. By including a clause in your contract that stipulates that there can be x amount of revisions included in the final quoted amount (I think two is fair), you will avoid being in the position where you need to keep starting over, for free.
5. Gimme Gimme Gimme
Argh, this is one I find quite tough. Your client approves the quote, is happy with the first few suggestions and efforts, and then starts adding. And adding. At first, it’s one or two small tweaks. “This is great, can you please just add a paragraph about our new epoxy range?”
Well, yes, I can, but that means that I first have to find out about your epoxy range, research it so that I understand what epoxies are and their application, and then write something that shows that I know my epoxy stuff. And that’s just that please-won’t-you-quickly-add paragraph. After that, it grows. There are more and more additions that your client is conveniently slipping under the umbrella of the first quote. Include a clause that mentions that any work out of the scope of the quoted job will be charged for by the hour. Alternatively, include a bit about reserving the right to adjust the rate if the work you’re expected to do significantly more work than anticipated.
6. Ownership of Material
This is important for freelancers in creative spheres, especially. Research the copyrights that are most relevant to you and your service; then state and explain them very clearly in your contract. Usually, the freelancer will own all of the rights until the full and final payment is made. This also protects the client – once they’ve paid, they can rest assured that you won’t be selling those logos, the novel or the web content to anyone else.
7. End Date
Be clear about deadlines. This urges the client to get information back to you in time for you to finish the project and it assures the client that you won’t be dragging it on unnecessarily. This also makes it possible for both of you to plan around a set date of completion.
Added suggestion: it is wise to ensure (even in the contract) that you have one point of contact at your client’s company. Otherwise, you end up with too many chiefs and one hapless Indian doing all the work. Metaphorically. This clause should stipulate that all communication, quotes, invoices, revisions, and so on need to go through one person.
By collating all of these points into one contract template, you will have a simple, comprehensive document that will protect both you and your clients from unnecessary confusion or disappointment.