Before you write a single word or start a project for a client, you’ve got a freelance contract in place. Right?
If you’re thinking, “Wait, what freelance contract?” you’re making a rookie mistake.
I used to operate this way. Land an assignment. Do the work. Submit the piece. And then find out how much the client pays…Or if the client is going to pay at all.
If you really want to make a living writing, you can’t run a business this way.
Other service professionals like lawyers, plumbers, and accountants require contracts that spell out the details of an agreement. And so should you.
Can you take on projects without a freelance contract? Sure. But you run the risk of never getting paid, getting paid less than pro rates, spending hours chasing unpaid invoices, and sucking up creative energy that could be earning you more money.
You’re smarter than that. If you want to get paid to write, here’s what you need to nail down in every freelance contract:
My freelance contract wake-up call
How much time do you spend trying to find clients? A lot, especially when you’re starting out. At first, I would pick up any freelance work that came my way.
But if you do that, there’s a good chance you’re going to end up in a never-ending battle of writing for second-rate clients, instead of establishing long-term relationships with clients that pay well.
That’s the game I was playing. My wake-up call came when I realized my cleaning lady’s hourly rate was higher than my hourly rate as a freelance writer.
If I wanted to find better clients, I realized I had to to nail down the details of every assignment with a freelance contract. When I finally took this approach, it helped:
- Clients recognize I’m a pro writer who commands pro rates
- Weed out clients that were contract-shy, low-payers or both
- Improve my monthly income with recurring freelance contract work
The nuts and bolts of a freelance contract
So what exactly should a freelance contract include?
If you’ve ever landed an assignment with a major magazine, you’ve probably signed a multi-page contract with a lot of legalese. That’s one way of setting up a freelance contract.
But it doesn’t have to be that complicated, and you typically don’t need to hire an attorney. But you do need to make sure your freelance contract includes specific details, such as:
- Assignment details. This includes things like what you’re writing (article, blog, case study, website copy, etc.), word count, target audience, required sources, links, or expert interviews. Get it in writing. Then if the scope of work changes, you can renegotiate your rate of pay.
- Contract length. For something like a magazine assignment, you might have a contract for a single article. But if you’re going to write a series of monthly blogs, or social media posts for a client, spell it out (per assignment, per 90 days, etc.)
- Rate of pay. Be specific. For example: $200 per blog post. $1,000 per completed case study. $100/hour for writing, consulting, and meeting times. You want to negotiate and agree on this before you start working for a client.
- Delivery method. You might think email is all you really need to deliver an assignment. But your client may want you to submit your finished piece some other way like Slack, an FTP site, DropBox, or their backend content management system.
- Deadline. For most writers, a deadline can help you get stuff done. And it helps clients manage marketing and editorial calendars. But if a client wants you to drop everything and turn an assignment around overnight, that should be reflected in your hourly rate.
- Payment method and timeline. How will you get paid? PayPal, direct deposit, a check in the mail, Bitcoin? And when will you get paid? Upon acceptance, upon publication, in 30 days, 90 days?
- 50% up front. Last but not least on my list of essential details for a freelance contract, get 50% up front. It might seem scary, if you haven’t done this before. But ask yourself this: If a client refuses to pay your upfront fee, what are the chances you’ll get paid at all when you complete the assignment? Skip over this, and you may end up expending an enormous amount of time and energy trying to track down a client to get paid.
- And these aren’t the only things that can be included in a freelance contract. Thanks, Carol.
Find better clients with freelance contracts
Working for a client is a two-way street. Creating a partnership with a freelance contract might seem like a formality, but in the long-run it helps build that relationship. And I can tell you from experience, that as soon as you make it a habit to engage prospects with a freelance contract, the sooner you’ll attract better quality clients.
Natalie Rebecca Hechtman is a journalist, blogger, copywriter, and screen writer.