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How to Write a High-converting Freelance Contract for the Absolute Beginner

There are a few things you can put off when you start freelancing. Things like choosing the fastest internet package, designing business cards, and telling your parents you quit your day job are all tasks that can wait until you’ve gotten a little more comfortable in your industry.

There are other responsibilities, however, that simply can’t wait. Obtaining health insurance and finding clients are on that list, but the big one — the one I’m tackling today — is your freelance contract.

Now, I know you’d rather go take a personality test about pizza or something, but just bear with me here.

and my goal is to walk you through it in a way that doesn’t make you drool on your keyboard. (That would be an expensive nap.)

Start With the “Who” of Your Freelance Contract

When writing a contract, your ultimate goal is to create a document that is both easy to understand and thorough enough to prevent as many misunderstandings as possible… which is why you want to start off by clearly stating who is involved. I realize this might sound silly: Duh, man. It’s me and the client, right?

Well, yeah, a lot of the time, it is you and the client. In those cases, you’ll want to choose a consistent term to designate who is who throughout the entirety of the contract. Whether you use “contractor,” “writer,” “designer,” or even “me,” you need to spell it out in plain terms at the beginning:

Lenny’s Cactus Farm (referred to throughout this contract as “Client) is hiring Awesome McSuperfreelancer (referred to throughout this contract as “Writer) to provide written content for Client’s website.

If you’re working as part of a team or collaborative effort, this is where you’ll include details on who is involved, and if the client needs to communicate with specific people for certain tasksthings.

Move On To the “What”

The “what” part is when explicit detail is needed. I’m serious. Imagine me with both hands on your shoulders, gently shaking you for emphasis and crying, “Be specific! SPECIFIC, I SAY!”

The “what” here is your scope of work, aka what kind of work will be done, and how much is expected. The purpose of this is to avoid “scope creep,” which occurs when a project’s scope of work begins to creep up and over the amount of work that you’re getting paid for. When you first start freelancing, it’s easy to think, “You know, I really want these guys to keep coming back… I’ll just add this little bit here and that little bit there. It doesn’t take that much extra time!”

I totally get that, but that little bit of extra time adds up, and you’re going to find yourself doing a lot of extra work and not getting paid for it. So, get specific.

Writer will provide original written website content for Client, including 5 pages (Home, Location, About Us, Contact Us, Testimonials), each between 250-500 words.

But wait, there’s more!

Whether you’re a writer, designer, developer, or sign painter, you know there are always going to be revisions requested by the client. Anticipate this and kick that revision creep right in teeth before it even gets a chance to rear its annoying head.

After submission of the first draft, Writer will provide one revision session per website page. Any additional revisions will incur additional hourly charges.

Remember, you’re not being a jerk, here. You’re protecting yourself, your precious time, and the quality of your other client work.

Time for the “How…Much”

This is it. This is that one chip covered in all the toppings on a giant plate of nachos. It’s what the client will likely look for first, often before reading the rest of the contract. What are you charging for the work?

Now, this post isn’t about what to charge; we’ve already got a post about that. Whether you’re charging by the hour or at a fixed price for your services, you need to lay it out in an easy-to-understand, make-no-mistake fashion. If you’re working with a fixed rate, it will be a little easier to spell out the cost in the contract, but a fixed rate doesn’t work for everybody. If charging by the hour is your preference, you’ll need to be prepared to provide an estimate for the time you think you’ll spend.

Client will pay Writer X dollars for each website page, resulting in a final total of X dollars.

Or:

Client will pay Writer X dollars per hour at an estimated X hours of work. Bear in mind that this is only an estimate, and may change as the project progresses. Writer will notify Client of estimate changes.

And now, the “When”

There are two facets to the “whens” of a freelance contract. First of all, when do you expect to have this project finished?

You need to give your projects deadlines, even when they’re massive and take six months to complete. This will keep you on track and will help to keep your client punctual with their responses. Many freelancers impose feedback deadlines and fees on their clients in order to keep workflow smooth and to protect their deadlines.

Work will be completed by Monday, January 2019. In order to keep this deadline intact, Client will respond to feedback within 1 week of request from Writer. If no feedback is received within 1 week, Writer will add a fee of $25 to the total bill.

This tactic might not be for everyone, but a freelancer who is very busy can lose a lot of money and work time waiting for a decision on color or word choice.

The next “when” is this: “When will your client pay you?”

Again, this is up to you; you just need to make sure you include it when you’re writing a contract. Do you want the client to pay you the entire sum up front? Would you like half of the project paid for as a deposit before you start? Would you like to set up payment milestones if the project is one that will take an extended period of time to complete?

Once you’ve decided on when you’ll get paid, you need to decide how quickly you’ll get paid. I don’t generally recommend a Net 30 situation; that can feel like an awfully long time when your fridge is empty (except for that half-empty bottle of Kahlúa Kahlua) and the bills need to be paid. Net 10 or 15 is what I usually opt for.

And, of course, include your preferred method of payment (credit card, bank transfer, check) in your freelance contract.

Finally… “How” are you going to get the hell out of this if everything goes south?

Or, in more professional phrasing, what are your terms for termination? Client/freelancer relationships can come to an end for many a reason, be it family emergency or irreconcilable differences. When writing a contract, you’ve got to give both parties an opportunity for as clean a break as possible.

In this section, be sure to include how many days notice you need in advance before the agreement is officially terminated; this will give you a little time to plan for any financial changes the termination will cause. You’ll also need to come up with a plan for already-completed work. Will you simply stop working, collect pay for what was completed, and make a clean break? And if the client has paid you up-front, how are you going to deal with a refund?

Termination of this agreement will require 30 days notice from either party. Any completed work shall be paid for by the Client, and any paid-for work that has not been completed will be refunded by the Writer.

Avoid the Courtroom Drama

A courtroom drama may be entertaining on TV, but you probably want to keep it out of your real life. The best way to do that is to anticipate common legal problems within your contract.

One of the most common legal issues within a freelance contract is ownership, so be sure to ask yourself these questions:

-Who owns the final product?
-If the client owns the final product, are there certain stipulations to the use of it?
-Will your name be associated with it, even if it’s now the client’s property? How can you protect your name from changes made by the client?
-Are the images used within the project owned by you or by the client? If not, do you have permission to use them?

No matter how trustworthy the client seems, there’s always the chance that things could go sour… and that you won’t get paid. It’s important to familiarize yourself with the contractor/small business laws of your state, and include information in your contract terms about legal action. You can use this section to state that, should the client take you to court, the legal shenanigans must happen in your location. In the world of freelancing, where clients can come from anywhere, this could save you from a boatload of expenses.

Seal the Deal

If you’ve put forth the effort needed to create a solid freelance contract, you can’t forget the most important part: getting it signed.

You’ve got a couple of options, here. You can always print it, send it through the mail, have the client sign it, send it back to you, and then send back a signed copy to the client… or you can get a digital signature.

Obviously, we know something about that over here at ApproveMe, and for good reason. A digital signature allows you to get your contract signed quickly and legally, all while letting you monitor the process in real-time.

Ready, Set, Write

Alright, folks, that’s a lot of information to process. I know we’ve walked you through the important stuff, but I also know it’s no easy task to actually put it all together. Luckily, we’ve got a handy template here for you to use, free of charge, so you’ve got no excuse for skipping it.

Success!