You Need a Freelance Contract and You Want These 6 Things in It
I’m not an attorney. I can’t write your contract for you. And if I was an attorney I probably still wouldn’t, because that sounds painfully dull. But I know enough to know that you absolutely need a contract with every client. At the least, it clears up expectations and in worst case scenarios, it keeps you from getting screwed.
There are plenty of standard freelancing contracts floating around the web that can be adapted. And you don’t even need to be a lawyer to write or adjust your own, although you will almost certainly screw things up, so it’s always smart to hire an attorney to make any substantive changes.
What an attorney can’t nessicarily advise you on, however, is what terms are favorable for your industry. So here are a few things you’re going to want to make sure are in your contracts:
There are 3 general types of billing types: time and materials, fixed price, and retainer. The purpose and particulars of retainers should definitely have their own post, but I’m not going to be the one to write it because, again, dullsville. So we’ll focus on fixed price (you complete a project for a set amount of money) and time and materials (hourly or daily rate plus expenses). Time and material projects are great. They’re safe. They’re also harder to come by. But fixed price projects don’t have to be a pain, you just need a:
Detailed Scope of Work
This is probably the most important piece, especially if you’re working a fixed price project. Client want more than they originally requested more often than not and this will protect you from doing extra work without any extra pay. The more specific you can be about the project the better. What is the length of the final product? What conditions are you shooting in? When can clients make revisions? How many rounds of revisions are there in each phase?
Be sure to also include your hourly rate on a when a client strays outside the scope. Because it’s going to happen. And when it does, you issue a change order. It can be uncomfortable, but it’s completely necessary. You’ll learn to love change orders because of how much time and lost revenue they will save you.
A contract doesn’t just set a client’s expectations of you, it sets your expectations of them. How long to they have to provide feedback? Is the script they’re providing you locked? In what ways can they possibly waste your time? Setting these expectations are important to keep your project efficient and, in fixed price projects, keep you from wasting time without being paid.
Do you want to be paid in a reasonable amount of time? Well you better put it in the contract, then. Net 30 is standard, but if fast payment is important to you, Net 15 isn’t unheard of. For any of your payment terms to matter, you need to include late payment penalties, or you’ll have no recourse for clients who are slow to pull out their wallet. Personally, I like to have aggressive late payment terms as a safety net, but don’t enforce them for good faith efforts to pay on time.
There are a couple of policies that freelancers often neglect, but are essential to equalize your schedule: rush charges and cancelation fees. They won’t completely eliminate the clients who call at 11pm at night to try to book you for the next day, only to call at 8am and cancel, but at least you’ll get paid for them. Rush and cancelation policies can be as aggressive as your client base allows (100% for within 24 hours is pretty standard), but should be identical to each other in terms of time and penalty, otherwise you’re leaving loopholes that clients can exploit.
Even with a contract it isn’t easy to get money from non-paying clients. Unless you explicitly state that you are entitled to be reimbursed for any measures you need to take to collect payment, typically legal fees and/or collection fees, you have to pay out of pocket. So, explicitly state it. Or, really, have your lawyer do it, because again, you will screw it up.