You might think money and a deadline for project completion are the only things really necessary in a freelance contract.
But while both of these things are important, you would be wrong. To protect yourself, your work and your earnings, there are several other vital items that should be in every freelance contract you sign.
Your focus will be on ensuring the total fee payable is verified, while your client will focus on ensuring there’s a clause that refers to the standard of work and the approval process required before payment. But don’t get fixated on the total or final figure.
If it’s a longer project, ensure there are agreed payment stages for the project too, so you’re getting paid while you’re working on it. It’s perfectly reasonable to break a project into stages, time periods or tasks, and ask for interim payments as each of these is completed. Cash flow is important.
While the final deadline needs to be clear, again, it can be advantageous to have interim deadlines, particularly if they’re already in a client’s mind but haven’t been shared with you!
You may think interim deadlines restrict you from working on the project (and your other work) to your own schedule, but if client X is expecting certain stages to be completed by their own mental dates, this may not fit in with your plans to spend the next month working for Y or take a two week break next month. It’s best for both side to have clear expectations from the start – and to put those expectations in writing.
Inclusion of work in your portfolio or advertising, or as a case study
Some clients will want all the work you do for them to be completely confidential, while others don’t specify this but aren’t happy to have their work used in a portfolio. Obviously, it’s far better for you if they’re happy to be included in your portfolio, and even better if they’re fine with their project being used as a case study.
This means you can show the work you’ve done right through the project, from the initial brief to completion. It allows future clients to see not just what you produce in the end, but how you adapt and develop your work as you go. Knowing how you work can be just as important to a prospective client as the final products you’ve produced for others.
If you intend to name drop in your advertising or use work from the client’s project, ensure the contract says it’s fine for you to do so and specifies any terms or caveats (e.g. no adverts in a tabloid newspaper; a limit on the type or amount of work used in an advert).
Your rights over the finished work
Once you’ve handed over the work, are you happy to hand all rights and ownership to the client, for them to do with as they will? Before you shrug and say yes, that’s what they’ve paid for, think for a moment.
Say you’re an artist or designer whose signature is part of your work. Now imagine the design or art piece you’ve produced is later used by the client for a campaign completely against your ethics – and now inextricably linked with your name. How would you feel? What if your work is changed in a way that make it look ugly or amateur? Copied or sold on to numerous other companies, making your client a fortune, while you were paid a small one-off fee?
Make sure your contract specifies exactly what can and can’t happen to your work after you’ve completed it, and what actions will need your agreement.
Project scope and working conditions
The scope of the project and your involvement must be specific and clear, as must your responsibilities (e.g. project meetings, team leadership, progress updates).
Working or contactable hours can also cause problems for freelancers. One of the benefits of freelancing is working to your own schedule, so if your client wants you to work 9-5, Monday-Friday, this might be a problem – particularly if they’re in a different time zone and their 9-5 is not yours!
Contactable hours can be even more of an issue. Some clients expect an instant answer to their email or phone call at 9 p.m. on a Saturday night. You need to decide if you’re happy with this and if it affects your pay expectations. Whatever your decision, it’s good to put the working or contactable hours you agree to in writing, so both sides know what’s reasonable.
Have you quoted to cover all potential expenses: travel, additional equipment, apps or software, additional workers, entry fees, research fees etc.? If not, which of these expenses is the client willing to cover? Get an agreement, and get it included in the contract. There are many freelancers out there who have quoted for a project, only to find that by the time they’ve totted up their expenses against the hours worked, they’ve barely earned minimum wage (or even worse, nothing at all.) Don’t be one of them!
Testimonials, recommendations, referrals and reviews
Some freelancers like to include a clause in which the client agrees to provide a testimonial or review. On the flip side, some clients make it clear they won’t recommend or refer freelancers. Make sure both your stance and that of the client is clear on this issue, and that it’s written into the contract.
Failure and termination clauses
What happens if you’re taken ill mid-project or there’s a family crisis? What if there’s an issue with the project and you don’t meet the deadline? What happens if the client goes bust or your contact is fired from the company? To protect both sides, your contract should include clauses that agree what should happen in these circumstances.
It’s always worth bearing in mind that some of these terms and conditions make good negotiating points. If the fee your client has agreed is less than you would like, perhaps you can leverage a glowing testimonial or referrals to other contacts in the trade.
Completing an urgent project for a big-name client? You’re doing them a favour, so perhaps they could share the love on their website or LinkedIn (or both). Sharing your posts on social media can be good promotion for you, so this can be a bonus worth negotiating too. You could make it a two-way agreement, with you and the client agreeing to share some or all of each other’s posts for a set period.
Remember, contracts are about more than payments and dates. Ensure your contracts have all of our eight essential elements so that they protect you, your work and your reputation, as well as your client.
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