When you’re starting out as a freelancer, your agreements are often informal, conducted in the body of an email. These can still result in good work, but without a contract, you’re vulnerable to issues of non-payment, scope creep, and copyright disputes. Taking a few hours to create a freelance contract template of your own can save you an expensive legal headache down the line.
This guide will show you:
- Why contracts are useful
- How a freelance contract template saves you time
- Essential clauses to include in your contract template ?
By the end of this article, you’ll have a good idea of what your freelance contract template should look like.
I am not a lawyer or legal expert. This article is for entertainment purposes only and it’s based on my personal experience as a freelance writer who uses contracts. It is not meant to replace professional legal advice. Before you start using a contract, we recommend having a legal expert examine it.
Why freelance contracts are useful
At its most basic, a freelance contract is a document that defines the nature of a project or position. This ensures a mutual understanding of several important factors in the freelancer/client relationship:
- How much time/how many deliverables the client can expect to receive during a set time period
- What the payment schedule will be
- How payments will be made
- What will happen in the case of late payments or failure to pay
- Who owns the work
- How the work can be used
- How the freelancer-client relationship can be terminated
Laying all of these details out in a single document help to avoid and solve disputes. Contracts also make it easier to add retainer options to your client work and thus increase your income overall.
Moreover, presenting your own contract up front protects you from predatory boilerplate contracts many agencies and employers offer. These contracts might require you to give up full copyright for all work, or worse, require you to only work for one employer in their industry. These clauses can reduce your income and put you in a precarious position as a freelancer.
How a freelance contract template saves you time
Most freelancers tend to work on similar projects from one month to the next, regardless of who their clients are at any given time.
This means that the basic clauses of contracts can remain largely the same.
You’ll only have to change dates and company details.
Let’s take a look at how this works in my business: I write about different topics every month, but most of my work is content creation for blogs about online business. When someone is interested in working with me, I know they usually want one or two articles per month, with articles ranging between 2,000 and 4,000 words.
Thanks to this knowledge, I know I can offer a contract for monthly content posted to a customer’s blog. My preferred payment method and schedule also remain the same regardless of my employer, although some flexibility in these areas can be useful. I can copy/paste these clauses into a contract, building most of it in seconds.
Freelance contract template elements
Here are the essential contract elements that you should always have in your template:
1. Introductory statement
This is a simple paragraph that names the parties involved and provides a brief overview of the agreement. You’ll also want to establish that the parties will be referred to as “Client” and “Contractor” or something similar throughout. This minimizes the number of places where you need to change names before sending the contract to someone new.
For example, I might write an introductory statement like this:
Dianna Gunn (Henceforth known as ‘Contractor') will provide Company Name (Henceforth known as 'Client') with blog posts as laid out by the terms and conditions in this document.
2. Scope of project
Here’s a scenario you’ve probably experienced once or twice. You exchange some emails with a potential client and agree to work with them. They assure you the work is simple, which informs your price. Then you start doing the work and realize that it’s much more complicated than you expected. Or they ask you to market the work as well, and suddenly you’re spending all your time on free promotions for someone else’s website.
This is called scope creep and it can greatly reduce the amount of time and energy you have for paid work. To avoid this, you’ll want to establish the scope of the work involved in your freelance contract template.
This section should include the following information:
- The tasks you are agreeing to complete
- The deliverables your client will receive
- When you intend to finish the agreed-upon work
- Whether or not you’re available for additional tasks + the payment structure for these additional tasks
This establishes clear expectations and boundaries. You can also include information about changes and revisions to your work here, but I’m going to discuss them as a separate section in this article.
3. Changes and revisions
Another common cause of scope creep is clients asking for endless revisions. This clause avoids that problem by telling the client how many (if any) changes/revisions are included with their initial payment.
You’ll also want to state what happens if they want additional changes. For example, my contract might say something like this:
One minor revision is included with this contract. If Client requests a revision that adds over 200 words to an article, Contractor will charge their standard per-word rate for every additional word.
Although the above example applies to freelance writing jobs, it can be tweaked to cover other industries and types of work as well. Just make sure that whatever a “revision” means in your profession is clearly articulated.
Next, you’ll want to explain the full payment structure for a typical project or position. This should include the following details:
- What the cost of each deliverable is.
- How much the total cost of the project is.
- When the client is expected to pay. If payment will occur in installments, specify the frequency of these installments. You’ll also want to specify the dates of the first and last payment.
- The payment system the client will use.
- Late payment fees.
- What will happen in the case of non-payment.
- Fees associated with requests for changes, revisions, or additional work.
In most instances, this will be the longest section of your freelance contract template.
? Are you struggling with late-paying clients? We have a separate resource on the blog with exact scripts to help you collect on unpaid invoices.
This clause establishes who owns the work. If you retain ownership of the work, you’ll need to establish what rights the client has over it. For example, when I sell a series of articles I might only sell first electronic publication rights, with the option for the client to republish them in a year-end collection for a small additional fee.
Another popular approach is to transfer all rights to the client. In this case, it’s the client who gets to decide what they want to do with your work and how they want to use it.
There are many guides to basic copyright law, but the specifics can be quite complicated. I recommend finding a lawyer who specializes in copyright law to help you create an effective copyright clause. Alternatively, for a cheaper solution, you can get LegalZoom to help you prepare a tailor-made copyright license agreement. Here’s an example for written work.
Last but not least, you should also include a clause that protects your ability to display this work in your portfolio. You may also want to specify other places where you can display the work, such as in marketing campaigns for your business.
6. Termination options
Sometimes you get into a project and realize that, for one reason or another, it’s not going to work out. This might be about the work itself or about tensions in the contractor/client relationship. Your client might also want to terminate your contract for a variety of reasons. Your contract should specify under what conditions each party can end the contract.
Make sure to include the following details in your termination clause:
- What circumstances can be considered grounds for termination. For example, your client might be able to terminate the contract if you haven’t produced drafts of your deliverables by a specific date. On the other hand, you might leave an option to terminate the contract if payment is overdue by a certain number of days.
- How much notice must be given. This is the amount of warning either party must give before terminating the contract. For example, you might require the two weeks’ notice you would receive from a full-time position. You might also want to vary this depending on the reason for termination, such as allowing for immediate termination if a payment is overdue by a certain number of weeks.
- What happens to the final pay. If you continue working for a fortnight after your contract is terminated, you need to make sure you get paid for that work.
- Termination fees. In some instances, it may be appropriate to charge a fee for ending the contract early. This might be applied regardless of the termination circumstances or only in certain circumstances.
You may also want to add a minimum amount of work that must be completed before either party can terminate the contract. This ensures that you’ve had time to prove your value before a client cancels their contract.
7. Legal disclaimer
A legal disclaimer clears you of liability for a variety of problems clients might blame you for. This should include lost profits, lost savings, and other consequential damages. Make sure to have this area of your contract vetted by a lawyer.
8. Signature area
This one is pretty straightforward: signature and date lines for both you and the client.
However, it’s important to consider how you’re going to get those signatures. A digital tool like Bonsai, Signaturely, or Signable can be used to get quick signatures from anywhere in the world, no printer or scanner required.
Freelance contracts are essential tools for protecting the interests of both you and your clients. You can build an effective freelance contract template by listing the usual deliverables, schedule, and payment structure you provide to clients. For added protection, include a legal disclaimer, copyright details, and a termination clause.
I hope this guide has been helpful and that you’re already halfway through preparing your own freelance contract template!
⚖️ Finally, remember that this article is not meant to replace legal advice. If you’re uncertain about any aspect of your contract, have it vetted by a lawyer.
What do you think about retainer agreements and their value? Are you going to be pitching this to one of your clients?
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