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Contracts are legal agreements between two parties and are the best way to protect yourself as a freelancer.
A contract lays out the details of the relationship with your client and what’s expected from both parties – ensuring freelancers get paid for their work on time and in full. They also remove any potential for either party to back out of their agreement – or at the very least penalise them if they do.
Contractual agreements can be tricky, and many longtime freelancers will have contract templates they use for most jobs.
Here are some of the elements and clauses you should include in any contract, and some template clause wording you can use.
Just to start with the basics, you want the contract to outline exactly what’s expected of you and in what timeframe. This is to make sure your client doesn’t suddenly turn around asking for more work and refusing to cough up extra cash because the contract has some vague wording.
Get as specific as you possibly can. Something like “run the company’s social media accounts for three months” is open to too many interpretations. With something like that, ensure you’re getting set hours and days onto paper. You can also specify how much back-and-forth you’re prepared to do per project.
For example, copywriters may stipulate that they’re prepared to do no more than three rounds of edits.
This is to ensure your client is offering up all the resources you will need to successfully complete the project. This can include use of the company’s facilities or specialist equipment. Putting this in your contract means the client can’t blame you if they don’t keep up their end of the deal. It will also stop your client trying to push any extra costs onto you that they should be responsible for.
With IR35 investigations lurking about, it’s a good idea to make clear your relationship with your client. Make sure you’re designated as an independent entity and not an employee of your client. If you need more information and support regarding IR35, check out our IR35 hub. You’ll be able to access all of our Knowledge articles on the subject, as well as our jargon-free business guide and all the further support we offer.
Depending on the nature of the project, this might be an hourly or day rate or possibly a full project cost. Figure out which option is best suited and go with that. It’s also worth including that any hindrance from your client can cause costs to rise.
Late payments are the bane of every freelancer so it’s important to make your payment terms crystal clear in your contract. The most common practice is to be paid upon completion and the submission of an invoice (although these often give the client 30 days to pay).
If you’re taking on a big project that means payment could be months into the future, it might be worth negotiating an upfront fee. For example, asking for 50% of the total fee upon acceptance of the job. Another choice could be to spread the full fee across a certain amount of time, such as 20% of the total amount every month for a five-month project.
Either way, you don’t want to end up going broke because you forgot to specify your payment terms and schedule. Also be sure to include details on late payments fees. While you’re protected by the law when this happens, it’s always worth setting clear terms to encourage prompt payment from your client.
This is really important to include so that your client can’t run off with your work. Make sure you include an agreement that states you own any work your produce up until you receive payment. This means you can sue your client if they start using your work without coughing up the cash.
Clients will most likely expect to own any work you produce for them – which isn’t surprising – but in some instances, you may want a special licensing set-up.
It’s important to keep in mind that if you want to include specific and complex clauses, you should get legal advice. You don’t want to think you’re sufficiently protected only for your client’s lawyer to pick your contract apart.
This might cost you a fair bit, but considering you can use it as a blanket contract for all your future work and the protection it offers, it might be worth the expense.
Our article “Eight clauses your freelance contract shouldn’t be without” gives you more helpful advice about what needs to be included.
The above examples shouldn’t be taken as legal advice. If you’re looking for a bulletproof contract template or another legal document that’s tailored to you and the clients you engage with, help is available from our friends at Lawbite.