How to create a solid freelance contract

Drawing up a freelance contracts can be confusing, but we're here to help. Check out this guide on creating a solid freelance contract for your clients.
How to create a solid freelance contract

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How to create a freelance contract

Have you ever had a client who made your life a living nightmare? They called at all hours, changed their mind over and over, claimed you didn't meet their requests, and refused to pay up at the end. You may have felt trapped, like there was nothing you could do to hold them to their end of the deal. 

Having a freelance contract can help to protect you from these clients, as well as improve your working relationship with your good clients. Read on to learn more about how to write the perfect freelance contract and start protecting yourself better. 

Avoid misunderstandings

One of the best things about having a contract for your freelance business is that it helps you avoid misunderstandings with your clients. When you’re beginning work with a new client, you may have a period of adjustment while you learn how to communicate with each other. While this is a normal adjustment period, you don’t want there to be confusion about the work you’re doing or how you’re paid.

Your contract lays out exactly what’s expected of each of you in black-and-white terms. You can work out any misunderstandings at this stage so you can go forward with a healthier work relationship. You can also keep your clients from claiming they misunderstood your terms and refusing to pay you later down the road.

Protect yourself from liability claims

As an entrepreneur, you know that liability lawsuits can take a serious toll on your life and business. You may have even set up a limited liability corporation to protect yourself from too much loss due to a liability lawsuit. Another great way to protect yourself from liability is to set up a business contract.

In your contract, you can specify what you do and don’t take responsibility for. You can limit the scope of your responsibility and what your clients can take in a lawsuit. Once your client signs the contract, they’re agreeing not to sue you for things outside that scope of responsibility.

Keep business terms clear

Negotiating business matters can be tricky, especially as a freelancer at the beginning of your career. You know how much your time is worth and what boundaries you want to put on your working relationships, but you’re going to have clients who try to push those boundaries or undervalue your work.

A freelance contract can let clients know exactly what to expect from your working relationship. You can specify when they can expect to hear from you and how long it will be before they get a response back. This can help you to maintain healthier working relationships and keep your work-life balance in check.

Hold your clients accountable

As much as we wish it wouldn’t happen, the truth of the matter is that you’re going to have some clients who just don’t want to pay you. They may claim that you didn’t deliver what you promised, or they might just put off sending you payment for weeks or months. Meanwhile, you’re losing income waiting for them to send your money.

Having a contract in place can hold your clients accountable for what they owe you. For one thing, the presence of a written contract can make them feel more obligated to hold up their end of the bargain. And if you do wind up having to take them to court, a written contract eliminates the complications of “he said, she said.”

Start with a template

If you don’t have any legal training, it can be difficult to know where to start with writing a freelance contract. What should you include, and how do you make sure you close any potential loopholes? Luckily, there are some great resources available for freelancers putting together contracts for the first time.

At Hectic, we offer a drag-and-drop contract builder that offers customizable templates for your use. In just minutes, you can create a solid contract that covers all of the bases. We asked legal experts to weigh on these templates to ensure they offer the protections freelancers need. All you need to do is customize the contract to reflect your work, terms, and brand before sending it to your client for a better working experience.

Tell the story of your agreement

When you’re putting together your freelance contract, the most important thing to do is to tell the story of your agreement with your client. In the end, that’s all a contract really is: a written record stating what each party agrees to.

Start by writing your terms like you’d explain the agreement to a friend. You, the freelancer, agree to perform this work within these parameters for this compensation. They, the client, agree to provide you with the things you need to do your job and to pay you the amount you agreed upon.

Write how you speak

When you start writing your freelance contract, it can be easy to fall into an overly formal, legalistic style of writing. You may feel like this language is more official and lends more weight to your contract. But the truth is that this language can get unwieldy, confusing, and even troublesome if it’s not handled correctly.

Instead, write your contract the way you would explain it out loud to your client. Keep it clean and professional, of course, but don’t get too far into the “therefores” and “heretoafters.” This will make it easier for your client to understand and for you to write and explain if there are questions later down the line. 

Use a lot of detail

Part of the point of your freelance contract is to foresee any problems that might arise with a client throughout the process and head them off at the start. This means it’s important to spend some time making your contract detailed. Anything that’s important enough to cause conflict with a client should be addressed.

Think about previous issues you’ve had working on similar projects and how they could have been prevented at the start of the project. Set out your ground rules, including what sort of hours you’ll be working and how clients can contact you. And specify what you expect of your clients and under what terms each of you can terminate the contract.

Keep it simple

While including plenty of detail is important, you also don’t want to wind up in a situation where you write yourself into a corner with this contract. You need your contract to be accessible for you and your clients. Trying to micromanage every tiny detail can start to backfire on you. It’s important to strike a balance between including enough detail and going overboard.

Discuss deliverables

One of the most important sections of your freelance contract is the one covering what will be delivered to your client. If you sell physical products, this should be a fairly straightforward discussion. You should include some details about the expected condition of the products and a short physical description of them, but that should suffice.

If your business deals in services, you need to spell out clearly what clients can expect to receive from you at the end of the day. This may include certain files in specific formats, work completed on something they already own (a house, furniture, etc.), or a consultation. Laying this out in clear terms can help avoid situations where clients claim that you didn’t deliver what you promised.

Specify payment

Negotiating money in any situation can be uncomfortable, but it’s incredibly important when you’re running a freelance business. Your clients need to know upfront how much they’ll be paying you and when that payment is due. They’ll also need to know about different payment method options when their bills come due. 

Include a section in your contract that discusses your rates, when each bill is due, and how clients can pay. Make sure to update this section when you send out a contract to each new client and don’t forget to include any discounts or special fees you may have discussed. Also, include a brief discussion of what will happen if your clients refuse to pay you. 

Specify portfolio rights

As you continue to work on new freelance projects, you may want to add them to your portfolio. Your portfolio will give potential new clients an idea of what you can produce and whether your work fits their needs. However, you need to let clients know if you plan to show the products they purchased to other potential clients.

Include a section letting clients know that any portion of their work may be displayed in your portfolio and that, in signing your contract, they agree to this. It’s also a good idea to include a section letting them know that if they don’t want their work showcased, they have to make that known to you in writing. This way, if someone comes back later and claims you’re using their work inappropriately, you can show that they agreed to your terms.

Have an attorney review your contract

No matter how careful you are inputting your contract together, there are likely to be some gaps and legal loopholes that get left out. This is normal if you don’t have any legal training since those systems can be very complex. However, you don’t want to find yourself on the losing end of a lawsuit because of a gap in your contract. 

Once you have your basic contract drafted, it’s worth getting a lawyer to review it. This may cost you a few hundred dollars, but think about how much money you’ll lose if even five of your clients refuse to pay. And that’s to say nothing of the money you’d lose in a lawsuit if it turns out your contract has problems.

Customize each client’s contract

Once you have your contract roughed out, you may think your work on your contract is done. But the truth is every project is different, and you need to make sure your contract covers each specific situation. Read through your contract before each new project and make sure it covers the needs of this specific project.

Review your pricing section and make sure it applies to your agreement with this client, including method and timing of payment. Check the deliverables section to make sure that it specifies what you will be delivering. And if you have a section detailing client information or what they will be providing, make sure that’s up to date. 

This step is especially important if you’re re-using a template that you’ve made previously. Thankfully, Hectic allows you to duplicate and edit your templates quickly so you can get on with the work that makes money.

Write your perfect freelance contract 

Having a freelance contract is incredibly important if you’re going to be working with clients on any sort of a regular basis. You need to lay out your terms clearly for your clients, and you need to be protected from clients who might try to skip out on the bill.

If you’d like to learn to write your perfect freelance contract, check out the rest of our site at Hectic. We’re here to help you get in control and stay on top of your freelance work, all in one place. Get started for free today and start freelancing smarter, not harder.

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Our team of career freelancers writes about best invoice practices, what makes a great client, and repeats the mantra, "never work without a contract." We're opinionated about the future of work and will always be on the side of freelancers.
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