Becoming a freelancer is exciting. The freedom of being self-employed offers many benefits. Yet without an HR department to onboard you, an accounting department to help manage finances, or a support network of colleagues, freelancing can also be overwhelming.
Whether you are just starting out as a freelancer or you’re a seasoned contractor, you always need to refine and polish your contracts.
It can be tempting to skip a formal proposal and contract process, but having some form of agreement in place is the best way to protect yourself as a freelancer. A freelance contract specifies the relationship with your client and what’s expected from both parties during a project.
Your contract helps you get paid on time and in full, provides legal protection against relationship breakdowns and can minimize risk of either party backing out of the agreement early.
Having worked as a freelancer and managed freelancers for companies, here are a few components you should consider including in your freelance contract.
Note: I am not a lawyer. This is not legal advice and isn’t intended to serve as such. If you’re putting together a contract, please consult a professional. This article only shares what I’ve included in my freelance contracts previously that has helped me, and what I’ve seen in freelance contracts that helped preemptively clarify questions.
What to include in your freelance contract
1) Introductions to parties and outline of work
The first thing you need to include in your contract is a client and work outline. This is a short introduction to establish the client, contractor, and an overview of the work.
When establishing the parties involved, be sure to include the company name. For simplicity, you may want to include a statement that throughout the rest of the document, you will refer to the parties as “client” or “contractor” rather than by name.
In this short introduction, you will also want to provide an overview of the agreed services to be delivered. This can be a short sentence to introduce the deliverables, as you will provide further details about these later in the contract.
When writing the client and work outline, you should also include a start date or timeframe to set client expectations.
Example: [YOUR NAME] (also known as “Contractor”) will provide [CLIENT NAME, CLIENT COMPANY] (also known as “Client”) with [INSERT BRIEF OVERVIEW OF SERVICES] as specified in the written agreement below.
2) Scope of work and deliverables
Next, you should define your scope and deliverables. In this section, detail the work and responsibilities that you will cover. Include deliverables, due dates, and details.
Be specific, such as the number of article revisions included, because this is where you’ll circle back in case there are any questions about you’re responsible for.
This section will also help you protect against scope creep, where your client pays the same contract amount but sends you more work than was agreed on. For example, a client may ask you to spend more work on a project because they want to add a new section or feature.
If scope creep is common in your projects, you may also want to include a section on what services are not included in this contract.
By providing clients with a specific list of the agreed work and deliverables you can help minimize the risk of scope creep and ensure transparency. If scope creep does occur, you can then request your client refers back to this section in your proposal, and then give them a quote for their additional requests.
3) Contact and process details
Within your contract, provide contact details (preferred method of contact and where clients can reach you), and process.
For example, will you execute work on Trello, Asana, the client’s internal tool, via email (not recommended), or something else?
4) Relationship agreement
Be sure to define what the relationship between you and your client is. As a freelancer, your contract should state that you are acting as an independent entity and not as an employee.
Defining the relationship can also further help prevent scope creep, and can prevent the client from treating you as a salaried employee, rather than a partner.
5) Your resource requirements
You will likely need access to client resources during your time working together. For example, a freelance PR consultant may require access to client videos and photography, and a freelance web developer may require access to client website log-in credentials.
Your freelance contract should include a section detailing the resources you need from the client in order to successfully complete the work. You should also detail the timeframe or dates you’ll need those resources by (ie. within a week of the contract start date) to make sure you have access to everything you need to hit your deadlines.
This can also help protect you from unforeseen costs, like having to purchase your own software when you thought the client would provide it, and a client blaming you for missing a deadline when they didn’t send you all the access or resources you needed to complete the work.
6) Payment terms
Late or unpaid invoices are a nightmare. Having a contract can help to deter late payments by specifying a penalty, or prevent not getting paid since your contract should be legally binding.
In your payment terms, be sure to outline the project cost along with the agreed contract duration, and an explanation of how and when you should be paid. This is also where you would state a late fee will be added to outstanding invoices, if you’d like to do that.
Your payment terms may vary depending on the services you provide. Some people will invoice clients at the start of the project, while others request monthly payments, payment upon completion, or payment in installments.
Payment method is important to state here as well. Will you invoice through Stripe, so clients can pay via credit card, or ask for an ACH bank transfer?
Do your research and choose a payment method that works best for you as a freelancer.
7) Ownership and rights
Include guidelines around intellectual property ownership and rights. This section will help prevent your client from passing your work off as their own when you want to maintain ownership. You may want to include a clause regarding the rights for usage that states the client has ownership over the final deliverables as part of your agreement.
When outlining ownership and rights, you may want to also clarify that the client does not have the right to the know-how, ideas or information used to complete the work. This is important if there’s a risk of a client copying and recreating your work – but if client training is part of your service (ie. you want their team to be able to do what you do) then this isn’t necessary.
Including legal clauses in your freelance contract can provide protection for you as the freelancer. Legal clauses can offer you protection in the event that the client relationship breaks down and they try to take legal action.
Outlining legal agreements within your contract can indemnify you from a variety of consequences that could ensue if the client is dissatisfied with the deliverables received, or if they believe they have suffered as a result of the services provided. For example, you may want to include a legal clause that states that you are not responsible for any profit losses or damages that may, or may not, ensue as a result of the work delivered.
It is also a good idea to include a statement that suggests that any items or acts deemed void, unlawful or enforceable will not affect the validity of the remaining items outlined in the freelancer contract.
For this, as with all other sections, have your contract checked by a legal attorney.
Sometimes things just aren’t a good fit, and you or a client may want to terminate the working relationship. We hope you don’t have to use this, but you should outline situations or factors that will allow either party to terminate the relationship if they feel that things aren’t working as expected.
As a freelancer, you don’t want a long-term client to suddenly pull the plug on your contract. Having termination guidelines in place can ensure that if a client does decide to terminate the contract, they give you some notice. It works the same the other way around, too – if your work plays a key role in a client’s business, you’ll need to give them a heads up. This will give everyone time to adjust and find a new set up that will work for them.
You may want to include different termination clauses based on various factors. For example, you may allow either party to terminate the relationship effective immediately if the other individual has breached the contract. However, if the reason for termination is simply because one of the parties has changed their mind and no longer wants to continue, they require a four week notice period.
Finally, make sure you get the contract signed! It wouldn’t be a contract without the signatures to show that both parties have read and agreed to the contract details.
While you may want to request that the client physically signs and scans the contract, you can now opt for your contract to be signed digitally via an app.
Digital signatures can be a preferential method as it reduces paper usage, ensures your contracts are digitally saved, and automatically sends your client a copy of the contract upon completion. Whichever method you choose, make sure you get your contract signed to prove that the contract has been previously agreed to by both yourself and your client.
Hope this helps! Again, this isn’t legal advice. I’ve worked as a freelancer and then worked with freelancers on behalf of companies, so it’s simply a list of things I’ve seen and found helpful in freelance contracts.