Freelance Contracts: Do’s And Don’ts (via @smashingmag) -

In the world of freelancing, the entrepreneur has to take on a number of tasks for themselves that would normally be handled by a separate department at a bigger company. Most of these tasks are not part of the creative processes that freelance workers are used to, but rather are more tedious, left-brain paperwork. Right-brain creatives often shudder at the thought of these forays into linear domains. Such detail-ridden tasks would strain any freelancer who wears multiple hats, but they must be completed.

One such task is contracts. Drafting a contract that covers you, and doesn’t just enumerate information, is more than important: it is a must. Freelancers do not have the benefit of a legal department dedicated to protecting their interests with a watertight contract. Nevertheless, a freelancer’s contract must be comprehensive, concise and clear. It should outline the scope of the job, scheduling demands, the expectations of both parties and more.

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In this post, we’ll help you identify the information that should be included in your contract and make sure you have a concrete agreement that leaves little chance of things getting out of hand… as can sometimes happen to those of us in the freelancing crowd.

These do’s and don’ts will hopefully remove a lot of the headache and guesswork that comes with drafting a contract. By understanding the rationale behind various contractual elements, you will be able to better customize your contracts to fit the specific job you have been hired for.

The Basics

Include the basic information, obviously. The “who” and the “what” of the project. Who is contracting you to do what kind of work? This is standard stuff included in every contract that defines the job as a whole. While this information is probably well known by both parties, put it in the contract anyway so that everyone is on the same page about their roles and responsibilities. Because it is such basic information, freelancers often overlook how important this section is for establishing the framework of the project.

Do’s and Don’ts

K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple, Simon (your name may not be Simon, but it is nicer than the traditional “S” in the phrase.) Do be sure to clarify your role in the project from start to finish and exactly what it entails, so that the client doesn’t try to put a hat on your head that you do not want to wear (for example, trying to make you switch from designing to providing tech support once the project has launched).

You know who you are and what your strengths are; don’t leave room for the client to change your role in the project for their convenience. Be specific about what roles you are and are not willing to play.

Time Frame

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This simply establishes the time that the project will take and the duration that the contract covers. Sometimes a freelancer has to leave time open after a project’s completion to help integrate the product into the client’s existing media stream. But not always. Determining that time frame at the beginning and formalizing it in the terms and conditions of the contract will ensure you are not taken advantage of.

Do’s and Don’ts

Many people do not like deadlines, and some freelancers are no different. Whether you love or hate them, including deadlines in your contracts is important. Don’t overlook this detail simply because of the pressure it may bring. Give yourself enough time to properly complete your tasks, while keeping the client’s timetable in mind.

Being vague about how much time the contract covers will give your client room to find things for you to improve after the project has launched. Also, do be sure to include time frames on when the client needs to respond to your submissions with their questions and concerns, so that you are not endlessly strung along waiting to hear back on how to proceed.

Delivery Details

Putting this in the contract further clarifies expectations at the outset. The client knows up front what the final product will be and how you will be delivering it to them. This frees you from having to guess later on things like what file types they can access, and it gives the client peace of mind knowing that you are both on the same page.

It also gives you an indication of the depth of the client’s knowledge in this area of work and how well they will be able to work with the product once you hand it over. And being able to anticipate the client’s need for assistance in accessing and integrating your product will help you formulate other parts of the contract.

Do’s and Don’ts

Once again, keep it simple. Once you’ve assessed the client’s needs, don’t send them more files or file types than are needed to satisfy the project’s requirements. Don’t try to impress them with a ZIP file full of extras that show how professional you are. This will overwhelm clients who are not design-savvy and encourages needless pestering. Keeping it simple will move your client happily along their way, not only giving you peace of mind from a job well done but freeing you from future distractions as you move on to your next client.

The Financials

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For most design work, billing by the job, rather than by the hour, is easier for everyone. You may have already come to an agreement on financial matters, but include them in the contract anyway for good measure. Just because you have an understanding about payment, the client could always conveniently “forget” the amount or change the terms.

Do’s and Don’ts

Agree on an initial deposit (whatever seems fair) before doing any work, to protect both parties if either wants to back out. Make sure the client understands that this deposit protects them as well by committing you to the project and keeping you from being sidetracked by other clients. Also include a Cancellation Clause in the financial section of the contract. This isn’t Santa’s less famous brother; it actually protects you, the freelancer, in case your client backs out by stating the financial obligations of both parties should the project terminate before completion.

Revisions And Alterations

You can also protect yourself by including a clause that states how many alterations and revisions to the product are covered by the fee. You can set the pricing for changes requested by the client that go beyond the number specified in the contract, thus preventing the client from abusing their privilege.

Be clear that this is not a commentary on either party; by including this, you are not implying that the client will be hard to please or that you will need multiple attempts to get it right. It simply recognizes that we sometimes need time to fully process something before making a decision and that we should have the freedom to change our minds about whether an idea works or not once we actually see it in action.

Do’s and Don’ts

Remember that professionalism should win out at all times, so don’t let this part of the contract be any different. Yes, it can be aggravating how some clients come back to you over and over with requests as a result of every whim that moves them, but do be reasonable. Don’t punish all of your clients because of one that burned you in the past. And don’t let pride keep you from accommodating a modest amount of revision by the client, even if they don’t suit your taste. After all, the design may be yours, but they are paying you to create it for them.

The Fine Print And Bottom Line

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In the end, make sure the contract is professional and clear throughout, and be as detailed as possible in defining the roles of both parties in the project.

Further Resources

Here are some further articles and related resources:

About the Author

Rob Bowen is a talented author and graphic designer, celebrated podcaster and poet, who is now the co-editor and imaginative co-contributor of Fuel Your Creativity. With a background in most areas of the arts, Rob works from a creative wellspring that shows no sign of running dry.

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© Robert Bowen for Smashing Magazine, 2009. |
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