Would you start using freelance contracts if the process didn’t feel so confusing? Good news. It doesn’t need to be. There’s no reason to feel like you have to spend hours researching or hire an expensive lawyers.
In fact, creating a solid contract is quite simple.
All you need to do is outline a few specific elements, make sure everyone agrees, get it signed and store it some place safe. It sets clear expectations and serves as a foundational element of superb client management.
There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be using them. So, in today’s article, I’ll take you through 9 essential elements of a freelance agreement, and you’ll have it put together in no time.
1. Outline the Services You’ll Provide
If you’ve been freelancing for a while, this should be the easiest section to develop. All you need to do is list the services that you’ll be providing for the client.
Feel free to make it as simple or elaborate as you wish. For example, it could be simple:
- 6x Blog Posts / Month
- 20x Facebook Posts
- Monthly Editorial Calendar
Or, you could take a more in-depth approach:
- [6 hours] 2x blog posts on business topics
- [6 hours] 2x blog posts on entrepreneur lifestyle
- [6 hours] 2x blog posts on financial tips
- [10 hours] Facebook post development
- [4 hours] Facebook community management
- [2 hours] Monthly Editorial Calendar Development
It all depends on your personal style preference. The main key here is that you outline everything that’s expected of you for the project.
2. Be Clear About What You Won’t Provide
This is where you can get yourself into a frustrating situation if you ignore it. Freelance contracts are as much about what you will do as they are about what you won’t.
Let’s say you’re a graphic designer and a client has hired you to help with the website elements.
If you have a gentleman’s agreement that lacks a structured contract, you could end up doing brand identify for his social media channels and sales collateral too. Likewise, if your contract just states that you’ll provide graphic design for the website, the client could interpret that as your willingness to design an entirely new logo.
3. Include a Clause Regarding Scope Creep
If you’re really great at your job, clients will want to get as much of your talent as possible. This is very flattering, and it can be easy to accept more and more work in an effort to keep clients happy. But there are plenty of other ways to please your clients.
Getting caught up in scope creep endangers your margins, steals your time and keeps you from giving 100% to all your projects. Make sure to include a clause in your freelance agreement that addresses this possibility.
Basically, you want to share that you won’t do extra work for free. After doing this a while, I can usually tell when a potential client will end up wanting extra work. I’ve found it’s often helpful to include an additional sheet attached to the contract that outlines any specific rates that you have for other services you provide.
4. Explain Your Schedule and Contingencies
Freelancers have an infamous reputation of falling behind schedule or bailing in the middle of a project. The former often happens because, as a freelancer, you carry the entire project on your shoulders. And sometimes things just happen.
When possible, build your schedule directly into the contract.
- Milestone dates for one-time projects.
- Recurring due dates for retainers. (e.g. Due on the 4th Friday of every month.)
You’ll also want to mention contingencies. What will you do if life happens and you fall behind schedule? For example, a contingency for late work could say:
If the due date needs to be extended, the Freelancer will inform the client via phone or email at least 24 hours before the deadline.
Boundaries are also important. If you have a set structure, this could be a good place to mention them. For example, you may have set working hours (e.g. 10am-5pm, Monday through Friday). Outlining your regular schedule in a contract will ensure clients aren’t calling about work when you aren’t available.
Something as simple as this can help you keep your reputation strong in the face of difficult circumstances. Everything in life comes down to communication.
5. Clearly Define Termination of Contract
Strong freelance contracts also includes a note on ending the relationship. This happens sometimes, and it’s important that both sides are protected should it occur.
With this section, I like to primarily include a timeframe for announcing the end of a contract.
If you’re the one firing a client, then it’s reasonable to give them a 14 to 30-day heads up. That way they have the opportunity to find a new contractor. Likewise, encouraging clients to provide a notice of contract termination gives you the chance to quickly find a new client.
6. Share Payment Expectations
Knowing how to set your hourly rate is the key to being successful in freelancing.
But you have to do more than calculate it – you must communicate your rate to the client, along with your expectations. I like to make sure everyone knows my conditions when it comes to money. This just makes everything much easier, and helps you avoid awkward conversations.
You’ll want to outline the following:
- The rate you’ll charge for the project on a one-time or recurring basis.
- What you charge for work outside the scope of your contract.
- How you expect to receive payment. (e.g. 100% at beginning of contract)
- Dates for each additional installments (for recurring contracts or milestones).
- Methods you use to accept payments. (i.e. credit card or check)
Outlining financial expectations has not only made getting paid much easier, but it also seems to make my clients feel much more comfortable with my services. When they know what to expect, it helps me get paid on time, every time.
Strengthen Your Business With Freelance Contracts
I think one of the keys to success is accountability. And that’s exactly what you get when you put together this little document.
Trust me, I know that it can feel like a waste of time. After all, you trust your potential client and they trust you – that’s why you want to work together. But contracts aren’t about a lack of trust. They’re about making sure communication is on point and everyone’s on the same page.
Have you ever had an instance where a client expected something that you didn’t agree to? Or was there a time when you forgot about something you were suppose to provide? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments below.
About the Author: Chelsei Henderson is a content marketing consultant that has been freelancing for 10 years. She’s currently helping other freelancers and entrepreneurs succeed at business and life. Feel free to follow her on Instagram.