While the world of freelance offers many great perks including increased flexibility and independence, it also entails fulfilling important responsibilities such as executing a freelance contract prior to starting work.
Just hearing the word “contract” is enough to induce anxiety in some solopreneurs. Perhaps you aren’t sure where to begin, or find it too time consuming. The truth is, drafting contracts isn’t all that scary of a process when you break it down.
By taking the time to create a comprehensive agreement, you will paint a clear and concise picture outlining the expectations of both you and your client, the scope of the job, and more. As an added perk, you’ll demonstrate to your client that you’re a true professional who is serious about delivering the highest quality work product possible.
Here are a few tips to help you write a rock-solid freelance contract without the headaches and guesswork.
Defining your scope
Let’s start with the Statement of Work (SOW), which is a fancy term for the written communications you’ll align with your client on regarding the scope and details of the project at hand. In the SOW, it’s imperative to cover topics such as scope and resources, in addition to providing a timeline/schedule to which you intend to adhere.
A well-thought-out scope definition will provide a comprehensive description of “what” is to be delivered, and the “how,” that is, the method by which it will be delivered. It should also detail the tasks and resources needed to support the deliverables as well as provide a simple, but articulated governance framework to help your client understand who is responsible for certain decisions and work products. This may or may not include a statement about who has authority for any changes that may be made to the scope of the work and/or who should provide assistance should any issues surface.
A few examples of resource-related questions worth clarifying in your contract include who is on the project (is it just you or will you be bringing on subcontractors)? What hats will they be wearing? What skills do each individual bring to the table, and when will they be mobilized? For instance, will they be on board for the entire project, or will they be brought in later on? What hours will they be contributing? Are all participants working at the same location or will some work remotely? For which tasks are they not accountable?
Timing & expectations
When outlining the timeline of your project, be sure to incorporate reasonable start and finish dates and expected duration of each activity or deliverable in the freelance contract. When mapping out major milestones, be cautious to space them out appropriately and allot time for any obstacles that may be encountered to be addressed without the consequence of derailment. These should be reflective of substantive portions of the project and differentiated from the smaller items that must be checked off to reach the given progress point. The SOW is the most time-intensive section, and it’s with good reason. Aligning on expectations and a roadmap to hit the objectives at hand is the simplest, most proactive way to ensure a smooth engagement.
A thorough freelance contract will also state the major risks and assumptions related to the work so that you and your client can communicate easily and transparently. It also helps your client anticipate certain outcomes that might otherwise not have crossed their mind. As a result, they can plan their work accordingly. An example of a risk that you may outline would be “schedule days as a result of failure of client review of deliverables on time.” Examples of assumptions that may be stated include, “my plan assumes on-time client review of deliverables,” “client ability to participate in workshops or trainings,” or “access to resources (such as data) over the weekends.”
A sound freelance contract should also tackle the legal terms and conditions of the work, and this is especially important for creatives who might be dealing with copyright laws and other ownership nuances. This should address questions including how are you to be paid and within what time frame, will you be reimbursed for work-incurred expenses, and who owns the trademark or copyrights to the content. This section may also include items such as a non-disclosure agreement (NDA), provisions with respect to processes to be followed if there are changes made to scope or payment, and if there is a need to terminate the agreement.
Where do I start?
Fortunately, there are resources available to make it easy for you to customize a standard contract template that has been vetted by trusted experts on creating freelance contracts. The Freelancers Union, the largest advocacy group for independent workers in the U.S., recently teamed up with AND CO to develop the Freelance Contract, a starting point for any freelancer who wants to create a safe and secure SOW and contract prior to beginning an engagement. Remember, you should never begin work without a countersigned agreement in hand.
As a solopreneur, you’re no doubt passionate about your work–but it’s also critical to protect yourself when it comes to creating sound operating agreements prior to starting new work. With these best practices, you’ll be well on your way.
Written by the team at AND CO a support system for freelancers. We help independent workers manage the operations of their businesses with ease, so they can focus on what they really care about: the work. With AND CO, freelancers can invoice clients, draft contracts, automate expense reporting and more, all from an intuitive mobile and web app.