Contracts are yet another area over which freelancers often fret. After all, we’re not lawyers — how should we know how to put a contract together? Fortunately, the practical reality is that you are perfectly capable of putting an appropriate contract together for your services. One thing is for certain: whenever working for a client, you must have a contract in place.
A contract is defined in the dictionary as follows:
A written or spoken agreement, especially one concerning employment, sales, or tenancy, that is intended to be enforceable by law.
Contrary to popular belief, a contract does not have to be a formalized written agreement with a signature from both parties. It can be as simple as an email exchange.
The primary purpose of your agreement with a client is to clarify all potential points of contention so that a dispute hopefully never arises. It is highly unlikely that you will ever use a freelance blogging contract in a legal dispute because you’ll probably never be in a situation where doing so would be worth the time or money.
So forget about legal mumbo jumbo and focus instead upon the practical elements that you should include in any freelance blogging contract.
The most important thing you should consider when drafting a contract is this: the quality of the client is far more important than the quality of the contract. I haven’t prepared a formal contract for many months because negotiating relatively brief and practically worded agreements with trustworthy clients means that formalized contracts are not worth the hassle.
I am going to go into great detail below regarding the information you should include within a contract but don’t let that intimidate you. It is up to you how complicated you decide to make your client agreements.
Scope of Works
The scope of works should be described in detail:
- What is the agreed word count (or word count range)?
- What format will you deliver the work in?
- Are you responsible for sourcing images?
- Are you expected to create or edit images/graphics?
- Should images be stock photos or Creative Commons?
- Will you have a byline?
- What is the deadline date?
- Are there measureable milestones?
- Are there provisions for unexpected delays?
- Is there a procedure for increasing/decreasing the scope of works?
The more detailed the scope of works, the less likely there is to be a misunderstanding down the line.
The most important part of a contract is of course the rate that you will be paid for the described scope of works.
The rate should be described in utterly unambiguous terms, for example:
The Client will pay the Contractor $60USD for one 400-600 word article, the length of which within those boundaries to be determined by the Contractor.
Payment terms should be clearly stipulated within the contract. This will be even more important if you deal with corporate clients (who typically take far longer to pay).
In my experience it is not unreasonable to demand payment within 14-30 days of the invoice date. You may find that the majority of your clients are happy to pay upon presentation (all but two of my clients do).
Furthermore, if you are working on a particularly big project, you should consider stage payments. These would have to be set against measureable milestones as agreed between you and the client.
Clients can kill projects after you have started work on them. If you are working on blog posts this is unlikely to pose too much of a problem (as each piece of self-contained work is small), but it is still a good idea to determine a “kill fee” within the contract.
A kill fee is essentially an agreed amount of money that you will be compensated with in the event that the work as defined in the contract is cancelled. There is no “standard” amount for a kill fee, but in the case of blogging, defining it should be pretty simple:
- If you are paid on a per-article basis, full payment should be due if you started work, regardless of how much work you actually did. If a prospective client complains about this, you might consider them too petty to be worth working with.
- If you are paid per period or for a set of posts, the kill fee should equal the amount of work done pro-rata. For example, if the contract value was $1,000 for 10 articles and you finished 5 before the project was killed, you would be owed $500.
The topic of revisions often divides freelancers. There are two main points of view:
- You should offer unlimited revisions
- You should contract for a limited number of revisions
I am sat firmly in the first camp for two reasons:
- It fills any prospective client with confidence as to the quality of your work (as mentioned in the section on Creating Your Blog, unlimited revisions can be advertised as a unique selling point).
- Freelance blogging does not tend to attract revision-hungry clients.
Consider it this way: if a client constantly wants multiple revisions of a blog post they may as well write the damn thing themselves. The story is different when it comes to say web design, where a client may want to get their vision just right. But in the blogging world, if you’re a good writer you’ll rarely be asked for multiple revisions.
I think a lot of the fear regarding unlimited revisions is based upon the imagined nightmare client who seems hell-bent on revising your work into perpetuity. In reality, such clients are incredibly rare (I have never encountered one). If you extract a clear scope of works from the client and do quality work then there is no reason why you should have to worry about revisions.
It is generally a good idea to clarify ownership of your writing. The terms should be simple: you own copyright of anything that you write for the client until they make full payment, at which point the copyright ownership transfers to them.
In theory, this protects both parties — the writer from the work being used without payment and the client from the writer using the material elsewhere.
Implied Contract Terms
Contracts are not set in stone. If you agree a scope of works but end up doing something different without complaint (and get paid for it), the client could reasonably argue that the contract has changed. The terms on paper may not have been altered but your actions have set a new precedent.
This is important to bear in mind if you begin to find yourself a victim of scope creep (a scenario where the client asks you to do more work than you agreed for the same price). It only remains as scope creep if you dispute it — otherwise the additional work arguably becomes part of the contract.
Focus on Practicality
I would like to reiterate that you shouldn’t be intimidated by the prospect of drafting a contract. As long as you communicate the key terms to your client and they confirm their acceptance then you have a contract in place. How far you go in terms of formalizing those terms is ultimately up to you.