Freelance Writing Jobs for Newbies: Writing a Crystal Clear Contract

You may have worked with one or heard of one before. They often ruin your day, week or month. Who is it that I’m speaking of?

For the freelance writer, it’s the dreaded crappy client.

Don’t be fooled by other names given to them:

Freelance Writing Jobs for Newbies: Writing a Crystal Clear Contract

The scope-creeper: a client who asks for one teeny tiny extra thing at first and then demands more and more of you, going beyond what you agreed to do for them.

The dodgy dancer: a client who never fully gives you all the information to help you with your content creation. Then, when you submit your work, complains you didn’t create the content they had envisioned.

The micro-managing monster: a client who constantly wants an update from you or who emails you constantly and has a hard time giving up control.

The late payer: a client who always pays late, never apologizes and makes you feel like a nagger for wanting to get paid on time.

For many new freelance writers, this is not an uncommon client. Crappy clients are everywhere and it takes experience to spot them before you decide to work with them.

Luckily for you, there’s an easy way to protect yourself from bad clients who may walk all over you because you are new to freelance writing. So what is it?

It’s the contract.

This is the last post in my blog series, Freelance Writing Jobs for Newbies. For my last post, I’m adding another variable, a contract, to the freelance writing success equation.

So far in my blog series, I have laid out some key elements to a successful freelance writing business:

My blog series is intended to help new freelance writers navigate the path to better paying clients. So, let’s get started.

Why Are Contracts Important for Freelance Writers?

I’m sure you’ve read about it or heard from others, that whenever you are working with someone new, to “get it on paper“. Even if that someone is a friend or family member.

What is it? It refers to what you and a prospective client has agreed to. Just shaking hands on it won’t give you peace of mind when it’s a new month and you still haven’t gotten paid for the work you’ve done the previous month.

So, why is it important to get it in writing?

  1.  It protects you if the client decides to ditch you and your content.
  2. Helps you avoid any misunderstandings or communication glitches you may have, before you begin a collaboration with a client.
  3. It shows that you are a professional and you mean business when you present a contract to a client.
  4. It helps in getting paid (but not all the time. There are still people that will take advantage of you and not pay you for your work. Having a contract, however, helps lesson this chance).

So why don’t many freelance writers (including myself) have a contract when they first start? For me, I’m in the process of drafting a contract for future collaborations with local businesses and for online companies.

Up until this point though, I didn’t have a contract, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t sign any. Currently, I’m under my clients’ contracts for any services I preform. These clients hire many freelance writers and journalists so it’s nothing new for them to hire a writer.

There are other reasons why new freelance writers might not use a contract:

  • They feel the writing project is miniscule and doesn’t require a legal contract
  • They don’t know how to draft a contract
  • They think if they worked with family or friends they don’t’t need a contract

Whatever the case is, not having a contract in place is a HUGE risk to you. Your chances of getting screwed by a scope-creeper or a micro-managing monster is greater when there’s nothing in place.

What’s to stop a client from paying you right away? Since there’s nothing in writing, he could wait years before paying you.

So, if you don’t want to get walked all over, consider putting a contract or service agreement together. Here are 7 crystal clear clauses you can put in your freelance writing contract

1. The Scope of Your Work Clause

To tame the scope-creeper, determine specifically what services you will do for the client. This is your chance to make it clear to the client what services you will perform. Your clause can mention work outside of this scope, but it requires a new contract with new rates. For example, you should mention:

  • Effective date to begin services
  • Length of time for services (if the client doesn’t have an end date, you can specify an indefinite period of time)
  • Itemized list of services to be preformed (blog post of set amount of words based on a topic choice you or the client chooses, revisions, fact-checking and research and anything else like social media marketing, newsletter creation etc…)

Also mention the nature of your work. What I mean is to make it clear that all work you create is original and that you are the sole author. It’s also a good idea to mention that any stats or resources you do use are, to the best of your knowledge, accurate and truthful and that it doesn’t infringe on any copyright or privacy rights.

The scope of work is contingent on what you and the client agrees to. It’s wise for a freelance writer to write everything down when interviewing the client to get a better picture of what they want.

Moreover, it’s a good idea to send an email re-hashing what you discussed before you write your contract in order to get all the facts straight.

2. Ownership Clause

It’s generally understood that companies you end up working with, will have complete ownership to your work once you are paid.

In North America, this is referred to as a, “Work-for-hire” agreement. A freelance writer, once paid, will give up all ownership to their content.

It makes sense to give up ownership to your content when you receive payment. I mean, if I hire and pay a contractor to re-model my kitchen, I don’t expect him to come back years later and demand his counter tops and cupboards back!

The kitchen and the work done to the kitchen is mine. And it’s the same for your content.

What’s of concern for freelance writers like myself, is having recognition for the work we do. We want to be able to add to our portfolio at the same time as having our brand reach new customers.

The best thing to do is approach your client and ask them about having an author byline or author name on your content once it’s published. If you two agree, then put it in writing.

3. Payment Terms and Conditions Clause

For freelance writers, state your rate and how often you will be paid (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, every 30 days etc…). Also mention how clients can pay you (PayPal, direct deposit etc..) and the turnaround time from when you submit your invoice to getting paid.

Other terms you can mention in your contract:

  • Whether or not you require an upfront fee before beginning any work. This is usually between 20%-50% of your rate.
  • Protocol for late payments. For example, you might include a 1.5% interest amount per month for late payments. Having interest accrue is enough incentive for many clients to pay on time.
  • Rush job payment schedule. You may have a %50 upfront fee for rush jobs.

It’s wise to also state if the work requires more time or if there are changes to be made, that renegotiation occurs and a new rate and clause is drafted.

4. Revisions Clause

You might want to specify what is entailed for your revisions and how many revisions you will do. Also mention what editing tools you will use, how you will check your facts and any research you will do. Some clients may not comprehend what you do when you revise your content, so having a clause can help alleviate any concern your client may have.

5. Deadline Clause

It’s important to state when the deadline is for submission and what the turnaround time is for revisions. Sometimes clients start with 1 blog post a week and then move up to 2 or 3 posts a week. If this is the case, state this in your contract so that you won’t be surprised when your client asks for 3 posts in one week.

6. Early Termination Clause

Clients can change their minds about your content and terminate your services without any notice. If this should happen most likely you’re left trying to fulfill another job so you won’t be late on your month’s rent.

To protect you from this happening, have a per-determined dollar amount a client pays should they ditch your services for someone new. This amount is usually %20-%50 of your agreed payment for your content. Some freelance writers require %100 of payment for work they have done regardless if the client ends services early or later.

7. Independent Contractor Clause

It’s a good idea to make sure the client is aware that you’re an independent contractor, not an employee. When you’re an independent contractor you are responsible for all federal, state and/or local taxes when preforming services for your clients.

 When It Comes to Contracts: K.I.S.S

So before you write your contract remember to Keep It Simple Simon! (K.I.S.S). Write it out in plain language or if that’s not your thing, send an email detailing what you and your client agreed to and have them email you back with an approval.

At least it’s on paper and you have documentation to back you up, should you need it.

While I’m still in the process of framing my contract, I can’t give you my sample, but I can direct you to some sample contracts I found useful when researching for this post!

Freelance Writer Agreement – Politico

Sample Freelance Writer Agreement – KSPress

Freelance Contract Template – Pandadoc

This is the end to my series. I hope you found this information useful. I enjoyed writing my blog series and I plan on making it into an eBook that I will give away to new subscribers in the future!

So for experienced freelance writers, do you find having a contract in place beneficial? Do you notice that you deal with a lot less crappy clients?

Hi I'm Elna and I'm a freelance writer and mom blogger. I help people just like you become a profitable freelance writer. Within 6 months of starting my freelance writing business from scratch I was able to earn a full-time living as a part-time freelance writer while taking care of my twin toddlers. Check out my free email course Get Paid to Write Online and learn the steps you need to take to be a freelance writer.

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17 Comments

Hi Elna, I’ve recently been hired as a freelance writer/copyeditor. It is a small company which works online, and they asked me to write a contract. I’m wondering if that’s standard because I heard that it is better to get a lawyer involved. I’ve also done extensive research and noticed that many freelancers write their own contract, so I’m a bit confused. Can you help clear things up in this regard? I’d appreciate it.Reply to Jessica
Hi Jessica, Regarding a contract, I tell my students to use a lawyer to draft one up or just email the client the content order and “rules” and make sure they agree. I don’t personally use contracts for my gigs and I’ve been fine!Reply to Elna
Hi Elna, Thanks for such an informative post. If your client is in another part of the world, when comes to signing off on the contract, how do you go about getting the client to do so?Reply to Kerry
Hey Kerry, Use an editable PDF where you can write your signature!Reply to Elna
I literally just launched my freelance writing business and I can already tell you guys that I’m going to HATE the late payer. I have an anxiety disorder so the thought of “nagging” someone about paying gives me the shivers. I don’t want to think about that thought yet but I know it’s going to happen. I can feel it in my bone marrow. But there’s no way to get around it, is there? Well…other than a great contract where the rules are set in stone. I just gotta make sure the client is aware of my terms in a way that tells them I’m serious about what I’m offering and the consequences for breaking my terms.Reply to Lisa
Elna that KISS tip for keeping things short and sweet helps both parties get clear on what’s being offered and what’s being paid. I keep interactions with my clients to a minimum, meaning I use few words to be clear. Confusion and sometimes chaotic situations arise without clarity, or without simplicity. Smart tips here Elna, keep on inspiring! RyanReply to Ryan
Hi Ryan, Thanks for the comment. KISS should be the motto for our lives right? The one thing I’m quickly learning is to also KISS with email communication. Number your questions and keep your email titles relevant to the topic (i.e. don’t use the same thread for invoices, questions, article submissions etc..). This avoids missed information and “chaotic situations.” Thanks again! ElnaReply to Elna
This is a great overview! I have all of these things in my contract, but this makes me think about a few things I could tweak. I especially found Jenn’s comment useful about what KIND of rights you’re selling. I promise my clients that I’ll never resell the same piece even if it has my name on it, but I now I’m thinking I could get more specific about the rights. I seem to be doing fine right now with my contract as I haven’t run into any problems with clients. This is really a great resource! AliciaReply to Alicia
Thanks Alicia, I value Jenn’s comment regarding ownership. Currently, I’m okay if the company takes full ownership. Like I said before, I don’t plan on re-selling or re-hasing old content. When I write for my clients, I write for their brand in mind, therefore making it useless for another company. But, that’s just what I think. Other freelance writers may have a completely different view and that’s fine!Reply to Elna
Great post! I never thought of the contract part. That is a great idea depending on the client of course. Plus a great way to make sure the client is serious and legit.Reply to Camilla
Hi Camilla, Thanks for commenting. Yes, having a contract in place makes you appear more professional and lays out your terms so that everyone is on the same page. I’m glad this was helpful. ElnaReply to Elna
Having a contract in place helped me to collect on $600 worth of delivered work a few months back! I don’t have one in place for all, but I feel like I have a good idea on who I should with and make it more of a standard practice for new clients. Good info. Elna!Reply to Gina
Hi Gina! Thanks for your comment. Having a contract in place is always a good thing to have! I’m in the same boat as well, for one-piece projects like an eBook design, I don’t have a contract in place. We will see how this goes and if I need to re-evaluate this, I will. Thanks for stopping by! ElnaReply to Elna
Love it, Elna – I think most freelancers are afraid they need to prepare some awfully complex legal document; as if the more complex it is, the more law-abiding it is. And they give up on the contract before they even tried to compile one. I cannot comment on the writers’ specifics but overall, I think your tips are great because 1) you explain why it is important to have a contract and what issues it potentially prevents, but more importantly 2) you give the methodology how one should craft a contract for their own writing business, according to their own specific situations. Thanks for sharing 🙂Reply to Diana
Diana, you couldn’t have said it better! I was hoping to accomplish just that: provide key points to include in your contract and how to implement them. I’m glad you found this useful as a freelancer and could adapt it for your profession. I’m glad you enjoyed my blog series. My readers seem to enjoy it! ElnaReply to Elna
Great post overall. 🙂 I’m going to disagree on one point a bit, and then share another contract clause consideration if that’s okay. Here’s where I disagree: Ownership is something writers need to be careful about. There’s a reason many, if not most, print publications don’t ask freelancers to work under work-for-hire agreements (and instead purchase first rights of some kind). The copyright that comes with it is much more valuable than most clients are willing to pay (or can afford to). Full ownership isn’t something any freelance writer should relinquish lightly. That’s because copyright goes beyond that one finished piece. It can also cover derivative rights. And if you’re a specialist in a niche or industry, you don’t want to be in a position where you can’t write similar things — specialties are inherently limited, and you’re paid a premium for expertise over that limited subject matter (in fact, your livelihood depends on it). If you turn over the copyright rather than something like exclusive online rights or first North American rights, you can never sell reprints. You can never create a derivative work without the first client’s permission (like re-working the piece for a different audience). If you’re going to part with those rights, it’s important to make sure you know how much you could lose in the process. And then charge accordingly. While I almost never part with copyrights for “content,” when a client insists (and if I’m willing), I charge ten times my normal rate. That’s not to say copyright transfers never make sense. If you’re working on internal copy for a company project for example, it makes perfect sense that the client would have all rights to the end material. It’s likely based on their existing documentation, quotes from their employees, etc. anyway, meaning they’re sometimes hiring you to create a derivative work of their own material (so you wouldn’t own the copyright to begin with). But then again, that’s one reason you can often charge much more for copywriting on a per-word / per-page basis. On an unrelated note, Lori Widmer of WordsOnPageBlog.com has a great addition to contracts — something she calls a “posse clause.” This relates to the scope creep issue you mentioned. This is a contract clause where you stipulate how many people you’ll work with or answer to, and who they are. It stops clients from bringing in a train of individuals to offer feedback and revision suggestions when you turn in a draft (their spouse, their friends, their employees, etc.). So, for example, if you turned in copy for a client’s website and they said they loved it, they couldn’t come back in a few days saying “so and so thinks you should change this,” and then the following week with “my son-in-law thinks we should add that, and my buddy thinks we should change that first thing back.” It happens with solopreneurs and their personal contacts, and it happens with larger clients who have too many employees weighing in on projects. What the “posse clause” does is force them to gather all the feedback they plan to gather up front, and then approach you with just one set of feedback and one set of revision requests. It nips the “too many cooks in the kitchen” issue from the start. And if they do start bringing others in at the last minute, they know they’re going to end up paying you more for the hassle. It’s just one form of the PITA fee I suppose. 🙂Reply to Jennifer
Jennifer, Thanks for providing this valuable information! I am new to contracts so what I gathered is all I know. Personally, for me, I mostly do online blog writing and article writing so I am fine giving up ownership rights as long as I get credit for it. I may think differently down the road, but for now, I’m fine with the decisions I have made. Thanks for coming on by and I’m always open to feedback! ElnaReply to Elna