March 20, 2009
When you’re self employed and working on a “contract” basis rather than an employee of a business, it’s important to have a well-written contract in place. The client contract should be designed to protect both you and the client during your business relationship and include the following (at a minimum):
Description of the Project: Write out in detail what the project consists of. That way, when you are finished with the work and the client asks you to do something more than the contract states, you can draw up a new contract and treat the additional work as a new job.
Project Quote: Depending on the work you do, your contract may serve as the purchase order agreement (and state the final cost of the project barring any changes); or may only provide the estimate for the project with the final amount determined only after all work as been completed. Your contract should state that information clearly. If your contract states the final price of the project, you may also want to include payment terms (installments, 50% up front, etc).
Change Requests: How many changes or project revisions are you willing to make? Whether you are a writer, graphics designer or web developer - there is often a need for revisions or changes. Sometimes it is simply a matter of the client not knowing what they want until they see something you’ve created for them; and other times the client clearly changes their mind after you give them exactly what they asked for! Include details for how you will handle change requests in your contract to eliminate potential problems.
Completed Date: Include the date of delivery for the completed project so the client knows when to expect their work. This helps the client know they’re not being ignored if they don’t hear from you for a few days after work begins; and it motivates you to stay on task and provide the finished work on time.
Client Approval: When you send your work to your clients for review, how long is reasonable for them to approve or request changes? In other words - do you want the project lingering in their hands for 7 days or 27 days after you’ve completed it? Your contract should give the clients a specific time frame to approve or request changes after you’ve submitted the work and if they don’t contact you within that time frame, the work is considered “approved and complete” and that a final invoice will be sent at that time. This saves you from being asked to do revisions on a project that was completed weeks ago; and helps keep your cash flow positive.
Confidentiality Clause: Depending on the nature of your work, you may be expected to keep all information confidential about the project. Some clients have to send you confidential documents and information pertaining to their processes and systems which you must not share with anyone else. Include your agreement to confidentiality in your contract to give your clients piece of mind.
Relationship: You may want to use the contract to confirm that you are working on a freelance/contractual basis and not as an employee to your client.
Guarantees/Warranties: If your work is guaranteed or warrantied for certain situations, be sure to include the details in your contract. If there are time limits for the guarantees and/or warranties, or it only applies to certain situations, be sure to include those details as well.
Contract Exit Procedure: All contracts should include a termination agreement in case either the client or you want to get out of your original agreement for some reason. What happens to deposits or installments paid to you if the work is not completed? What if the client cancels the project after you’ve already completed most of it? Consider all situations for ending a contract and write out how to handle each situation.
Signatures: Your contract should include the date and your signature as well as the date and signature of the client. Clients should return the agreements to you signed before you begin any work.
It’s a good idea for freelancers to have their contracts looked at by a lawyer to ensure they are legally binding should you ever need to use them. Having to use a contract for these purposes is rare; but they do come in very handy when a client has questions about payments or whether the work was completed as it was requested - since you can simply refer back to your client contract to answer the questions.