May 20th, 2012
Freelancer Q&A: Do I Need A Contract?
By Dana Neuts
YES! When writing for publication or producing for broadcast, the media outlet that hires you is likely to have its own contract. When the client does not provide one, however, I recommend that you provide your own. Sure, it seems like an extra step, maybe even a hassle, but a contract protects you and your client. It spells out what you will do (e.g., write, edit), what the client will do (e.g., pay you) and the terms of the agreement.
If you can afford it, it is ideal to have a contract drafted by an attorney familiar with the work of independent contractors. If you can’t afford it, look at samples of similar contracts online and draft a one or two-page business agreement that meets your needs. You can also revise it as circumstances dictate.
So what should a business agreement include? This depends on your business and unique circumstances, but it should at least contain these basic elements:
• Names of the parties involved in the agreement
• Date of the agreement
• Services you will provide along with applicable deadlines
• Agreed upon rate or price for the project
• Payment terms, including how late payments will be handled
• Indemnification clause
• Confidentiality clause
• Termination clause
• Client signature block (to include name of authorized party, room for his or her signature, date of the signature, mailing address, and preferred email address and phone number)
• Your signature, date of the signature and your tax identification number
When a client and I have agreed to work together, I explain that I will email them a simple business agreement that outlines the terms we have agreed upon. I ask them to sign and return the signature page, and let them know that I’ll begin work upon my receipt of the document. This last step is precautionary, and I don’t always follow it. It primarily provides an incentive for a brand new client to review and sign the business agreement promptly, so I can start work on the project.
Though I have a signed agreement from each of my clients, I’ve only needed to use them twice to enforce contract terms. In one case, I needed the agreement to provide the project price when I turned an unpaid bill over to a collection agency. In the other, I used the agreement to fire a client who wouldn’t provide me with the information I needed to produce the work.
Hopefully, you’ll never need to enforce the terms of your agreement, but if you do, you’ll be glad you have the signed contract, and you’ll find that most clients appreciate the professionalism of having such an agreement.
Dana Neuts is a full-time freelance writer based in the Seattle area. In addition to writing for publications like South Sound magazine and The Seattle Times, she is the owner and publisher of several hyperlocal community sites including iLoveKent.net and iLoveWashington.net. She is the regional director for SPJ’s Region 10 and the chairman of the SPJ freelance committee.