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Freelancing Contract: All the Must-Have Clauses You Can’t Ignore

The feeling of signing a new client never gets old…but the problems that can turn these relationships sour do. Some shy away from creating a freelancing contract because the thought of it overwhelms them or they don’t understand the consequences of not having one. After years in the business, I know a thing or two about contracts. Now, I want to share those things with you, so you can start every client relationship off on the right foot.

Before we jump into the post, a note: This is based on my experience in the freelance business. I’m not a legal professional and this content about creating a freelancing contract shouldn’t be taken as legal advice. 

What is the purpose of a freelance contract?

Freelance contracts are essential. You can use them to set expectations and ensure that you and your clients are clear on who is responsible for what. A good contract protects both sides and you can refer back to it if things aren’t going according to plan.

Do I need a contract as a freelancer?

You absolutely need to have a contract as a freelancer. Don’t work without having a signed contract. If a client is asking you to do so, consider this a red flag. Having this document is in your best interest, and it’s also beneficial for your clients. 

What does a freelance contract need to have?

Your freelancing contract can include all kinds of clauses. Here’s a closer look at eight essential elements in my contract. 

1. Scope

You can think of the scope as a high-level view of your project. This is a good place to start with your contract because you can summarize the type of work you’ll be doing, the resources you need, and what time frame you’ll work in.

2. Project deliverables

Your contract should lay out exactly what you’ll hand over to the client at the end of a project. For example, a freelance writer may make an offer to do several blog posts and put a limit on how long those posts can be. Virtual assistants may agree to work a certain number of hours per month or on a number of pre-selected tasks that the client chooses.

You don’t want to find out halfway through the project that the client wants something from you that you didn’t agree to. Take a few minutes to outline exactly what you’ll provide in as much detail as is reasonable.

3. Payment rate and payment schedule

In this section, write out how much you expect to be paid, and make it clear what the total will be. Ideally, you would have already discussed this with your client beforehand or included it in your proposal to them, before they get to this part of the contract. Your rate shouldn’t come as a surprise, but this document should serve as confirmation of what they’re agreeing to pay, and when.

You have to be clear about your specific payment policies for each project that you do. If you bill an hourly rate, will you send invoices on a weekly or monthly basis? If you work on retainer, do you require a deposit? And what happens if a client pays your invoice late? Maybe you stop working until they pay or you charge a late fee.

4. Deadlines

It’s no secret that you have to stick to your deadlines to make it in the freelance world, but this can get a little tricky if you leave it up to the client. Your contract gives you the opportunity to explain what deadlines you can meet and share them with the client before they ever agree to work with you.

5. Termination clause

While we all want every project we work on to go smoothly, sometimes, that isn’t reality. If a client isn’t taking on their responsibilities or giving you the resources that you need to do your work or violates some other term in your contract, you need to be able to end the agreement.  Your client may also want to have the right to terminate the agreement with you under certain conditions with an agreed-upon amount of notice.

Make sure that all parties know when it’s appropriate to terminate the agreement and what steps need to be taken to do that properly. This will make it easier to handle the situation professionally if it comes up.  

6. Ownership rights and credit

You may sign a contract that transfers ownership over to your client, and often that’s not an issue. Another thing to think about, though, is whether or not you need to be credited for that work and how you’re allowed to use the work.

As a freelance writer, I’ve ghostwritten content for my clients. That means my name isn’t shown along with some pieces I create. However, clients aren’t allowed to do that without my permission. My current contract states that they need to credit me for the work I provide. If they have a problem with that, they must request a change.

I also reserve the right to include the work I produce in my freelance portfolio. This is a clause in my contract because I want clients to know I might showcase the work I’ve done for them on my website. It’s very rare that any client has an issue with this, but if they do it’s their responsibility to notify me and ask me to modify the contract.

7. Revision details 

Despite our best efforts to get a sense of what it will be like to work with a client before we start a project, it’s hard to know just how picky they’ll be. Picky is okay, but it crosses a line when a client asks for an endless amount of revisions and won’t sign off on a deliverable you submit.

Limiting the number of revisions that a client can request protects you, and it requires clients to be mindful when they provide feedback. They can’t pop into the file you sent, take a quick glance and send over a few notes at a time. Instead, they’ll need to stick to the number of revisions you agree to provide. 

8. Signatures

Many people believe that contracts aren’t valid if all parties don’t sign them. That isn’t necessarily the case as some courts have ruled a contract valid even when it isn’t countersigned. Here’s the catch: If a client doesn’t countersign your contract they may believe that it isn’t actually valid. They might use that point to argue about different terms and what the agreement is. 

Consequences of not having a solid freelancing contract

Still not convinced that you need to have a freelance contract? These are some of the things you could face if you choose not to have one in place before you begin working with a client.

Scope creep

This can happen when clients drastically change up the original project requirements or try to add extra work to your plate. If you don’t have a contract in place that clearly states what you agree to, it will be hard to push back on these requests.

Project delays

Knowing when a project will start and finish is important. This helps you understand the state of your finances and your availability for projects in the future. That’s why you need a clear start date in your contract. Clients must know when they need to provide resources to you, and what happens if they don’t. Otherwise, projects could start late or take much longer than you thought they would. 

Late payment or non-payment

Without a contract, you may find that clients take a while to pay, or don’t pay you at all. Having a freelance contract protects you by acting as proof that a client agreed to compensate you for your work.

Unfortunately, I’ve been in more than one situation where a client has attempted not to pay me. I’m grateful that I had the ability to keep referring back to my contract. I was able to confidently tell those clients they didn’t have the option to walk away without payment, and I did eventually get those payments.

Lack of credit

If nothing in your contract says that clients have to credit you for your work, you might not receive recognition. This can take a toll on your visibility and it can result in you leaving money on the table. I often charge more on projects where I won’t be receiving credit. 

Can you write your own freelancing contract?

You can, but it isn’t something I would recommend. There are a variety of options and resources that you can find online. Use these, instead of trying to put on your legal hat and throwing something together.

Reliable sources for freelance contract templates partnered with the Freelancers Union to create a freelancing contract that builds a secure, mutual, and fair relationship with every client. They also offer a full suite of business tools, from invoicing to proposal creation and more, so you can do everything in one place.

Freelancers Union

Another option is to use the custom freelance contract creator from Freelancers Union. This tool will walk you through the process of creating a unique, legally binding agreement in just a few minutes. 

Contact a lawyer

If you don’t want to find one on the web, you can hire a lawyer to write a contract. This will come with additional costs, but bringing in a legal expert could be worth it if it will give you peace of mind.

What if a client asks me to sign their contract?

Sometimes, clients will have their own contract that they’ll need you to sign as well. That’s normal. Make sure you take the time to review the contract to confirm there isn’t anything that conflicts with the terms in your freelancing contract.

Get more of the freelancing tips you need

Freelancing is rewarding, but it’s also challenging. Putting a freelance agreement together and enforcing it with clients is scary for many business owners. I get it. I’ve been there.

You don’t have to navigate the world of freelancing with hesitancy in every step. Sign up for the Freelancing Flow newsletter. You’ll get the tips you need to start and scale a business that works for you


If you have more questions about freelance contracts, comment below or reach out on Twitter @alygouletwrites

Header photo credit: Photo by Cytonn Photography from Pexels

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