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Learning the do's and don'ts of creating a freelance contract template is crucial to getting paid for the freelance work you do and maintaining a good relationship with the client. As a freelancer, you are your own business, and nobody else will handle the paperwork for you. It can be daunting to try to manage your own business like this, but also extremely rewarding. This can be especially true if you have the right tools, documents, and measures in place to protect your business interests.

A freelance contract is one of the most important documents any freelancer can have. It is a legally binding document that serves the main purpose of defining the business relationship between two parties, the client and you as the freelance service provider. No matter if you're just starting out or have been freelancing for years, having a contract is always for your interest and your clients. The contract doesn't need to be unnecessarily long, complicated, or full of legalese. Ultimately, it just needs to outline your relationship with the client; specifying who does what, when, and what happens if that's done (or not).

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Credits: Image courtesy of Pinterest.com

Why do I need a Freelance Contract?

A freelance contract can be the one thing that saves you from a lot of business-related stress and heartache. It could be your only protection against being defrauded and your time and resources being wasted. This is because, in any relationship, there can arise conflicts. For instance, you might provide a service to a client, and after delivering it, s/he fails to pay. S/he might also claim that you failed to deliver on your end of the bargain.

The specifics of the conflict are, a contract will protect the interests of both parties. It also provides a basis on which to seek legal redress should you find yourself dealing with a client from hell. Such clients often won’t pay, do so only after a prolonged wait or when faced with legal action, widen the scope of the project without regard to the initial agreement, or simply do things that make your work and life difficult. That’s why a contract is essential; to help you deal with the problems that can arise, including expensive lawsuits, and also define a way out of a troublesome business relationship.

To reap the benefits of a freelance contract, you need to, first of all, create a good one, which both you and your client should sign it to make it binding.

If you don’t know how to prepare one, a freelance contract template will be invaluable to you. You, however, need to pick a template that will work best for you. Take note of these clauses, dos and don'ts when evaluating a contract template for your freelance work.

Tips for a great freelance contract template

Clearly, outline what freelance work you will do (and won't do) for the client.

This is crucial, especially if there a high chance of grey areas arising. This is important because, without it, there can easily be misinterpretations and errors that can easily lead to costly conflicts. The more details you put in, the fewer opportunities for misunderstandings and common issues like scope creep. Doing this helps you avoid instances where on completion of the freelance job, the client insists that there are other services that you were expected to provide.

If you don’t make what you are supposed to do clear, you might find yourself having to deliver a service that wasn’t part of the deal for the sake of keeping the relationship with the client. Such an occurrence could mean losses for you. Therefore, if you don’t want to learn the hard way, include as much detail as possible on what you will do for the price agreed upon.

For the sake of profits and peace, if people tend to expect a certain service to be part of the deal, you need to explicitly state that you will not provide it.

Be very clear about time frames:

When will you deliver the freelance work, how long does the client have to review it, and when will you get paid. These are items of a freelance contract template that should never be taken granted. This is because the lack of clarity on this can lead to trouble between you and your client. The freelance contract needs to give you adequate time to complete the task or deliver the service at or above the expected level of quality. This is essential if the freelance service you are offering is often delayed by certain things. Therefore, you should know your work rhythm and include some extra time for you to deal with things that might arise and prevent on-time completion.  

Making the time frames, clear helps to ensure that things run according to schedule. For instance, if the client needs to review or test a certain part of the project before you continue, the project’s completion can be delayed. If you are still asking yourself why this is important, remember that keeping your word can attract new clients. Your ability and commitment to meeting the deadlines can be a basis on which clients decide whether to call you up again or recommend you to a friend.

Be very clear about things like intellectual property ownership:

What happens to the IP before and after the client pays? Do they own the final product or everything that you used to produce that product? This may seem like splitting hairs, but it's important to be clear about these things. Intellectual property rights are so crucial and must be included with any freelance contract template; given that they are a freelancer’s livelihood. Common intellectual property protection methods help guard freelancers and innovators works, but clarity is necessary for terms whether and when these are transferred. After all, clients have been known to grab exclusive rights to freelancer’s mind’s work.

Failure to be clear can leave room for lawsuits. For instance, if you are providing a freelance web design service, you need to be clear on what rights the client has and the rights that you reserve. Can you use the design and graphics for another client? Do the client’s rights extend beyond the logo and site content? These are some of the questions on which you must have a clear answer. If there are intellectual property rights being transferred to the client, it’s important to be clear on when this will happen; after or before payment of agreed-upon fees?

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Credits: Image courtesy of sampletemplates.com

Be clear about payments.

Any freelance contract template worth using must address issues of payments with clarity. An issue that you should deal with as you prepare the contract is how you will charge for the service; will it be hourly or fixed?

If fixed, for how long will that rate hold and under what circumstances will the rate be revised after that period elapses? You also need to be clear on retainers and deposits. Another issue that goes hand in hand with payments, timeframes, and services provided is the matter of additional work should also be addressed by the contract.

Commonly referred to as the scope creep, this problem often arises when there’s a service that a client expects, but is not aware that s/he should pay for above the agreed upon price. With a clearly specified scope of work, there should typically be no conflict arising from payment for other work-related but not explicitly stated in the contract. However, assuming that this is clear can leave you open to conflicts, losses, and lawsuits. To avoid these problems, it’s important to include clauses that guard against scope creep, making it clear that additional work is subject to extra payment.

In case the client, unknowingly or being fully aware of it, expands the scope of the project you are working on, a contract that has related clauses will allow you to reassess the payment due without sparking conflict.

Be clear on the termination terms

For one reason or another, it can become necessary for you to terminate a freelance contract. A client may also want to terminate. Each party must be clear on the process and what is required to terminate it so that the relationship ends on a good note. This will help ensure neither party suffers substantial losses. The template should, therefore, include a clause addressing the termination terms. These should include the acceptable grounds for termination, what should be delivered when the contract is terminated, and if, how, and when a notice of termination should be issued.

An important clause that any freelance contract and thus the template should contain is information about kill fees in case of project termination. If a project is terminated midway, you as the freelance contractor can easily be on the losing end. Therefore, to cushion your freelance business from such losses; it is wise to specify kill fee details. These details include the percentage of kill fees to be paid. These could be a flat fee or a stage by stage payment in case of termination. With a kill fee, you can demand for payment for work that you have already done up to the point of receipt of the notice of termination. This way, your time and effort won’t go to waste as you’ll be compensated for it even though it won’t be used.

Use the right template

The specific details that are crucial in a freelance design contract may not be the same as those in a freelance writing or mobile app development project. Therefore, tempting as it may be to stick a single freelance contract template, you should get the right template. Even if it is the same kind of project, some details may still differ depending on factors.

Therefore, for each project you are hired to undertake, you should take a keen look at what the details must be included in the template. You will likely need to modify it to fit the nature of the project at hand. If you are a freelancer offering different types of services such as website design and app development or content writing, you might need different templates for each.

Have a revisions clause

At times, you may need to revise or redo work that you had delivered. This can occur in any type of contract agreements, whether web design or content writing. Having a revision clause in your template can save you from a headache. This is because there are clients who are perfectionists or too confused about what they want such that they are never satisfied. The result is that they keep changing requirements such that you can easily get stuck in an endless cycle of revisions despite having done and delivered exactly what the client wanted. Avoid the endless rewriting, redesigning, repainting, recoding and revising with this clause. Depending on the specifics you include, you could charge more for requirements that are clearly additional or if the revisions exceed a certain number.

As you seek a freelance contract template, make sure that it is legible and that the client won’t have a hard time reading and understanding the content.

Contracts for freelance work are not always entered only between the freelancer and client. At times, a freelancer can also enter into an agreement with subcontractors. These subcontractors are usually hired in order to provide services that the contractor needs to complete the project. These subcontractor agreements follow much of the structure of the contracts between clients and contractors with a few differences. The structure will also depend on the nature of the work to be done.   

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Credits: Image courtesy of formtemplate.org

Things to avoid in your freelance contract

Don't budge on too many critical points (e.g., scope, payment, IP) just to win a contract. 

Yes, when you don’t have that much business coming your way, it is tempting to give in to everything the client wants. However, this doesn’t always result in good fortunes for freelancers. These clients often end up causing more pain and costing more time than they're worth. Use each point as an opportunity to negotiate.

Don’t forget to include a clause for the number of contact points you will be communicating with.

Any experienced freelancer knows what a pain working with multiple points of contact can be. In a large company, there are likely different people directly involved in the project. It is therefore easy to find yourself getting conflicting instructions if you are taking them from different people. With a clause streamlining communications between you and the client to having one point of contact, your work will be a lot easier. You won’t waste time and effort working on frequently changing instructions from different people.  

Don't settle for vague deadlines.

Be specific in all parts of the client agreement. It will save you headaches later! Clarity on what should be delivered when and by who should exist in the contract. Vagueness should never be part of the contract, not just in terms of deadlines but also on the deliverables. According to a business lawyer in this Entrepreneur article on freelancing mistakes, ambiguity on the exact services to be delivered is a possible cause for not getting paid and lawsuits being filed. Therefore, always be clear and specific such that there’s no room for different interpretations to be made.

Don’t overpromise especially when it comes to deadlines and deliverables.

You should be aware of your limits and which ones you can push to successfully deliver the required services. It is especially dangerous to promise clients the moon in your contract and charge highly for it, then fail when the time to deliver comes. Overpromising and under-delivering can cost your business reputation, money and customer referrals.

Don’t forget to have it signed!

All our effort to get a great freelance contract template, customize it to the specifics of the project you will be working on and containing all the necessary clauses can end up useless without the signatures. Our effort will amount to naught should conflicts arise, and you find that the contract you thought all along would provide you some protection is not legally binding. Make sure that once you agree to the terms, your client or a representative with authority to enter into agreements on their behalf append a signature to it.

Now that you have an idea about how your freelance contract template should look, let Bonsai help you find the right contract template for your freelance work. We provide contracts for everything from website development, iPhone app development, freelance design, mobile design, and more!

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