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How to review a freelance client contract in 7 steps
As a freelancer, you wear many hats. One of the most important is lawyer. You don’t need a law degree, but you do need to know how to review a contract template. If you don’t, you can make some costly mistakes. These can range from not getting paid to left hanging on due dates to several rounds of time-consuming edits. So safeguard yourself with these seven contract review tips.
1. Get what you want from the contract
The whole point of a contract is for both sides to get what they need. So during your contract review process, look at the language and words you used:
- Does it clearly state what you will receive in terms of money, time and resources?
- Look at what you are giving the client, are they getting what they asked for?
2. Clearly define the terms
When looking at how to review a freelance contract either you created or one the client is asking you to sign, you need to understand the terms. Look over the details. Everything should have dates or deliverables assigned. So for example, if you have a three phase project, assign a due date for each phase.
3. Read the contract
This may sound obvious, but part of your contract review checklist should be to read your entire document to make sure it’s cohesive. It should flow well and each section should support the proceeding one. Using headers and bullet points is great in the contract review procedure process. It will call attention to the points you wish to make. Plus, it will make it easier to read for all clients involved.
4. Note what’s missing
How to review a contract should include what’s not there. In other words, after you have re-read your document, what’s missing? Walk through the key components of your project and ask yourself questions. For example:
- What is my payment?
- How am I getting paid?
- When do I get paid?
- How many edits are allowed?
- What if there is an issue?
- Who is my contract?
And so forth. The point is to list anything in the contract that is important to the project success. This is why you need a freelance agreement template in the first place. It clearly communicates expectations for both parties.
5. Make changes
One of the most important contract review checklist items should be to make changes. Mark the document where items are missing and be specific. For example, maybe payment was listed, but the method for payment was left out. Or maybe it’s unclear who your client contact is. Or you are unsure who owns the copyrights for the project once complete. Whatever it is, note it. You want the terms spelled out and communicated clearly.
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Next, send the document back to the client with your questions or suggested changes. This can be done via email if these are simple fixes. However, if the contract review process is complex, it’s best to either meet in person or have a conference call to discuss the differences. This is a chance to negotiate any differences.
A key component of how to review a contract is negotiation so know where you are willing to bend and what is your true bottom line. For example, if their pay is not what you expected, define a number in negotiation that is slightly higher than your needed number. That way, there is room to negotiate back and forth.
Or if this is a new client and they ask you to do a test writing sample during your contract review process, ask if you can use it for a personal portfolio piece. The key is get the most from your freelance contract and make it work to your advantage.
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7. Finalize the contract review procedure
The last contract review checklist step is to take any changes agreed on by both sides and add these to the contract. Then, you’ll want to double check everything before signing off. For one last recap of how to review a contract, ask yourself a few questions:
- Are the contacts identified in the document?
- Are any key terms not in my document?
- Are signature lines created for each subsection?
- Are all pay scales correct?
- Can you terminate the project early? Is that stated?
- Is “who owns the copyrights” written out?
Once your contract review checklist is complete, it’s time to sign every section within your document. Then send the document to the client to sign.
Why contract review tips are so vital
Now that we’ve talked about how to review a contract, you may wonder if this is really needed. As a freelancer, paperwork is an added administrative step that many ignore. However, this can be quite costly. Freelance forms and other documents safeguard your business.
Plus you don’t have a legal or human resource department at your disposal helping you work through disputes. That’s why contract review tips are so vital. Your contract is your lifeline between running business smoothly or making costly and timely mistakes. Not only can you leave money on the table, but you could face legal issues from the employer or company. And, finally, you could create an entire project that the company could potentially use in their marketing efforts all without any legal ramifications.
Putting contracts to work for you
So while contracts and taking the time to review them may seem tedious, it’s worth a little extra effort. Not only will it make for easier working relationships with your clients, but it will make for better communication throughout projects. Plus, you’ll add a layer of legal protection without having to hire a costly lawyer.
Do you have contract review tips? What are your suggestions for making the most of a client contract? Comment below and share your thoughts to help other freelancers. And if you're ready to give Bonsai a try, sign up for a free trial today.