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The Importance of the Freelancer Contract

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Whether a coder or a consultant, if you are working on a freelance basis, you will occasionally find yourself involved with a client who has a rather eccentric view of your professional relationship. They may ring you at all hours of the day or night, changing the details of your brief. They might ask you to come into their offices on weekends to “talk things over” before giving you yet more work to do. They might even demand a discount because after doing the extra work, the original deadline for the project has passed. At the end of it all, they might even refuse to pay you.

Now, there are always going to be people who suppose that because they’ve hired you, they can take the mickey. These are the same kind of people who assume they can be rude to waiters because they are paying for a meal. In most cases however, rather than being the kind of person who should never order soup, such unhappy circumstances are more to do with a lack of clear communication before you started work. If you had laid out your terms and conditions in a contract, you’d probably find your working life much easier.

At its most basic, a contract is a written record showing that your services have been engaged by your client for a specific project. What it can also do is detail when the work is going to start, how long it is anticipated to last for, what should happen in the case of a major change in circumstance, and how much you are going to get paid. If you don’t need to wave it under your client’s nose, at least both of you have the peace of mind  of knowing what is going on. If they worst comes to the worst, you have a legally binding document to use against them in court.

You can write your contract informally, or have it drawn up by a fancy lawyer, but no matter how many clauses and sub-clauses it has, there will be some details that should be included no matter how big or small the project. These are:

  • Project details. You should describe what the project involves and the estimated timeframe within which it will be completed
  • Role and responsibility. Here you should detail what you are responsible for within the scope of the project, which details of it you are answerable for, and how you will carry out these duties
  • Fees. You should be quite clear about what you expect to be paid, and also any additional costs that you may incur, for instance for materials or professional printing
  • Additional charges. It is always a good idea to have the threat of these at the back of your client’s mind. You can stipulate how much extra money may be imposed to the final bill should the project overrun or the client significantly alter your brief
  • Contingency arrangements. Obviously you don’t want to, but either you or your client may need to bring the project to a premature end. Outline how this will be handled should this happen, and how the bill for the work you have completed will be calculated

Other things you might want to include are the days and hours you work, especially if you are working across cultures and timezones; also, it might also be an idea to state which means of communication you’re happy working with. I, for instance, am happier using IM and email than the phone, especially as I listen to obnoxiously loud music when I’m working.

In some areas, you should also include a substitution clause in your contract, stating that you can get somebody else to do the work in your stead.  Some tax departments use this clause to distinguish between a true freelancer and a contracted employee.

If most of your contracts tend to be similar, it’s a good idea to spend some time writing up a template contract that will only need a little amendment before being sent out to clients. It may seem daunting, but Deb at the Freelance Writing Jobs Network put together a handy bunch of templates to get you started. You can use them as inspiration or rejig them to suit your own purposes.  Nevertheless, always take care to make sure you’re happy with the terms and conditions that you’ve outlined before you send them to your clients for confirmation.

[Image by Mia3Mom]

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