This post is the third in a series on pet peeves.
I’ve had it happen more than once. A potential client seems interested in having me do writing or editing for her. We discuss the project and agree on the price. However, when I send her a contract to sign before I’ll begin any work, I never hear from her again.
I can only speculate why a contract would frighten a potential client. I simply ask the question, “Would you hire someone to remodel your house without signing a contract? Then why would you have someone remodel your business’s website without signing a contract?”
Contracts are Important
Signing a contract with a writer and editor is vitally important to both the writer and the client because it provides protections.
These protections include:
- Who is responsible for what: This spells out both writer and client responsibilities and what happens if they aren’t fulfilled.
- Establishing milestones: The contract sets what work will be completed and by which deadlines.
- Determining who has the rights to the work: Will the client maintain rights or will the writer maintain First Serial rights? There is a big difference between the two. If the client maintains exclusive rights, the client pays the writer for the work, but is under no obligation to pay royalties for any money made from the project. On the other hand, if the writer maintains First Serial rights, the writer can resell the material to other outlets after the client’s initial use.
- Eliminating conflict over payment: The contract will stipulate the payment amount, how it will be paid and due dates.
- It establishes how conflicts will be resolved: The contract will stipulate how legal disputes will be resolved and in what legal jurisdiction. If there is no contract and the parties go to court, it becomes a case of he said, she said. The judge will have a difficult time determining who is telling the truth.
- Backing out of the agreement: The contract protects both parties from trying to back out of the contract without warning or without following the steps stipulated in the agreement.
Why the Fear?
Why do clients fear contracts? Art business coach Maria Brophy believes there are two reasons: either clients are unfamiliar with the process, or the contract is presented too early in the negotiating process.
Brophy recommends contractors don’t bring up a contract until after the project has been solidified. If approached at this stage and in the proper format, clients should be more accepting.
If they still refuse to sign, Brophy says, “I feel that for small deals … you don’t need a written agreement. But you do need to make sure that you have everything in writing, even if it’s just by email, so that there is a good understanding of what you both are agreeing to.”
Either way, a writer and editor should never hand over the finished product to the client until payment is rendered.
Why do you suppose a contract would scare a potential client?