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It’s happened more than once. A potential client seems interested in having me write for her. We discuss the project and agree on the price. However, when I send her a contract to sign before I begin any work, I never hear from her again.
I can only speculate why a contract, sometimes called a freelancer’s agreement, would frighten a potential client. I simply ask the question, “Would you hire someone to remodel your house without signing a contract?” You wouldn’t? Then why would you have someone remodel your business’s website without signing a contract?
A Contract is Important
Signing a contract with a freelance writer 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? They are very different. 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: Stipulated the payment amount, how it will be paid and due dates.
- It establishes how conflicts will be resolved: Stipulates 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.
- Backing out of the agreement: Both parties are protected from attempting to back out of the contract without warning or without following the steps stipulated in the agreement.
Why the Fear?
Why do clients fear freelancer agreements? 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 negotiation.
Brophy recommends freelancers 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.
Has this ever happened to you? How did you handle it?
Updated: 26 June 2018