I used to be afraid of contracts.
“Oh if they have to do too much paperwork they won’t want to hire me.”
“Oh what if the contracts upset them.”
“What’s the point anyway? It’s not like we’re going to sue each other.”
And THEN I had a client not return phone calls or emails for a MONTH.
And THEN I had a project spiral way out of scope because I did not indicate every single step in the process and have the client acknowledge it prior to beginning.
Those things happening are rare, but they’re going to happen eventually when you have been in business for yourself for ten years.
The blame for those things happening, though? That was squarely on me. I didn’t set good parameters to indicate, “This is how we do business here.”
A lot of freelancers don’t do that. Boundaries are a HUGGGGGGGGGGGE issue for freelancers. Whether you’re lazy (I was), scared (I was), or clueless (I definitely was in the beginning), if you want to establish a less anxiety-producing business, you are going to want to put together some contracts.
I am not a lawyer. None of this is legal advice. At a minimum, though, a contract (An email can be a contract, but I prefer putting it in a word doc, signing it, and sending it to the client to sign via Adobe Sign because I think it really drives the point home that they’re signing a contract.) should touch on the following areas:
- Your name and address
- Client name and address
- Effective date
- Effective term (example: one year from the date of signing)
- State or location where disputes will be handled
- How disputes will be handled
- Rules for communication as it relates to the contract (example: client will respond within 21 days to communication or the contract is automatically terminated)
- Non disclosure
- What you’re doing for the client and prices (you can cover this in the contract or append a scope of work)
- Payment method and terms, including anything about late payment, though this is difficult to enforce.
- Independent contractor status (Client can’t make you have set office hours in person, and so forth. This also relates to tax status.)
- Liability (usually nobody is liable for anything more than the monetary amount exchanged, not any supposed loss of business because of anyone activity)
- Termination clause/no fault divorce. (What happens if one or the other of you wants to quit each other? What sort of notice do you give each other? How are payments handled.)
If you go to buy a car they make you fill out TONNNNNNNNNNS of paperwork. If you join a gym you have to fill out paperwork. When you go to the dentist, you fill out paperwork.
If someone is going to be a good client to work with, they’ll fill out the paperwork. They’ll be GLAD you have paperwork and that you’re conducting your business like a professional. They’ll also be relieved to know exactly how the business relationship is going to work. So, don’t be afraid of contracts. And have a lawyer review yours!