A Word on Contracts

For me, one of the least fun parts of any job is drafting a letter of agreement. Most of my boilerplate contract / agreement letter is taken from Secrets of a Freelance Writer by Robert Bly (yes, I do have a ton of books on freelance writing). In the back of the book he provides a sample contact / letter, and permission to use it as a basis for your own.

I definitely took him up on that.

His contract is pretty simple. It includes sections on the following: Fee, A Note About Fees, Deadline, Revisions, Caveats and Results. His contract is straight forward, without an attempt at legal jargon. He also includes a sample letter of agreement, about a page long, that is similarly simple and straight forward.

My contract is a adapted version of his, with the same section headers but slightly tweaked content to reflect the differences in how we work. For example, I guarantee my final invoice will be within an hour’s work (I charge hourly) from the original estimate. The downside, of course, is that I don’t have a lawyer look over each contract or letter of agreement that I send out.

The way that I see it, having a formal written agreement is mostly for the security of the parties involved (namely, me and my client) so we know what to expect from each other. If it gets to needing legal intervention, it’s probably cheaper for me at this point to let the project go than to prosecute or pay to see it through the courts. No matter how hard that blow would be to my pride.

Still, have a written fallback means if I did choose to see a case through legal proceedings we’d at least have a starting point; something to hand to a judge and say, “this is what we agreed.” And, perhaps more importantly, we HAVE agreed to something.

One of the few barter agreements I’ve agreed to do is for the hosting of my website–I edit and write for the gentleman who owns the hosting site in exchange for free hosting. However, we never set our agreement out on paper. He wasn’t sure exactly where he’d need help and, at the time, I wasn’t worried about it. In retrospect, I wish I had bothered to make him cough up specifics. There are months where the balance of work just doesn’t seem quite even. And I worry about that. It would have been a small thing – less than half an hour’s work – to write out an agreement letter, formalizing our relationship. Instead, we just email back and forth on a per-project basis.

All that said, from now on I’ll make sure to have a contract or at least a letter of agreement in place before I begin to work with someone.

Below is an abbreviated description of what I include in my contracts–feel free to use it as a template to develop your own (I believe in paying it forward).

Intro: Explains who the agreement is between; asks the client to reply to the email I send with the contract in the body of the email, agreeing to everything is fine.

Fee: I set out my hourly fee, the amount of time I expect the project to take, and what that money is for (i.e. an overview of the project).

A note about fees: I require 1/3 of the cost up-front; I include payment options here (paypal, check or money order).

Project details: I write out what the client can expect from me; a detailed description of the work I intend to do.

Deadlines: Pretty self explanatory; I also state here that if the client doesn’t get back to me with the deposit, or at some point in the process is late getting me materials the final deadline will me push back an equal amount.

Revisions: This one I took almost straight from Bly – I offer two revisions, free of charge. After all, my ultimate goal is for the client to be happy with my work. I’ll do what I can to ensure that’s the case. If they are unhappy with my work, I’ll redo parts of it, or rewrite sections.

Caveats: I charge a kill fee if clients cancel a project once I begin. For most projects, this is equal to the amount of their initial deposit; essentially, I am not responsible for refunding them money if they cancel. For projects that are more time intensive / expensive, I offer more detailed kill fee assessments with different amounts charged depending on how close the work is to being done.

Results: This, too, I took from Bly. This section reads “There are many factors in your marketing – product, market, price, list, demand, consumer preference, major events – that I cannot control. Therefore, while I can and do guarantee your satisfaction with my copy before you test it, I do not and cannot guarantee specific results.”


I don’t do updates often, but Mary Budge (thanks Mary!) pointed out on Brazen Careerist that I’d forgotten to mention a few important points. She wrote, “…as an attorney I always want my clients to have a written agreement in place to protect them and their interests. It can be a simple agreement (even a letter agreement), but I think there are a few things missing from your letter agreement such as payment terms, who owns the work, a limitation of liability, etc.”

I DO generally include rights information and I consider the “Results” section a limitation of liability; however I can’t believe I haven’t included payment terms until now (ie. payment is due within x days of completion) and will definitely remedy that!

Related Posts with Thumbnails