If you’re a freelance writer and you’re not using contracts, you could be taking on unnecessary risks. A good contract can (and should!) protect you from not-so-trustworthy clients and give you peace of mind. However, what clauses should yours include?
I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve been around long enough to know a few basic clauses every freelance writing contract should include. The most important thing is to protect yourself from clients who don’t want to pay, and from those who could waste your time.
In this article, I’m going to talk to you about three key clauses your next freelance writing contract should include, and how I learned about them the hard way. I’ll even throw in some tips to get you started, so let’s get on with it!
Clause #1: Milestone Payments
If you’re coming from a regular job, you’re probably accustomed to getting paid either monthly or weekly, but that changes when you’re a freelancer. Now, you’ll likely only get paid an upfront fee and the rest when the project is complete. This system works, but it also leaves you vulnerable should you run into a client who decides to run off with your work.
Needless to say, this happened to me a couple of times when I was looking for jobs in the wrong places. Without a contract, I had no way to go after those clients or make up for my lost time. Instead, I set out to figure out how to prevent it from happening again, and the most efficient way I found was to implement milestone clauses.
A milestone clause entitles you to receive a partial payment each time you deliver an agreed-upon part of a project. That way, when it’s finally over, the risk of the client deciding to take your work and bolt is severely reduced. In the odd case they do, you’ll have minimized your losses.
If you’re anything like I was, you’ll have little or no experience of drafting contracts, so you’ll want to research some sample milestone clauses to help get you started. However, you’ll want to adjust these to suit your own contracts and work, so keep these tips in mind:
- While using the same milestones isn’t necessarily bade, you should adapt them on a project-by-project basis.
- Adjust your milestones depending on the length of your project, increasing or reducing them accordingly.
- Make sure your contract establishes that you need to receive payment for each milestone before moving onto the next one.
Finally, it’s worth noting not every single project requires a milestone clause. For example, you might want to do away with them if you’re writing an exceptionally short article, or working with a trusted client.
Either way, if your customers aren’t open to the idea of milestone payments, it might be time to look for better clients and seek out higher-quality leads via suitable job boards.
Clause #2: Kill Fees
From time to time, you’re going to run into a client who changes his mind about an article and decides they no longer want it. That’s entirely reasonable unless they’ve already gave you the green light to start working.
During my days writing for content mills, I ran into plenty of these kinds of clients. They’d request a particular article from me and change their mind a day or two later. In lots of cases they did so before deadline, but by then I’d already wasted hours of my time.
That’s where ‘kill fees’ come in. Using this clause enables your clients to retain the right to cancel their projects at any time, but they’ll still have to compensate you for the time you’ve spent so far. All in all, it’s a fair compromise for everyone involved.
The question is, how do you go about structuring a kill fee so that both parties walk away happy? First of all, check out a sample contract that includes one for reference. Once you have an idea how a kill fee looks in the real world, incorporate these tips to include one within your next freelance writing contract:
- Set your kill fee at a reasonable amount. You don’t want to burn any bridges!
- Adjust your fee depending on how much progress you’ve made on the project.
- Consider including a brief period after signing your contract where the client can cancel his request without any penalties.
Using a combination of milestone and kill fee clauses in your contract is basically a foolproof way to ensure you won’t walk away empty-handed from a project. However, not every clause in your contract should be all about money, which brings us to our final section.
Clause #3: Usage Rights
One of the most important aspects that every freelance writing contract should discuss is how and where your clients can use your articles. After all, you wouldn’t want your name to end up on an unreputable website, or for your words to be taken out of context.
So far, I’ve never run into this issue myself, although I did ghostwrite a couple of articles concerning ‘male supplements’ early in my freelance career (thankfully not under my name). This brings up another point – discussing usage rights and under whose name your work will be published is important. At the very least, it’s a good way to avoid misunderstandings.
As always, you should take a look at some real world usage rights clauses to get a feel for how others approach them. Next, consider these tips to make sure you’re covered from every angle:
- Ask your client whether they intend to publish your work under your name or theirs, and make a note of this in your contract.
- Discuss the publications your client plans to place your pieces, and write it down.
- If possible, ask your client whether they’d be alright with you using the piece within your portfolio, and make sure your contract reflects this.
Keep in mind – in this business, it’s relatively common for clients to want to publish your work under their name, so that’s something you should come to terms with. However, it never hurts to spell things out clearly in your contract. After all, that’s what they’re there for!
Some freelancers may see contracts as a waste of time, but they’re actually a great tool to protect yourself and your work. If you don’t use them, you may find yourself being taken advantage of by some less than honest clients, which translates into lost time, effort, and money.
The good news is there are tons of freelance writing contract templates available that can help you get started. Just remember to tailor them to your needs and keep an eye out for these three clauses in particular:
- Milestone payments.
- Kill fees.
- Usage rights.
Do you have any questions about freelance writing contracts and how they can help you? Ask away in the comments section below!
Image credit: Pixabay.
Emoijah Bridges says
I’m so glad I read this post! It’s very informative and interesting. For me – I am a teen blogger and I’ve used content mills for a LONG time. But I’m so glad I’m a regular reader and subscriber to Leaving Work Behind, thanks to posts like these. Now, after setting up my own site, I know how to make a contract! Thank you, Tom Ewer and Alexander Cordova.
Alexander Cordova says
My pleasure, Emoijah! 🙂
Victoria Rickert says
Thanks for this info. Although, I don’t write for others, I am in some facebook groups where questions do come up about writing for other blogs. As my contribution to those groups I can link them to this article, I think they will find this information very useful.
Nisha Garg says
Completely agree with you, Alexander. In the past, many milestones got canceled after I started working on them. Really frustrating when your time and efforts go wasted. However, in years, I learned that it is always best to ask for upfront payment which is beneficial both client and the freelancer. It’s a protection of your work.
However, one point I would like to add here is about the consultation people take from you unexpectedly. I remember when I contacted the person who posted the job and he started asking unlimited questions.
Unintended, after 2 weeks, I realized I just gave him so much information and his project improvement details without him hiring me.
What should we do in such a situation? It has become frequent now.
Alexander Cordova says
I think it depends on your relationship with each client. If it’s someone you’ve worked with for a while I’d give them an extra hand now and then, but otherwise, I’d probably charge by the hour depending on what the consultation entails!
Matt Barton says
Really helpful advice for someone still finding their feet in freelance writing outside content mills. I’ve already run into one situation that was messier than it needed to be thanks to the lack of an adequate contract, so I’ll be sure to keep these clauses in mind. Thanks!