Freelance Writing Contracts: The Beginner’s Guide
Contracts are useful for setting mutual expectations. Here’s how to do it.
You’ve probably heard of a client horror story or experienced one yourself.
A client refuses to pay because you expected you to read their mind. Or you’re bombarded with endless revisions because the client keeps flip-flopping on what they want.
Unfortunately, you will likely deal with a problem client at some point in your freelance writing career. The good thing, contracts are there to protect you and establish mutual expectations.
Disclaimer: I am not a legal professional and this is not legal advice. I recommend working with a legal professional to finalize the contract language that works best for you.
What Is a Freelance Writer Contract?
A freelance writer contract is a signed agreement between the freelancer and client. It is essential to the onboarding process because it establishes the project parameters, including the scope of work, payment terms and timeline.
Contracts aren’t just for lawyers and big corporations. Freelance writers can also use contracts to operate a smooth and results-driven business.
Why Are Contracts Important?
There are two critical reasons for having a signed contract before starting a freelance writing job:
- Legal protection: When you and the client sign a contract, you agree to provide X deliverables and the client agrees to pay you Y amount. Should a dispute ever go to court (hopefully not), you have a signed contract to protect your interests and secure your payment.
- Establish mutual expectations: Successful projects are no accident — establishing clear expectations and payment terms ensures both you and the client are on the same page. It also specifies exactly what each party will leave the table with (the client with their blog posts and the freelance writer with their payment).
Learning how to write a freelance contract may sound like scary legal stuff, but it doesn’t have to be. Understanding the steps involved will alleviate some anxiety and inspire some confidence.
How to Create a Freelance Writing Contract
Below are the following sections you’ll want to pay attention to within your freelance writer contract:
Scope of work
The scope of work (SOW) outlines the deliverables expected to complete the project. Similar to an invoice, you’ll want to itemize each deliverable and put it on its own line. Instead of just “website copy”, a freelance content writer contract might break it down into:
- About me page (500 words)
- Case study (5,000 words)
- 1 pillar blog post (2,500 words)
Defining the scope of work helps you and the client understand what you are expected to deliver. It also helps prevent scope creep — anything outside the scope of work written in the contract can be subject to an additional charge.
Obligations and responsibilities
This is a good section to lay out your process and timeline. Dive into each step of the process and explain what is needed from the client and the agreed upon deadline. For instance, writing a single blog post may have the following timeline:
- Client sends content brief, which includes main points and target keywords.
- Writer sends outline via Google Docs. Client will send edits or approval within 1 business day. After approval, Writer has 5 business days to submit first draft.
- Client reviews draft and returns with any comments or revisions. Writer has 1 business day (per revision round) to implement the edits.
- Writer submits final draft and invoice. Client has 10 calendar days to issue payment.
Specify your freelance writing rates for the project and your pricing structure (hourly, word count, etc.). Also, be sure to explain how many free revision rounds you offer and the amount you charge for additional rounds. If you’re working for a newspaper or magazine, you may want to mention your kill fee — a payment issued even if the publication cancels your article.
Next, explain your payment collection methods, such as credit card payment, direct deposit, or mail-in check. You should also state your net terms. Some freelancers enforce net 30 (client must issue payment within 30 calendar days), but others charge as little as net 14 or even zero.
Finally, consider adding a clause in your payment terms concerning copyright. That is, until the client issues you payment then you, the freelance writer, retains ownership of the product.
Finally, add a section for you and the client to sign on the dotted line. If you operate a business entity, such as a limited liability company (LLC), be sure to specify that on your signature. You want to sign on behalf of your business and retain any protections your legal structure provides.
Freelance Writing Contract Software
Contract software, such as Bonsai and AND.CO, make it easy to access a freelance writer contract template. And with e-signing capabilities, everything is done online — no wet ink and scanning required.
If you’re generating enough revenue within your freelance business, the convenience and professionalism of invoicing and contract software may be worth the investment.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I write a freelance contract?
Most freelance writer contracts will contain the scope of work, payment terms and copyright requirements. Contracts can be created in word processors, such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs. There is also online software that makes it easy to draft, send and electronically sign freelance writer contracts.
Do freelancers need contracts?
Contracts are not required but are recommended for establishing clear expectations and legally binding both parties. Both the freelance writer and client better understand the project parameters and required compensation because both have signed off on the terms.
Dan is a freelance writer specializing in small business and personal finance. He works with FinTech and B2B companies and has written extensively about small business, from startup guides to payment processor reviews. Hire him to write for YOU at danmarticio.com.