The wonderful world of freelancing is great. It opens up opportunities to work with clients, learn and most importantly — get paid!
But all of that comes with a catch — paperwork. You’ll likely be under a client-freelancer contract to some degree.
As someone who’s signed multiple contracts as a freelancer and later regretted it, I understand how serious these matters are. This was one major reason why I cut ties with all of my previous clients.
While you likely don’t need to hire a lawyer to look over your freelancing contracts (unless they are extremely high rates) you will need to know what to look for.
Here are 5 points I make sure to check twice before signing a freelance contract.
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The most important thing — in my opinion — about any freelance contract is the exit clause.
You need to know how you can terminate the relationship with this client before engaging in one.
Most clients DO NOT think about the freelancer when sending them a contract. It’s up to us to revise contracts and ask about making the exit clause fair.
For most freelancers, this means ensuring the exit clause is mutually beneficial. Meaning either party can decide to terminate the contract for any given reason at any time with no penalties other than retainer fees.
This is not a big ask and if a client thinks it is, that’s an instant red flag.
Pay dates and rates
Chasing down invoices is never any fun. Neither is guessing when your next payment will be sent.
The next thing to check in your contract is when the date for payment will be. You also want to make sure the contract includes an agreement that the payment will be made within that date or daily interest will start to accrue.
This is not mean or unthoughtful. It’s real. You completed work for that client and they owe you money in return.
Adding the line about daily interest will give clients more of an incentive to pay on time. Sadly, I guarantee late payments will still happen. It’s one of the many headaches of writing for clients.
The termination date is different than the exit clause. It’s the actual date the contract expires.
Contracts don’t last forever. Some are valid for 1 month, 6 months or even a year. The point is eventually, that contract will expire and you need to make sure that date is documented in writing.
After it expires, you and the client can decide to renew with a new one or cut ties.
This one is pretty straightforward. Make sure the lines about the work that’s expected from you match what you believe you’ll be doing.
This means to remove any lines that read like this: “Freelancer will produce and complete any other tasks at client’s request.”
Basically, you want to make sure you’re signing up to do the work you’re promising and nothing more.
It’s EXTREMELY common for clients to request more work from freelancers they like. Sometimes they’ll pay you more for it and sometimes, they’ll include it as if it’s part of the work you were already doing.
Whether they pay you or not for this work is a different story. You just want to make sure you’re ready for when they mention new projects or different types of work.
This is for more advanced freelancers. Retainer fees are upfront funds clients pay for your work. Consider it like getting paid some money in advance.
My advice: Stay away from retainer fees unless you’re a real veteran.
They can get you in a lot of trouble if you — or the client — decide to part ways before the contract has expired or been completed.
I’d rather chase down invoices than sit on money that I’m worrying I might have to pay back one day.
I highly advise suggesting to clients that you want to produce the contract for your new relationship. It’ll give you more power and most clients are more than OK with this.
You can find free online templates and contract generators that allow you to include everything you like/need and nothing you don’t.
But if the client insists on producing the contract, make sure to review it thoroughly and ask to make changes when necessary. It’ll save you in the long run.
Related: Tax deductions for freelancers to take advantage of.