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When someone says they want to hire you for a project, you'll need to agree on a wide variety of points, what you'll do, how long it'll take, and what you'll get in return. If you don't write it all down, you're in trouble before you even start. That's what contracts are for. If you get work from a large organization that regularly uses freelancers, there's a good chance that they'll already have a contract for you. But very few small companies are that prepared and when starting out in your freelance career, a lot of your clients will probably be small companies.
So it's wise to have a generic contract ready that you can edit to suit individual clients as needed. Again, I can't give you specifics, because they change from place to place. Also, I'm not a lawyer so I can't give you legal advice, but here are some overarching themes to get you started. The essence of a contract is in two elements, Agreement and Consideration. The agreement part is where you spell out what you're going to do, and then the consideration part is where it says, what you're going to get in return.
Sounds simple, right? The reason that contracts tend to be long is that the details can be quite complicated. But they don't have to be long. The important is that your contract contains everything that you and your client need to understand each other. These things are usually set out in sections known as clauses. The contract itself might not give the details of the work to be done. Often, those things are put in to a separate addendum, so that the contract can be used for multiple projects with only the addendum changing.
There's a sample contract and addendum in the exercise files that you can use to start thinking about what to include in your own contract. It's a good idea to have a lawyer review it before presenting it to a client, but let's get on to those clauses. A contract often has an introduction that states who the parties are and provides a definition of terms. For example, rather than saying the name of the company throughout the document, the introduction might define it as the client, simply for simplicity's sake.
Then comes a description of freelancer responsibilities aside from a description of work to be done. One example is that the freelancer agrees not to give away any of the client secrets. Matching that clause is one saying what the client's responsibilities are. Primary among them is that you get paid. But there are others as well such as to provide content that will let the freelancer complete the work on time. Then there are the clauses that deal with legalities. Some of them are: Who owns the finished work? What can each party do with it? What's the legal relationship between the parties? Who pays for expenses? Other clauses spell out what it means to break the contract and what the consequences are.
For example, a lot of American contracts specify that both parties will first attempt to settle the matter outside of court. There might also be a clause that specifies the location of the contract; that is what local laws prevail. This is called the jurisdiction and it can matter if like me, most of your clients are outside your home state. After all of these clauses, comes the signature and date lines. Those are to prove that the parties truly have a meeting of the minds. So that's the contract that rules over all the projects that you do for this client.
But we didn't give details for the specific project that you are about to do. Those, as I mentioned earlier, can either go in the contract itself or in an addendum. They should include what both you and the client will do, when it'll be delivered, payment details including your rate and any other terms. For example, how you'll handle changes once the job is started. You might need to add sections to your contract that are specific to your work, the client, or the industry you're in. Don't use my example as your sole source.
Also, look at contracts that have passed through your hands and talk to your colleagues for further ideas. And don't forget the Internet is a source. I found that a search for a sample freelance contract turned up a lot of hits, including some sites where you simply fill in the blanks and get back a completed contract. Now if you do turn to the Internet, check that the contracts that you find are relevant to your situation. And again, review the resulting contract with an attorney to settle any lingering concerns that you might have.
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