DonnaM » Blog Archive » Freelancing 101: Sign contracts!

Freelancing 101: Sign contracts!

I haven’t done anything terribly interesting business-wise in the past two weeks but I have been thinking about an incredibly boring and incredibly important freelancing issue: paperwork/contracts.

Two interesting things happened to me in the past week.

For the first, I turned up to a new client with my signed contract in hand and apologised for not faxing it over earlier (I live out of town and getting a witness for my signature can be tricky). The client commented that most people turn up and say that the paperwork is on the way. I was horrified – who would start doing paid work without a contract.

Another client asked me today to sign an ‘extension’ contract, which wouldn’t include an important variation that had not yet been approved (yes, a rate increase). I was horrified – who would work without having a signed agreement about rate.

Contracts are important and should be considered important by both parties. Legally they represent the agreement between the two of you. Professionally, they represent that you know what you are doing and that you think enough of your skills to ask for what you need.

If you are a freelancer or contractor, you should never start work without a contract. Sometimes it may mean you go without a few days work, but it is more important to respect your skills than risk giving away free work or looking like you don’t know business.

If you are a freelancer, it is worth getting a short services contract drawn up by your lawyer (you do have one?). Mine cost only a small amount, and it is great to set the ground by saying ‘I have a services contract. Here it is. Shall we use this?’. It gets you started quickly and shows you know what you are doing (it should be a fair contract – this isn’t about screwing your clients).

So guess what I’m doing this week? Catching up on my backlog while waiting for paperwork!

7 Responses to “Freelancing 101: Sign contracts!”

  1. Peter Says:

    I always use a “statement of work” which outlines the agreement and the price, but has no legalese and is 1 page only. I should probably use a real contract, but so far I’ve only had good clients who pay promptly :) The client then agrees via email that they *agree* to this – believe this is legally binding, but I’m not 100% sure.

  2. Andrew Boyd Says:

    Good idea :)

    I remember being slightly mad at myself for not reading the fine print on a couple of contracts through the years, but the thought of a freelancer starting without the paperwork is really scary – the insurance risks alone should frighten people off.

    Thanks, Andrew

  3. Christopher Fahey Says:

    I wrote a long reply disagreeing with this, but I opted instead to keep it short. Simply put, if two sides in a business deal, whether it’s a client engaging a vendor firm, or a company hiring an individual contractor, cannot trust each other enough to proceed with a reasonable level of work without finalized paperwork, the wheels of business would grind to a halt. Companies and businesses do this every day, whether it’s a huge corporate merger being publicly announced, complete with a new logo, based only on a handshake and a cigar… or a graphic designer attending a kick-off meeting a few days before their contract is actually signed.

    It’s a tough job to accurately guage the level of trust and faith you have in your employers, clients, and business partners. You want to gravitate towards businesses and partners you can trust in this way, at the very least. If you work for someone who you trust so little that you think they might actually screw you over on a few days of work without a contract, you probably shouldn’t work for them at all, even with a contract! A hard-and-fast rule of not working without a contract will quite simply preclude you from a lot of work for fast-paced clients, and it will give you a reputation as unreasonable to work with.

  4. Nathanael Says:

    I got a quote for $3,000 for a solicitors to draw up a contract for me. Obviously I didn’t go ahead with it.

    I don’t have a contract per se but I always write up a specification for work and get clients to sign off on that; specification includes functionality, schedule and budget – is at least 5 pages and usually closer to 15 for a medium sized web site development project.

    That’s good enough for me for now.

  5. Brian Lyall Says:

    I once kept on to my wife about having agreements up front and in place before significant work was being done for a client, and for years she always had good, reliable contracts (with one very early exception).

    And, as would have it, my first client burnt me while contract agreements were begining. Thankfully I smelt something fishy and avoided ended up doing un-paid work. Asmall thing, but it sticks with me.

    Has anyone experience of things going pear shaped and having to fall back on a legal agreement?



  6. Donna Maurer Says:

    Yay Chris. I love it when smart people disagree with me ;)

    Life is never black & white and your comments highlight some of the grey areas. Because of where I live, I mostly work with big organisations – most often big government departments. The administrative process means that paperwork is important – in my second example had I signed the ‘extension’ the bureaucracy would have forgotten about following up the rate increase, even though individuals had good intentions.

    I did do some work last week without paperwork – with a small company where I absolutely trust everyone. Once we made a verbal agreement on work and rate, I knew all would be OK. And if something weird happened it wouldn’t be like losing my house ;)

    But I’m also trying to highlight issues that new freelancers may have. And paperwork is definitely one of them!

  7. Christopher Fahey Says:

    If I was working for the government I would follow your advice to the letter!

    And I agree that, in the general marketplace, freelancers make mistakes like this and get screwed all the time. The other big mistake they make is to not invoice correctly, delaying their getting paid.

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