Contracts: Nobody Wants One Until You Wish You Had One
We’ve all been there. You said you would do one thing, but the client wanted something else. Now you and your client are exchanging awkward emails trying to sort out something that should’ve been much simpler. If only you had formal, straightforward documentation of your agreement that you could refer to…
That’s where a contract comes in. A contract is one of the best ways to protect yourself when entering a work agreement. While freelance work may seem too casual or temporary to require a full contract, when you haven’t been paid on time, you’re going to wish you had one.
Still not sure if a contract is right for you? Let’s take a look at some specific pros and cons of contract work and see if one could help out in your situation.
What Is a Freelance Contract?
The word “contract” might seem a little daunting, but a freelance contract doesn’t have to be a long, fancy legal document. Rather, it can be a simple letter of agreement which serves as an official outline of expectations, like the scope of the project, your hourly rate, or a milestone schedule. The contract can also include important what-ifs, like what happens if the client wants to cancel the project, or what to do if you need to go to court over a contractual dispute.
Any binding document can be a turnoff when you like some wiggle room in your work. The thing is, you may have been working under a contract this whole time without even knowing it. By definition, a contract can be any written agreement. Even something as simple as email correspondence between you and your new client could be used as a contractual agreement if there was a need to take legal action.
Do I Need a Freelance Contract?
Technically, no. But a well-written contract can be your best friend if worse comes to worst. While you could rely on your emails, a more formal contract will solidify the details of your agreement and take care of any potential ambiguities. An official contract will also be easier to interpret and refer to in the case of a dispute.
A contract can even help you manage your workflow. If you provide your client with milestones and check-in dates in advance, you can prevent stress on both ends. You will have clear expectations of what is due when, while your clients, knowing you’re on schedule, won’t be as inclined to micromanage. The contract will usually include lots of other assurances: that you’ll be paid on time, that you will not disclose information that the client hasn’t authorized, etc. It’s mutually beneficial—you know you won’t be exploited, and they know that you’ll fulfill your end of the project.
What Are The Downsides?
Here’s the thing: a contract can seem great at the beginning of the project, but what happens when your project takes an unexpected turn? Say there are some additional costs that your contract didn’t account for. Unless you have a very gracious client, those costs could end up coming out of your own pocket.
Luckily, most contract-related issues are preventable with the right language. By writing in a cost to work outside of the project’s original scope, the client won’t be able to ask too much of you without additional compensation.
However, there are some issues that are a bit harder to prevent. Contracts can result in overpromising on a project, so it’s important to know your limitations before you sign anything. Contracts can also impact the relationship between you and a client. Introducing a contract to an old, trusted client could be awkward and create some tension. In this case, a more casual letter of agreement might be the best option.
Ok. I Want a Contract. What Do I Do Now?
It’s time to get writing! Your contract should be whatever you and your client need to feel comfortable and confident moving forward. Maybe you like the plain English of a letter of agreement, or maybe you feel more secure with a more formal document. It’s up to you!
There are many pros and cons of contract work, but whatever you decide, it’s important to cover all the bases so no one feels cheated.