If you've done any kind of freelance work, you probably know why you need a contract. If you aren't using a contract currently, you need to get into the habit of having them, all the time. It's safe to assume that probably 90% of the time, you'd actually be fine without one, but you never want to be caught on the wrong side of a business deal without one, it can cause a lot of problems.
At the very bottom, a contract is a way for you to protect yourself and your business from deals that go bad. it would be nice to think that everyone in business follows the rules and you don't have to worry about being taken advantage of, but that's simply not the case. And when you have assets to protect, it's worth spending some time on.
What a Contract Can Do For You
Having a contract will allow you to put a layer of protection between you and your client, in order to keep your best interests from being trampled on. It's not a one size fits all kind of solution, but there are a number of things you can at least look forward to.
- It gives you a way to keep the scope of work from getting out of control
- It outlines exactly what is expected from each party
- It outlines clear payment schedules and expectations
- It allows you to clearly put any special conditions in writing
- It can help protect your assets if major problems come about
- It can be helpful if problems occur and the timeline gets out of sync
The best thing you can do for yourself, or your business, is to research the kinds of things you want to be responsible for, and then add them to a contract. For example, it's very rare that I provide any sort of written content for my clients, simply because I am not a copywriter. So i have a section in the contract that states they are responsible for content, and if they ever need to be reminded of that, we just go back to the agreement.
One of the other things to remember is that you can protect your rights to things by using a contract. If you are worried about not getting paid, it's easy to add a line item that states all creative rights and usage ownership stays with you until the final payment has been made. This adds incentive for the client to pay the balance off quickly, and it discourages them from trying to steal the work.
What a Contract Can't Do For You
Having a contract is not a fix all, though, and you shouldn't treat it like one. They can help with a lot of things, but there are a lot of things that they simply fall short on (but it's still better to have one).
- It does not guarantee payment
- It does not promise that your client will not try to change things
- It won't protect you from a lawsuit (but it can help during one)
- It won't always stop clients from trying to steal the work before paying
One of the things that people seem to think is that a contract will ensure you get paid at the end of a project. It's true that it will probably help, but it won't guarantee anything. Unfortunately, if you are working on projects that are $5,000 or less, you'll only be able to file a lawsuit against your client in a small claims court, and even if you win, there's no entity to make them pay you. It's still up to you to get the actual payment.
You also have to be careful about less than honest clients who don't want to pay retainers, or only make one payment in the beginning and fight you while wanting to have the finished product immediately. Keeping the rights in your name will help you in a copyright suit, but it's a lot of work for you, no matter what.
At The End of the Day
My recommendation is that you should always have a contract. It's going to help you in the long run, and while nothing is bulletproof, it's definitely better to be prepared than to be caught unaware. There are a number of books on the subject, but it's always recommended that you talk with a professional (usually a lawyer) to make sure you contract doesn't have any holes that could be used against you. Otherwise, get in the habit of having one and you'll be good to go and make some money!
Creative thinking and development are just a part of what makes James tick. When he's not working on a project for a client, he's usually working on a project for himself. When he's not doing that he can be found snowboarding, hiking, or enjoying a broadway show with his wife.