Freelance Copywriting Contracts: How, What, and Why
It doesn’t matter if you’re a web copywriter, a sales or marketing copywriter or any other kind of freelance content writer—you need a contract that lays-out your general terms and details of a business agreement between yourself and a client--in plain English.
Already you may hear this little voice in your head whining: “I don’t really need a contract I have a good relationship with my clients,” or “I only write part-time so I don’t think I need anything that ‘official.’” Good for you—that’s a common error. Go with it if you want. But, when you get burned—and you WILL if you write professionally long enough—you will think twice about this contract idea. Whack that little copywriting devil right off your shoulder.
Your copywriting contract doesn’t have to be lengthy or legal-sounding. Mix and match from the important components of a freelance writing contract outlined below and write up a simple contract in Word or your word-processing program of choice. Simple as that and it is bound at some point to save you from losing money when a client screws you – and, unfortunately, it WILL happen.
Use copywriting contracts to leverage:
- Build self-confidence in your business
- Instill confidence in your clients
- Put your best business foot forward; be a professional, not some half-time hack
- Stay on track with multiple projects
- Remain in the driver’s seat when dealing with clients and copy projects
- Keep from losing money should project terms suddenly get derailed
- Get paid on time and on your terms
- Keep your clients and business matters organized
Truth is unless you square away a contract or your business terms with a new client then you’ve given them carte blanche to set their own terms.
Costly writer-client situations that could happen when you don’t have a contract in place:
- Client decides without notice in mid-project that he or she has changed their mind about the entire project focus—now they want significant changes to the copy- Oh man this is gonna cost you – lost time, lost cashola in pocket, ouch…
- Client decides to cancel the project – “kill” it – for any one of a number of reasons…Imagine you’ve carved 2 weeks worth of time out of your freelance schedule to write page copy for a 100-page website for this client and suddenly they decide they’re going to shelve it for a while….? What now? You’re going to have to SCRAMBLE to bring on some new clients to fill in the cash hole your client has just blasted into the side of your growing business. Guess what, bucko, you allowed them to do just that when you decided to fly your business without a contract. Just one little clause in your contract, called a “kill fee” (see below) could have made this situation much more financially uncomfortable for your client than for you. Find out more about the “kill fee” contract component below…
- You suddenly realize that you’ve gone from writing informational webpage copy to developing site content PLUS and writing conversion-driven landing pages, all for the price you initially quoted for webpage copy….How much money are you losing per hour? Wow, your client is getting work on the cheap and you’re getting HOSED…
Components of a Freelance Copywriting Contract
Here are some common business terms many copywriters include on their client contracts:
- Scope of Project – state up near the top of your contract the boiled down scope of the project you’re agreeing to take on, ie. 10 blog posts, 25-pages of informational copy for a website (does or doesn’t include keyword research and topic development), 2 press releases, etc.
- Get specific on price and services involved -- (customer gets----30 min consultation, first draft, 1 - 3 revisions depending, phone and email access to you…). Conversion pieces—landing pages, sales letters – built-in testing package perhaps.
- Upfront Fees or Deposits—It’s common practice to request either full or half up-front payment (small jobs-full, big jobs-half). Hard-nosed terms: don’t start until you have cash in hand and all the necessary information agreed upon.
- Deadline for final draft revisions—30 days or less is common. You don’t want a client coming back in 3 months with a revision.
- Balance of payment due when….Common w/in 10 business days following project completion. Some writers ask for payment on delivery. Nice to give a little time if possible—comfort cushion for your client.
- “Guaranteed satisfaction”….what does it mean and can you deliver?
- “Kill Fee” – client (could be a business/corporation) decides to suddenly cancel a job, make it clear in your contract what dollar amount is yours to keep as penalty for that decision. Right here is where you can indicate any cash upfront you received is yours to keep, or a percentage of final estimate is due. Really these terms are incentive for your client to have all details of a project hashed out before they waste your time.
- Significant project changes—Include terms for clients that change the nature of a project midstream….work in a fee or a contractual change agreement. You could say that any significant alteration in the initial project and you require both parties to revisit the project terms and revise accordingly, could include price adjustment, time to completion adjustment, etc.
- Deadlines for work – does your client have a hard date, an approximate? Include this in your contract.
- Rush terms – many clients will pay for a work on a Rush. Determine what that price is—hourly, flat-fee-- the time limit and any pertinent details.
- Final copyrights….webpage copy usually goes to the client (however, make sure you include conditions that you can use samples for your professional portfolio…). Copyrights differ when you write for magazines or print, some experienced sales copywriters work in royalties, etc.
- Fee schedule – flat, hourly
- Signature Lines – at the bottom of your contract regardless of how simple, include two signature lines at least: one for yourself and the date and one for your client.
- Expiration date—Professional freelancers must plan work schedules in advance. You don’t have a stable of writers to simply dish work to, so remember that in your mind you assume your client will return the contract to you within a few days or a week, but what if they “sit on it” for two weeks, a month even before getting it back to you? You could have a full schedule at that point, or thought they had decided against the project… None of this is a good situation for you OR your client. To avoid this stress, you might consider working in a “return by” date to your contract. For example, a simple statement like “Contract terms as written for this project are only valid when signed and returned by [date].”
Remember, drafting a contract for your freelance writing business will take about an hour of your time which, considering what kinds of money you could really lose if you don’t have a contract in place, is a small commitment. Show that you take pride in and care for your business. It’s a confidence booster, too.