1. Research Local Requirements and Define Specific Details
2. Signing the Contract
3. Do I Need a Contract?
4. When Do I Need a Written Contract?
5. Types of Contracts

Contracts templates are rough guidelines used for forming a contract, which is an agreement between two parties that spells out the terms of the agreement, including time frames, payments, materials, and dispute resolution procedures. Having a contract means everyone is on the same page. Moreover, it also provides something to take to court if one party violates the agreement.

Research Local Requirements and Define Specific Details

A contract template on its own may be insufficient, which is why you should research local rules. There may be industry or union requirements you need to mention. Planning permission or fees may be required. An attorney can help you with this.

Detail everything relevant to your agreement in your contract, keeping in mind that what you take for granted may not be obvious to the other party. Define key terms; "30 days" can be calendar days or business days. Define exactly what you will be providing.

When you draw up a contract, include:

  • All information for both involved parties
  • The time frame of the contract
  • Key terms
  • The goods or services you will provide or receive
  • Payment terms
  • Deadlines
  • Fees for late payments protocol
  • Insurance and liability requirements
  • Dispute-resolution or breach of contract protocol
  • Any special conditions

Signing the Contract

Make sure you fill in everything you need to fill in. Cross out any blank spaces to prevent later additions you did not agree to. Keep a copy of the contract. If possible, keep two original copies signed by both parties. At the very least, ask for a photocopy and check it for accuracy. It is vital to have a signed record of the agreement if something goes wrong.

Keep the contract somewhere safe, and keep it for longer than you think you need it. This can save you considerable trouble if a dispute arises later.

Do I Need a Contract?

While there are some verbal agreements enforceable by a court, a contract is a written agreement detailing what both parties agreed to. Without a contract, you need to keep as much evidence as possible detailing what was agreed to and what happened. You will need to keep your emails, any quotes, any invoices, any discussion notes, records of all phone calls, and copies of any documents. It is easier to just have a contract.

Some types of contracts, such as prenuptials and long-term contracts, must be written. However, there is a such thing as an implied contract — you can unknowingly enter this type of contract and be bound by its terms. It's best to get a written contract even if it's not required.

When Do I Need a Written Contract?

You need a written contract when:

  • Goods or services need to be a specific material, size, or quality.
  • You aren't sure the client will pay you upon completion.
  • You have to purchase insurance or materials before completion.
  • You have to hire staff before completion.
  • You are working on a timeline with milestone payments or early completion bonuses.
  • Some information must be kept confidential.
  • Your insurance company requires a contract.
  • You are legally required to have a contract.
  • You want to prevent miscommunication.
  • You want court-enforceable written proof.

Types of Contracts

A letter of agreement is a type of written contract best used with single authors, websites, and small companies. It is a letter that is easy to understand and specifically lists details. However, it may not be as legally binding as other contractual documents.

A nondisclosure agreement is usually one freelancers encounter before starting the project. Since this typically is a promise to keep trade secrets confidential, some clients ask for one before even discussing the project. 

A formal contract is typically used by a major publisher to sign a freelance writer. This is generally the most legally binding of the three, and a template is typically used. The language can be difficult, so freelancers may want to check with an attorney.

A noncompete agreement promises that you will not compete with your client. You sign away your rights to compete with them in a certain geographic area or for specific people or businesses. The most important part is the time limit for the agreement.

A statement of work spells out the major points of a work arrangement. Like a letter of agreement, it usually contains easy-to-understand language.

A service agreement, also known as a service level agreement, consulting services agreement, or general service contract, is a written document describing the services provided for compensation.

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