Freelance contracts protect self-employed individuals who don't have a dedicated legal department protecting their interests. A freelancer's contract should be concise, clear, and comprehensive so as to avoid misunderstandings. It should outline scheduling demands, party expectations, and the scope of a job.

Benefits of a Freelance Contract

Freelancers are people who work from contract to contract, and often take on a number of tasks normally handled by a separate department within a business. Many of these tasks are not part of the creative process but are, instead, tedious paperwork such as drafting contracts. Drawing up a contract legally protects both the freelancer and client.

A freelance contract will:

  • Manage expectations — once signed, this formalized agreement outlines what both the freelancer and client can expect for what price and quality.
  • Serve as a reference if disagreements arise — disagreements happen, but a contract provides something the freelancer and client can refer to for clarification.
  • Hold the freelancer and client to certain standards — the contract should specify how the client needs to respond to revisions and reviews
  • Be mutually beneficial — a freelance contract benefits everyone involved, which makes the working relationship better.
  • Build confidence in the client and make sure freelance services are compensated properly.
  • Look professional and save time.

Good Practices for Writing a Freelance Contract

You should follow some essential practices when drafting a freelance contract:

  • Use specific language — avoid ambiguity at all costs.
  • Define the job clearly — outline all work you'll complete along with quality expectations, timeframes, deadlines, and prices.
  • Include responsibilities and roles — both the freelancer and client should know what to expect from one another.
  • Use simple language to make the contract easy to read and understand.
  • Format the contract using appropriate headings and subheadings so it's easy to skim; break up complex areas with bullet points and lists.

What to Include in a Freelance Contract

Understanding the importance of key contract elements will help you better customize your freelance contract to fit a specific job.

  • Start with the basics. Include the project's “who,” “what,” “where,” and “when.” Who is your client, and what kind of work will you perform? How will you handle revision requests? Even if you think both parties know this information, put it in the contract anyway to avoid misunderstandings. Include a “single point of contract” clause to limit your communications with one person so you aren't bombarded by revision requests from multiple people.
  • Include a time frame. This establishes the project's estimated duration. You might need to leave some time open after a project is finished to complete revisions and help with media integration. Formalize the time frame in the contract's terms and conditions so the client doesn't take advantage of you. Remember, including deadlines in the contract is important, even if you hate them.
  • Give yourself enough time to finish a task within the client's timetable. Include time frames regarding when the client must respond with feedback or concerns so you aren't waiting to hear back. Having a deadline will also allow you to schedule future work.
  • Include delivery details and expectations at the outset. The client knows the details about the final project and how it will be delivered. Stating delivery details up front keeps you from having to guess what types of files they can accept and makes sure you're both on the same page.
  • List financial matters, including your rates. For most freelance jobs, billing by the job rather than by the hour is easiest. Get rates in writing during the project's initial stages, and make sure the client agrees with the way they'll be charged. If you do charge by the hour, including a minimum and maximum work-hour clause. You should also agree on an initial deposit to protect both parties if one chooses to back out.
  • Include a cancellation clause. In some cases, for reasons beyond your control, a project might be canceled after you've begun work on it. Without a contract, you probably won't get paid for any of the work you've done. Including a cancellation clause in the contract saves you from losing valuable income if the job gets axed. Most freelancers charge a flat percentage from 25 to 50 percent.

Other information to include in your contract should relate to revisions and alterations, a scope creep clause, and copyright information.

If you need help drawing up freelance contracts, post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.