February 4, 2021

What to include in a freelancer contract

Written by Martin Baxter

On your marks, get set, go! Do you treat the beginning of each new job like the starting gun for a 100m sprint? Well, you’re not Usain Bolt, so slow down! When you start working for a new client, you’re raring to go, to secure the business and to show them your stuff. But how can you be sure that you and the client are on the same page when it comes to things like working practices, deadlines and payment? You might have had an informal discussion about these things, but the safest way to shore up your agreement is in your freelancer contract of services. 

The idea of a contract can make some newbie freelancers a bit nervous – so scary and official! But a contract is there to protect your interests. Having a draft contract set up that you can amend for each fresh job is a good way to outline what you understand your rights and responsibilities to be, and what the client’s end of the deal is in return. A contract is a legal document, so it’s always best to get it looked over by an expert before you start sending it out to clients, but this blog will give you some ideas of key terms that to include in your freelancer contract. 

Define the role and any deliverables 

What are the expectations for the project, what is your job and what are you going to produce at the end of it? Also include here how many rounds of revisions you will offer. 

Timescale and deadlines 

Knowing when the work – or each package of work – is expected to be completed is important to you and to your client. The client needs to know when it will be ready, and you also need to know the deadline so that you can organise your workload around other jobs and get your work/life balance straight. Having a date in writing is helpful as it means the client can’t move the goalposts halfway through the project, leaving you scrambling to finish. 

Payment 

We know getting paid on time can be tricky on some freelance jobs. Having payment terms in your contract makes it clear in writing exactly how much you expect to be paid and when. Set out your rates, agreed number of days or project fee, and any payment dates. If it is a longer term project, consider setting interim payment dates so you are receiving regular (perhaps monthly) recompense for work completed so far. For larger jobs or new clients, you could consider asking for a deposit in advance of completing the work, so that you are not left with a huge unpaid invoice at the end of the job. Also include the fees you will charge for late payment here. Setting it out in these terms will hopefully help you avoid unpaid invoices – check out our blog on what to do if my client isn’t paying for more tips. 

Intellectual property 

It’s important to set out who will have ownership of the intellectual property of the work. Once it’s completed and your bill has been paid, it’s reasonable for the client to expect to have ownership of this. However, some freelancer contracts stipulate that the IP and copyright remains with them until payment has been received, which is sensible if you think there’s any risk that your client won’t cough up. Here is also where you can include terms such as if you want crediting for the work or your right to use it in your portfolio. 

Working practices 

In this section you’ll set out how you expect to carry out the work and the relationship between you and the client. The important thing to highlight here is that you are an independent entity providing a service to the client – you’re not their employee. This is important for you to demonstrate genuine self-employment and contract working, particularly if you operate your freelancing services through a limited company rather than as a sole trader. IR35 legislation, which comes into force for the private sector in April and already exists for the public sector, means that if your relationship is like that of an employee you might be liable for extra taxes and national insurance. In your contract, freelancing might look like the ability to set your own hours, a non-exclusive relationship, and a stipulation that you have no obligation to take on additional work for the client and they have no obligation to offer you any. 

Cancellation terms 

Occasionally it does happen that a client pulls out of a project before the end: a newspaper no longer wants to run with your article, a company undergoes restructuring and they no longer need the website they’d asked you to build or a deadly virus hits and the television show you were about to film is put on hiatus. In these circumstances, you can end up putting a lot of work and effort in only for the plug to be pulled and you’re left with nothing. A cancellation clause can outline what you expect to happen in these circumstances: the right to terminate the agreement subject to a “kill fee” and/or payment for work already completed. 

Liability cover 

This is where we really get to the legal nitty gritty: who is liable if something goes wrong? Indemnity clauses in client contracts are putting increasing pressure on freelancers to take the hit if there’s a legal claim arising from a project. But there are ways you can push back against this. It’s reasonable, for example, to set a cap on your level of liability that’s proportionate to the amount you are charging for a job. There’s only so much a clause in a contract can do, however, if a client tries to make a claim against you you still might have go to court and argue your case.  This can result in you racking up legal fees as well as the time you’ll have to take off work and all the added stress. This is where professional indemnity insurance for freelancers comes in. In the event of a claim, Dinghy insurance will provide you with a legal team, cover their fees and any compensation that is awarded. Your contract is a good place to set out the insurance products that you hold and their limits, so the client is reassured that you take risk seriously, operate professionally and that they are covered if something does go wrong. 

Signed, sealed, delivered 

Make sure there is a space for you and the client to sign and date the contract. Then you can get on with doing the job at hand. 

As ever, it’s important to get any legal document drafted up and looked over by a legal professional. This blog isn’t and shouldn’t be taken to constitute legal advice. What we are experts in, however, is business insurance for freelancers. If this blog has got you thinking about how to protect yourself, your business and your clients against the risks of freelance work, then Dinghy insurance could be your solution. We provide low-fuss, ultra-flexible business insurance especially designed for freelancers like you, including professional indemnity, public liability, and business equipment cover – and we’ll even help you chase unpaid invoices. To learn more you can visit our website or give one of our friendly team a chat on 0116 380 5654, with no obligations. 

About Martin Baxter

Read more blog posts by Martin Baxter


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