The Letter of Agreement is an informal variation of a contract. It is best used with clients such as individual authors, small companies, and websites. It's also useful when contracting for services with friends, co-workers, or someone that you know and trust. As you can tell from its name, the LOA comes in the form of a simple letter. Its strength lies in the easy to understand language and the specific listing of details. However, the downside is that it's likely the least airtight (i.e., legally binding) contractual document you'll come across.
The nondisclosure agreement is usually one that freelancers run into before the project gets off the ground. That's because it serves to protect your client's interests and your signature guarantees that you won't disclose any of their sensitive or proprietary information. Because of this, some clients may ask for an NDA to be signed before they even discuss work details or negotiate rates and deadlines.
Freelancers should take note and consider what information their client considers proprietary and treat such information with the gravity it deserves.
A formal contract is often provided to the freelance writer by the client, especially in the case of a larger client such as a major magazine or publisher. A formal contract is generally the most legally airtight and is often a common template used by the client for all freelance agreements. For this reason, freelancers should be careful to vet such documents with a professional attorney if the language isn't plain enough.
The non-compete agreement ensures your client that you won't nab their clients. It asks that you sign away any rights to compete with them to secure/service a specific client of theirs which is noted by name, geographic area, or other stipulations. Freelancers should fully vet this agreement before signing away their rights to go after what could be a lucrative new business opportunity. And remember, one of the most important parts of the non-compete is the time limit you're restricted to.
The statement of work is a contract that is very useful (and therefore very popular) because it specifically spells out the major points of a work arrangement. It also usually foregoes a lot of the "legalese" that more formal contracts are known for. The clarity of this particular type of contract is much appreciated, by clients and freelancers alike.
Next, consider contract management software.
5 Basic Contract Templates for Freelancers
Legal Documents for the Freelancer
One of the best ways to protect yourself, your business, and your time is to have a contract in place before projects or retainer work begins. While hiring a lawyer to hammer out a reusable contract template is always a smart investment there are alternatives. You might be able to get help from your professional union (such as the National Writers Union which has a contract template for their members). However, if neither of those options is appropriate or available, it's still advisable to have a contract because when it comes to money, things can get sticky.
Keep in mind writers aren't lawyers and the following contract templates are simply a summary of the basic contracts, along with advice from professional legal counsel. They are meant to give insight into the contract language before you are confronted with having to sign a document you know nothing about. Understanding the language of these contracts will not only protect you, you'll look more professional in the process.