One of the best ways to protect yourself, your business, and your time is to have a contract in place before freelance projects or retainer work begins. While hiring a lawyer to hammer out a reusable contract template is always a smart investment for a freelance writer, there are alternatives. You might be able to get help from your professional union. For example, the National Writers Union has a contract template for its members. However, if neither of those options is appropriate or available, you should develop a freelance contract template on your own to make sure you and your client are clear on project details, as well as to ensure you get paid.
Below are common types of contracts a client might ask you to sign or you should consider creating. Keep in mind writers aren't lawyers and the following freelance contract information is simply a summary of the basic contracts,. They are meant to give insight into what the contracts cover and what to consider before you are asked to sign a document.
The letter of agreement (LOA) is an informal variation of a contract. Like more elaborate contracts, it outlines the terms of the agreement. It's used mostly between smaller entities, such as solepreneurs and small businesses. It's also useful when contracting for services with friends, co-workers, or someone that you know and trust.
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 risks having loopholes or missed details that could lead to legal issues.
Nondisclosure agreements are often asked for by clients that want to make sure you won't give away anything about how they do business. This can be a concern if you have multiple clients in the same industry that don't want you to share their secrets, processes, or proprietary information. Because of this, some clients may ask for a signed NDA before they 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 larger businesses, such as a major magazine or publisher. A formal contract is generally the most legally airtight and is often a template used by the client for all freelance agreements. For this reason, freelancers should read the contract fully, and consult with an attorney if the language isn't clear. You don't want to accidentally give away more rights than you want, or discover you won't get paid because the article isn't run.
In a non-compete agreement, you agree not to go into business or otherwise compete with your client during the course of the work, and sometimes for a duration after the contract has ended.
As a freelancer, you want to be careful about these types of agreements as they can prevent you from taking on work. For example, if you got a writing job with an investment company writing money-related content, a non-compete agreement would prevent you from working with other investment companies.
Freelancers should fully vet this agreement before signing away their rights to take on other work, especially since it could limit you even after the contract ends.
The statement of work is a contract that is useful because it specifically spells out the major points of a work arrangement. It also usually foregoes much 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.
Similar to the letter of agreement, a statement of work can sometimes lack the details that could later cause questions or problems between the two parties.