How To Create a Freelancing Contract or Agreement

12 Steps and 5 Tips for Success

Close-up of man signing a document
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If  you are a freelancer and gigs are your livelihood, you need a contract or formal agreement in place to protect yourself and to let your clients know exactly what they're getting from you.

12 Steps to Creating a Freelancing Contract

Here are 14 easy steps that guide you through creating a contract for freelancing. Once the template has been created, adapting it for other freelance assignments will be a snap.

Create a document that appears as an invoice. Many word processing programs contain a document wizard and several invoice templates. Open up one of these templates or create a new one.

  1. Your contract needs to be as specific as possible. In the upper right hand corner of the document you can type the words SERVICE TERMS, CONTRACT, SCOPE OF WORK or any other variation in a bold, 12 or 14 point font size (larger than the rest of your contract type).
  2. On the left side, type your name, title, address, telephone, fax, email, etc. Make sure all of your contact information appears here.
  3. On the right, type the date and complete contact information for your client.
  4. Assign the project a job number and write it down for your records (keep a running log of job numbers. Associate the job number with a specific client and a specific scope of work). Also include this information on your contract, usually above the client's contact information for easy reference.
  1. Make a few lines to detail the job description or scope of work. If you're giving a price quote for a TV commercial, write as much detail as you can. For example: Scope of Work: Joe's Used Cars (:30 TV Commercial). Be very specific on what the client is getting. Just because you have your policies on your Web site doesn't mean you can be skimpy in your wording here. Example: Commercial Copy
  1. Now you're ready for the heart of your contract. Detail exactly what you will be doing for the client and what you will not be doing. Detail exactly what information you need from the client. Be specific and do not leave any wiggle room. Include a timeline for completion.

  2. Are you charging by the hour or offering a flat rate? If charging by the hour, be sure to put your hourly rate on the contract and an estimate of how long it will take you to complete the project. Show the final anticipated price. If you're charging a flat rate, be sure to put on your contract that this is the bottom line price. Include your terms, e.g., payable net 30 days and what happens if they go over a certain timeframe, e.g., unpaid invoices after 90 days are subject to an interest rate of 2% per month. Let them know how you want to be paid, e.g., send the check to this address, remit through this PayPal account, etc. Include your Social Security or EIN (Employer Identification Number) so things go smoothly and their accounting department has all the information they need.
  3. Be sure to include terms on how you handle going over the hourly estimate. If you estimate 3 hours at $100 an hour and you come back with a job time of 8 hours, you're going to have a hard time convincing the client to honor their end of the deal, unless they requested it.
  1. Your contract can resemble an invoice (lines for a description, price, etc.) to be more professional. Of course, you don't want the word INVOICE to appear on your contract. But you can easily save a copy of this document as an invoice so when you complete your work, you can send an invoice that mirrors your contract. Less confusion and less room for debate over paying up.
  2.  Make two lines at the bottom of the contract. One for you with your name typed below the line and one for your contact person at the ad agency or individual business with their name typed underneath the line. This will be your signature lines when you and a client accept each other's terms.
  3.  Write a line that acknowledges the client is accepting the terms by signing the contract. If you are doing your business via email, as most freelancers hardly meet their clients these days, you'll want to tell the client they need to sign the contract and email back to you. You will sign the contract before you send it to them for their signature so they will have your signature on their copy. Exchanging pdfs works fine. Or, if you and your client still have fax machines, you can exchange signed documents via fax.
  1. Save your contract so you can plug in the details for your next project without having to start all over again.

That's it! To see a sample finished contract, click on the link under the "related resources" section at the bottom of this page.

5 Tips

  1. Don't be shy about getting your client to sign a contract. Getting their signature is no guarantee they will pay but it does increase your chances.
  2. Should a client not pay within the time you specified in the contract, send a formal, friendly letter along with a copy of the contract they signed. Be sure to reference the contract and the fact that your payment terms were outlined in the contract itself.
  3. Having this piece of paper is not bulletproof protection. However, it can help you tremendously should you ever run into a client that refuses to pay. If someone has breached a contract and you have exhausted all your collection options, consult an attorney.  
  4. Consider putting a line in your contract that you will get paid even if the project does not make it to print or to fruition. Your responsibility is to deliver what you've promised, which may only be part of the client's total project. A client could say the project was killed or changed so that your copy wasn't usable, but that isn't your problem.  
  5. Contracts or agreements such as this are in place to protect you just as much as they are to protect your client. It's rare that you will find someone who won't pay for the work you completed. The contract can help ease both parties to know you are going to complete the project you promised the agency/business and they are going to pay you for your hard work.