What's on the stereo: Jeannie's in a Bottle by James LeVier
Another month, another topic. This month, if you haven't noticed, is going to focus on client issues. In fact, since there are so many nuances to dealing with clients, we may have to spread this topic out over a few months. Today's post was inspired by good chum John Soares, who shared his Nightmare Freelance Writing Client on his blog this week. Give him some comment love, please.
One thing John had to deal with was a client who was insisting he sign a contract with a non-compete clause in it. True, they were limiting their power over him for 12 months (they didn't want him doing similar work for that period of time), but they really had no business asking. John refused to sign, got his check, and stopped working for them.
That begs the question: what do you do when facing a non-compete situation?
It's true that not all non-competes are so black-and-white. Often, companies are willing to pay extra for your undivided attention. But sometimes the lines are pretty blurry, or the client is pretty controlling. Let's look at some areas of non-compete clauses and talk about what works/doesn't work:
The absolute non-compete. I've seen that on a number of occasions. Companies and clients aren't willing to let their writer work for the competition. Ever. Since these same companies are often unwilling to give projects to the writer endlessly, there's no reason to agree to it. Have it removed from the contract or don't work for these people.
The limited non-compete. I get that sometimes the client wants you to give them your best stuff. And your working for that client as well as the competitor could be viewed as a conflict of interest (to whom do you give that fantastic line or slogan?). If the company is asking you to refrain from working with competitors while you're working with them, that may be okay. You're guaranteeing them that you'll bring your best to them exclusively. They're saying once you give them your best, you're free to give your best to the next client.
The loosely defined non-compete. John brought this up in his thread comments, and it's a good point to stress. The non-compete language may be too broad, which can be damaging. Suppose you're a health writer. Your client sells health care claims software. The non-compete section states something like "Writer cannot work for companies doing business in the health care space." That could mean you're stuck not able to work for the magazines, for companies handling just workers compensation, for consumer-facing health care companies....you get the picture. Make sure they state exactly who is the competition. And don't sign it if it's still up for debate.
The non-compete that limits your earnings. In some states, it's against the law to impose non-compete terms on a worker if those terms adversely affect the worker's ability to earn a living. For instance, I remember a hair stylist who interviewed with a big salon in Pittsburgh. They required their stylists to sign an agreement that barred them from working in the stylist capacity for 18 months after leaving the salon. That was years ago, but the absurdity of it stuck with me. If you're a trained stylist and this is your sole source of income, who are they to limit you? Maybe there's a loophole somewhere that allows that much ridiculousness, but if it were a writing contract, I'd laugh them right out of my email.
Have you come across the non-compete clause?
How do you respond?
When do you think it's acceptable?