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Friday, January 17, 2014

Free Advice Friday: Writing Contract Language

What's on the iPod: No Line on the Horizon by U2

I get by with a little help from my friends -- The Beatles said it, and it's true. This week's Free Advice Friday is brought to you by one of my closest friends. Cathy Miller was part of the original conversation that became this Free Advice notion, so it's only fitting that her advice is included. She's graciously volunteered to help us through our next free-advice topic: contract language. Thank you, Cathy!

Today's free advice topic: what to include in a contract.
by Cathy Miller

You do have a contract for your freelance writing gigs, right? Or perhaps you fall into the category of, “I know I should. I just don’t know where to start.”

Some contracts are complex, filled with legal speak. Larger business organizations are usually the source of that type of contract. Reviewing those is a topic for another day. Today’s free advice covers the basics of a contract – one you create yourself.

You may choose formal contract language, such as this
Sample Freelance Writing Contract or a less formal Agreement. My work is project-based and I use what I refer to as a Statement of Work. Feel free to contact me if you would like a sample of my Statement of Work.

Regardless of your preferred format, the following outlines the basics for your freelance writing contract.

Scope of work: This section describes the work you and your client agreed to. I recommend you be as specific as possible. Vague descriptions lead to problems when your client has one idea of what is included in the work, and you have another. Services to consider in the description include the following.
  •   Description of writing service (e.g., white paper, article, blog post)
  •   Length or size (e.g., 1,800 to 2,000 words; up to 10 pages)
  •   Non-writing services (e.g., phone calls/interviews, research, editing, emails)

Be specific. Include parameters. For example, initial conference call not to exceed 30 minutes – or – estimate includes up to two rounds of revisions. I also document what the scope of work does NOT include – e.g., the estimate does NOT include graphic design, layout or marketing services.

Timetable Here again, I recommend you be as specific as possible, and add language to protect against unforeseen circumstances. Who hasn’t been burned by a deadline that proved challenging because of delays beyond your control? I add a timetable that includes more than the delivery deadline for the draft copy.
  •   Initial planning call – no later than…
  •   Interview (if applicable) – no later than…
  •   Delivery of draft – MM/DD/YYYY

I include the following caveat. The delivery date of the draft assumes the timely delivery of all required information from [Client Name], occurring no later than [Date].

I also include language regarding revisions (discussed in Terms).

Fees: For me, this is straightforward because, as I mentioned, I work on a project basis. If you work on an hourly basis (or some other form), be specific. (Are you getting the “be specific” theme here?)

For example, Fees: $XX/hour (not to exceed XX hours). Work that exceeds XX hours will be negotiated separately and an amendment will be added to this contract, specifying the terms of agreement.

Some writers include a minimum number of work hours and/or a Kill Fee. Similar to the clause used by magazines, a kill fee protects you if the project is canceled before completion. Your kill fee can be a percentage of the total fee, an hourly charge for uncompensated hours or some other form of compensation.

Terms: Terms cover payment methods and any other caveats not described in other sections of your contract. 

The following are a few examples of terms.
  •      Payment requirements – include requirements, such as advance deposits or upfront payment-in-full
  •      Accepted forms of payments – such as check (include made payable to), PayPal or credit cards
  •      Invoicing process – when the invoice will be submitted (e.g., with delivery of draft/final copy), deadline for payment (e.g., within XX days of receipt), late fee terms
  •      Copyrights – at a minimum, I recommend you include language that until you are paid in full, you retain the rights to the copy
  •      Other requirements – as mentioned, I include language regarding revisions – If there is no request for changes to draft copy within 10 [or other number]business days of receipt, copy will be considered final

If you work on a project fee basis, include in Terms what happens if there are changes to the scope of services – e.g., If changes to the Scope of Work require significant additional hours, an amendment will be made to the original Statement of Work, based on the change in scope.

My Statement of Work Agreement has undergone several changes over the years. Live and learn, right? A written contract is a protection for both you and your client. It fosters good communication and sets reasonable expectations.

I am certainly no legal expert. Take these recommendations as the tool they are meant to be. There are plenty of online resources for contract templates.

Do you have favorite templates? What provisions did I forget? What other terms do you include in your contract?

Cathy Miller has a business writing blog at Simply stated business, a health care blog at Simply stated health care and her personal bog, millercathy: A Baby Boomer's Second Life.


Cathy Miller said...

Thanks for the real estate, Lori. ;-)

Lori Widmer said...

Thanks for the brain power, Cathy. :)

Cheryl Ann said...

Really helpful advice, Cathy -- even if it IS free. :>) Thanks a lot for the sample contract. In an Ed Gandia podcast I listened to, the expert called her contract an "e-mail of understanding." I like that -- sounds much less intimidating than the word contract, but it accomplishes the same thing, I think.

Lori Widmer said...

She's good, isn't she Cheryl Ann?

Anne Wayman said...

Good stuff, here Cathy... if it's a long work I sometimes add 'goal' and 'method'- method is where I describe the back and forth between me and the client.

Cathy Miller said...

Thank you kindly, Cheryl Ann and Anne. :-)

I like that, too, Cheryl Ann (email of understanding). It already sets both sides up for some positive vibes. ;-)

Cathy Miller said...

P.S. You brought up a good point, Anne. A long project, like your ghostwriting for books, would have its own set of provisions for a contract. I believe you've shared those on your site, haven't you?

Ashley said...

I just updated SO much of my contract with these goodies! Thank you, Cathy!

Lori Widmer said...

She rocks. :) Good seeing you here, Ashley!

Lori Widmer said...

I especially love the time limit you put on client review, Cathy. I think it's enough time, and it doesn't leave you hanging for ages.

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