Why You Need a Freelance Copywriting Contract and What to Do Before You Sign One
Think you don’t need a copywriting contract? Here’s why you do, what to put in it and what you should know before you sign one.
Let’s kick this post off by saying that I ain’t no lawyer. The information here is by no means legal advice. If you need legal advice, contact a lawyer. This post is based on my experience using a freelance copywriting contract with clients, but if you need information specific to your situation, make sure you see a legal professional.
Having a contract has changed my life as a copywriter for so many reasons. I look back on my pre-contract days and shake my head. How? How did I think it was going to work?
In this post, I’m going to share my experience and encourage you to GET A CONTRACT! LOVE IT AND NEVER LET IT GO!
And, if you’ve contacted a copywriter and they have asked you to sign a contract, don’t run away. It’s actually a good sign.
You’ve heard the advice before, but still don’t use a freelance copywriting contract?
It’s something I know I’d heard people say more than once. “You need a contract, don’t start writing without one”, and I’ve asked myself why I still didn’t use a contract even after I heard this fantabulous advice?
I believe it came down to confidence.
Contracts are a serious deal. They mean you are a professional person locking yourself and someone else into an agreement. It says “I’m going to do a fab job here”. So I guess if there’s a little part of you that doubts yourself, it’s easier to shy away from this kind of bold statement and remain in the “no promises” zone.
And really “no promises” is kind of the opposite of everything being a copywriter is about.
But also, I had no idea how to create a contract. To be honest, once I decided I needed one, it wasn’t hard to find a good template and adjust it to my liking.
Your copywriter has asked you to sign a contract, what should you do?
Firstly, contracts are a good thing. They show that your writer has confidence and is professional and organised. It shows that they value their time and can commit to what they say they will do.
Remember, a contract doesn’t just hold you accountable; it should also outline exactly what your copywriter will do for you, which means they have to stick to it.
Here are a few things to consider before you sign.
Read the contract in full
Not only is reading the contract a very sensible, adult kind of thing to do, it will also give you an idea of how well your copywriter understands what you need.
There should be enough information in the contract to see that they understand what needs to be done and why.
If you read the contract and it seems a little ambiguous, you can either speak with them again to clarify the job or find another writer. But the contract should be specific, that’s kind of the point of it.
Don’t be scared to clarify things in the contract
Your copywriter should be happy to clarify any questions you have about the contract, so don’t be shy, ask away.
Don’t be scared to pay a copywriting deposit
Most professional copywriters will require a deposit before they start a project. I take a 50% deposit upfront before I start work. This helps me do wonderful things like pay my mortgage and buy bread each week (aka cash flow), but it also shows me that the client is serious about the job.
It’s in my contract, so my clients know that I don’t start until they pay the deposit even if they sign.
Otherwise, people ask for work, the copywriter spends hours on the job, and then the client forgets about it and then kind of cancels the work. This leaves the copywriter out of bread and mortgage repayments for the week because they keep spending hours on jobs that aren’t for real.
I know you wouldn’t do this because you’re not that kind of client, but seriously, heaps of people do it, and it sucks for the copywriter.
Sus on it?
If something in the contract wigs you out a little bit and the copywriter can’t clarify it, show it to a lawyer or move on.
Why you should ALWAYS use a freelance copywriting contract
So we’ve covered having confidence because YOU CAN DO IT! Mindset really is everything. You’re a business owner; you’re awesome, just suck it up and get on with the show.
But why else should you use a copywriting contract?
In case you skimmed over the above bit for clients, I’ll say it again.
Clients change their minds
Clients do this thing where they ask for something, and then things change and all of a sudden they are cancelling the job. Yes, sometimes things change, but it’s not ok for someone to ask you to commit to hours of work and then casually drop it on you that they aren’t going to pay for it.
It’s the reason why retailers have a returns policy. You can’t buy a fridge and then be like “oh nah, I realised I don’t actually feel like owning this fridge anymore” a month later.
And the thing here is, if you don’t clarify these things with the client upfront, you can’t blame them. You have to take responsibility for being in charge of your business, just like every other area of life. So cover yourself.
It makes you look professional and prequalifies clients
Goodby Fivver (seriously, get OUT OF that digital sweatshop!), hello professional!
Professional people want to work with professional people. Anyone serious about their business isn’t going to look for the cheapest, shittiest service they can find.
If cheap is their priority, they aren’t going to be a bag of fun to work with. Difficult clients don’t get easier the deeper you get in with them (spoiler, they get worse). Think of your contract as a pre-qualifier for the right clients. If they don’t value your services, they will likely run a mile (all the way back to Fivver) at the first sign of a freelance copywriting contract.
It clarifies the scope of work
We all know it’s easy to miscommunicate. Miscommunicating with clients costs everybody time and money. Your contract is your chance to state exactly what you’re going to do and how the process works.
Remember, this is your responsibility. Your clients don’t own you, and they don’t call the shots on how you do your job. That’s up to you to clarify and the client to decide if they want to proceed.
Something you want to avoid is ambiguity. You don’t want to be wondering if the client’s expecting images with their blog or if they’re going to balk at the final invoice. Clarify everything upfront. You’ll save yourself. So. Much. Anxiety.
You also don’t want to end up in a creepy, weird situation where the client starts asking you to “throw in” things that start to add up to you going bankrupt giving away free services. It’s just not cool. You’ll resent the work and the client, and it’s just a recipe for going back to the day job you hated.
Put everything in your contract. It makes life easier.
What key things should your copywriting contract cover?
My contract is basically in two parts. The first part is a work proposal that outlines the project details; the second part contains my terms and conditions. Here’s an outline of each.
The details of the job
Explain the project, what is included in the scope of work and details about the pricing. Make sure you include:
Firstly, the name of the project and the client.
The basic details of the project.
The customer’s goals for the project
A detailed description of the job covering what you will do.
Anything extra included in the job, like travelling to onsite meetings.
How many rounds of revisions you will do.
An outline of the process, so the client clearly understands what you need from them.
Details about money. For example, how much of a deposit you require, when you will send the final invoice, and whether you are registered for GST.
Details about when the project will commence and deadlines.
Don’t forget to include a field for the client to add their name, date, and e-signature. I use Adobe Sign to add these fields to my contract and email it to the client.
Your copywriting terms and conditions
Your terms and conditions are basically the place to solidify what is included in the working arrangement, so you will likely repeat the points you outlined in your proposal. Overall, your terms and conditions will be unique to you and how you like to work, but here are a few things you should include.
How long the work proposal is valid for.
How long the client has to request revisions.
What will happen if the client asks for work that isn’t included in the proposal. I find the easiest way to address this is to charge for the work at your hourly rate.
You’ll probably want to include a condition to cover yourself if unusual circumstances occur (like a family crisis or illness) and you can’t deliver the work on time.
Your terms and conditions are not just there to cover you. Make sure you include a few things that help give the client confidence in your process, like:
Information about privacy and how you will use their data
What will happen if you or the client decides to terminate the job
Extra handy things to include in your T&C’s
What will happen if the client appears to have dropped off the face of the earth after you send them the first draft?
To be honest, this is not uncommon and becomes a real pain in the butt for copywriters. You’ve done the work, submitted it, weeks go by, and you can’t send the final invoice because the client is tied up and has forgotten about the copy.
Here’s what to do.
I’ve said it already, but make sure you collect a deposit before you start work. This will free up your cash flow and make your clients commit to the job.
Include a clause that says you will send the final invoice a specific time (I give two weeks) after you’ve sent the first full draft or on final approval of the copy.
Include a clause that gives the client a specific amount of time (I give 30 days) to either approve or respond with edits or you will assume the job is done and send them the final invoice.
Include a clause that says the client does not own the work until they have paid for it in full. This way, if anyone tries to steal your copy and use it without paying, they have effectively stolen your intellectual property and can be held accountable for it.
I guess it’s a sad fact that even the best clients with good intentions will forget (or avoid) jobs that don’t have deadlines. If you don’t give them parameters that you work in, you’ll get bumped to the bottom of the to-do list (along with your payment).
Lastly, include a clause that says the client permits you to use the published copy in your portfolio unless they request otherwise. This way, you can build your portfolio without stepping on anybody's toes.
Looking for help with your copy?
I hope you’re feeling a little less anxious about signing or having a freelance copywriting contract. If you’ve been working without one, I highly recommend you start working on creating a contract ASAP. Winging it might work for a while, but you’re leaving yourself open to all kinds of trouble.
If you’d like somebody to write your copy for you, or you’d like to know more about my work process, check out some more info about what it’s like working with me.