Get everything in writing.
It’s a mantra I followed often in my former job as a paralegal, and it’s one that’s been essential to my success as a freelance writer and editor. If there’s one big mistake that new entrepreneurs make (apart from not charging enough for their services), it’s failing to get a formal, signed project agreement in place before starting a new project.
You don’t need anything terribly fancy, but you do need something.
Why You Need an Agreement, No Matter What
Even if your new client seems like a great person… even if you’ve worked with a client on other projects… even if you’re afraid of scaring someone off with a bunch of terms and conditions… the cold, hard truth is that life happens. You and your client can enter into a project with the best of intentions, but things still can go wrong, people can change their minds, and misunderstandings can occur.
You are running a business, even if it’s just a one-man business at the moment. And you owe it to yourself to look out for the best interests of that business. Good clients won’t have any qualms about signing an agreement before you commence work—and if someone does, it’s a sign that they could be trouble.
And if you’re intimidated at the idea of putting together a binding legal document, have no fear. It’s just a matter of covering some simple bases to make sure everyone’s on the same page.
Project Agreement Essentials
You don’t need a law degree or knowledge of fancy terminology to put together a basic, workable project agreement. All you need to do is spell out the basic arrangements and expectations of the project. These include:
Parties’ names, information and date
Start off by spelling out the name of both parties, their addresses and the date of the agreement. To save tedious repetition later, assign a shorter name for each party to use throughout the document. For example
This agreement is made as of _____, 2014 between Kelly Gurnett (“Writer”) and ABC Corp. (“Client”).
Now, you can just refer to “Writer” and “Client” instead of using full names.
Scope of the project
Include a general description of the work to be done, including what services you’ll be performing and any products you’ll be delivering. You don’t have to be painstakingly specific; just provide enough of an overview that, should a dispute arise later on, you’ll be able to refer back to the scope to judge whether the work was performed as agreed upon.
How long will this project last? If it’s due to wrap up in a certain timeframe, state the ending date clearly. If it’s an ongoing project, include a line like “until such time as both parties agree in writing to terminate this contract.”
Clearly state both how much you’ll receive for your services and how payments will work. On what date(s) will you invoice the client? Will payment be due upon receipt of your invoice, or will they have a 30-day window? By what methods can they pay? If they’re late, will they be charged interest or a fee? Leave nothing to the imagination here, as money is often one of the biggest sticking points.
In the event that either of you, for whatever reason, decides to stop the work, lay out how this can be done. Typically, the cancellation request must be provided in writing, and the client is obligated to pay for whatever work has been done up to that point. It’s also smart to put in a line saying that both parties have the right to cancel the agreement, without prior written notice, should a breach of contract occur.
Things happen. Maybe the client decides they want more done than they originally asked for. Maybe you need an extension on the deadline because the original estimate didn’t take certain factors into consideration. Whatever may come up, prepare for it by including a section that states that any changes to the agreement will need to be approved in writing by both parties. Should you need to change something, you can create an amended agreement.
There are of course other sections that you or your client may wish to add, depending on your situation and the specifics of the project. But the above are enough to get you started, and are the absolute minimum I’d recommend before you begin working on any new project.
What other sections have you found yourself using again and again on project agreements?