Lots of freelancers rely on verbal contracts or an email trail, but I would recommend using a formal contract for most work.
The point of a written contract is to have confirmation of what both sides are agreeing to. A written contract isn’t legally necessary, but if things go wrong it’s easier to sort things out if it’s written rather than verbal.
It can be tempting to skip the contract when working informally (e.g. for friends), but it’s especially important to use one in these situations.
Contrary to what we might like to think, these arrangements are often the most difficult, with lots of risk for scope creep among other things. A contract helps to set out what is or is not included, making everything clearer for all involved.
I’ve written about this in more detail in a previous article, but reasons to use a proper contract include:
- A clearer outline of everyone’s responsibilities
- Explanation of what happens if something goes wrong
- They don’t take long to prepare (usually)
- Give clients confidence in your professionalism
On top of this, a contract will help your professional indemnity insurer in the event of a claim.
Contracts can be simple #
There are lots of places to find template contracts online: often there’s a small fee, but some have been open-sourced.
Andy Clarke’s Contract Killer is a good example of this. It’s aimed at web designers and developers, but it’s written in plain English and can be tweaked easily. The contract recommended on the ProCopywriters website is based on this.
Ultimately, you’ll want to get your contract reviewed by a professional. If funds are tight, it’s better to start with something than not having anything in place at all.
Contracts used to involve printing, faxing or trips to the Post Office. Things are much simpler now.
If you’re an Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber, you have access to Adobe Sign which is a great tool for getting contracts signed.
A note on free contract tools: I’d recommend sending a test contract to yourself first. Some services will sign recipients (i.e. clients) up to their own mailing list, which is a fairly suboptimal experience.