What to Include in Your Client Contract ( + a downloadable DIY contract builder!)
There are plenty of aspects about freelancing that you learn through trial and error: time-tracking, pitching and landing clients, navigating an email form etc.
Sadly, contracts also tend to make that list.
Over time all of us have felt backed into a corner or taken advantage of by clients wanting to get more than originally bargained for. Sometimes clients just fail to…pay on time? Other times they’ll ask for 10 additional revisions when normally you only offer 3? There are countless things to consider before building and sending in your contract.
I’m sharing all of my tips to building out a great preliminary contract PLUS I’m even offering a download at the end of this post with the exact contract I use to outline my services for each of my clients!
I want to note that I am by no means a lawyer, but have learned what I need to include for my clients after years of updating and rewriting contracts to fit my needs and protect myself and my services.
In other words: what are the deliverables. More than that, this is an opportunity for you to think of the project scope and any limitations to your work.
I always include 3 free website alterations a month. In my services section, I outline specifically what these alterations do and do not include. For example, while I will accept minor changes to code, I will not allow for full re-designs of entire pages or sections. Similarly, I will gladly upload new content BUT only up to 7 files per alteration.
Here is a sample of what I would write in my web development contracts.
Each alteration is limited to changes in pre-existing code or content and the addition of new content (such as fonts/coloring, images, text, contact information etc.) up to X files per alteration.
Alterations do not include blog posts. Nor do alterations include the build of new pages, websites, or website redesign.
I have had clients come to me multiple times a month asking for large-scale revisions or updates to their website. Before I had added in the above disclaimer, I had a hard time communicating why I wouldn’t perform certain services for free. Now clients know the exact parameters of our collaboration and know to expect an invoice for any work that falls outside of the project scope.
Take a few minutes to write down:
- What will I deliver/services will I provide?
- What do my services include?
- What don’t my services include?
- What is the scope of the project/how many free revisions will I allow of the design/final product?
- What can clients do to have extra services provided (aka, how much will you charge for things outside of your project scope)?
Payment and Late Payments
I am not the only freelancer to say that clients have a tendency to not pay on time. I have had clients who pay me a month late or pay for their final product over 5-6 months instead of in one installment. Some refuse to pay me virtually (who even mails checks anymore?) while others prefer to use Venmo (meet them in the middle with Zelle!). Being upfront and clear with your payment requirements will make sure you aren’t left scratching your head wondering where your paycheck is.
Before you ever begin suffering from clients who will keep paying late, include a late payment fee in your contract. And then enforce it with a little followup email like this:
I am writing to check in about last month’s payment for these services I provided. As noted in our contract, late payment will incur a fee of X%, with an increase of Z% for every additional day/week/month.
Please let me know if there are any issues with last month’s payment and I would be happy to help!
Along those lines…
Changes to Payment
I once had a client promise to review our monthly retainer after the first 3 months. Wanting to make sure she kept her word, I included a short section that covered payment revisions and changes down to the date we had previously agreed upon. Adding this in gives you the backup to approach your employer and renegotiate your rates.
Remember, your services are incredibly valuable and clients who are unwilling to pay your rates or review and increase low rates gotta go. Honestly, before even accepting a job, consider if the rate is fair to a) the money and energy you spent learning your skills; b) the time and energy you will put into producing a product; c) the quality of the final product and skill required to create this product.
Think of it this way: If my client worked with a corporation for these same services, would they try to negotiate for lower rates or refuse to re-negotiate rates at all? No. So why should they try that with you?
Terms and Conditions
This covers all the basics like confidentiality and NDAs, warranty, relationships, communication etc. But among this list here are some you should pay particular attention to:
Ownership, Licensing, and Authorship
If you sell a graphic design or web design, can your client use it for commercial purposes? Can they share your work on their social platforms and in advertising? Do they have to credit your work?
This is so important for any kind of work or service you provide.
Now, I’m not an expert but take the time to outline the rules and regulations for your work and how clients can manipulate and distribute the products you provide them.
Just like you covered payment changes and late fees, make sure you spend some time covering sudden termination fees.
I have yet *knock on wood* to have a client terminate me suddenly. However, if you are working month-to-month for a client and they decide they no longer need your services and would like to terminate your contract effective immediately, what’re you gonna do?
You’re going to highlight the termination clause in your contract and demand whatever payment is required.
What kind of payment? When it comes to my month-to-month clients, I require that they pay my FULL monthly rate. That’s right, they may end our contract but they still have to pay me. Same goes for project-based work.
Consider the terms that would violate your agreement (aka, what could your Client do that would make continuing this business relationship impossible?).
Next, define a minimum amount of time they have to announce they will no longer be requiring your services (something like 14 days) so that you aren’t putting in work that will go unused or unpaid:
Either Party may terminate this Agreement at any time, with or without cause, upon 14 days written notice…
…If this Agreement is terminated earlier by Client without cause, Client agrees to pay Contractor any and all sums which are due and payable for: (i) services provided as of the date of termination; and (ii) expenses already incurred, including those from documented non-cancelable commitments. Failure to provide proper notice of termination will result in a termination fee of one billing period of bi-weekly or monthly hourly rate. Contractor agrees to use the best efforts to minimize such costs and expenses.
Furthermore, if your client terminates the contract, what will be the new terms of ownership of work? Can they continue to use your products? Can they only use products they have paid for?
On the other hand, should you need to terminate the contract early, what would you continue to provide your Client and for how long?
I mentioned before in one of my posts, consider the things you wouldn’t want your client to do or services you are unwilling to provide in the scope of any project. Knowing what you don’t want can make it easier to define what you can and will provide. Take a few minutes and go over your don’ts on every aspect of your upcoming project. Then fill in the blanks.
And remember, for the love of all that is good, DO NOT start your project until you have a nice client signature on your contract! Without it, you and your work are completely vulnerable–yes, even if you’ve known your “client” for year and trust them to be good people because you know what? Most people suck at some point or another.
Ready to build your contract? Click here to snag your contract download!