Protect Yourself and Set Boundaries With a Contract: A Guide for Freelance Copywriters
Ok, I’m gonna start off this post with an obligatory disclaimer that I’m not a lawyer and this is not legal advice, and seek counsel to create your contracts so that you know you’re fully protected.
Now that THAT’S out of the way, I will say, I may not be a lawyer, but I’ve definitely had my fair share of contracts. As a freelance copywriter and agency owner, I live and breathe contracts. Everything goes in the contract. And everyone gets one. I don’t care how long we’ve been friends. I don’t care how small the project is. Every single client gets a contract. I’m like the Oprah of contracts. You get a contract! And YOU get a contract! And you! And you!
Must-Haves in Your Freelance Copywriting Contract
Let’s look at some of the most significant things that need to go in your freelance copywriter contract. This is by no means exhaustive, but these are definitely things you need to have in place.
- The Scope of Work to Be Completed
Your freelance copywriting contract should include the details of the project, including purpose, length of time the work will take to be completed, and the parameters surrounding the work you will be doing.
For example, if you’ll be producing email copy for campaigns, list this in your scope of work. This protects you if your client completely changes the scope of the project and decides they’d rather have you write social captions when you didn’t agree to do so.
If your client wants additional work or work that differs from the original scope, you can create another contract if you choose to accept the new project scope.
The deliverables listed in your copywriting contract should detail exactly what you will be producing for the client. Include details.
For example,if the client hires you to write to a nurture sequence, your contract should say so. If your client is hiring you to write a nurture sequence AND upload it into their email service provider, put it in your contract. All work to be completed needs to go into writing.
- The Timeline for Deliverables
This is going to save you loads of headaches. Putting the delivery date of completed work in your contract is crucial. This will protect you from the scope creepers who want to push up their deadline (this happens a LOT more often than you’d think).
If you want to include language about paying a rush fee for shortening the deadline, have your legal counsel add in that clause.
One of the best parts about being a freelance copywriter is controlling your own income, which means setting your own pricing. Keep yourself protected by putting your rates in writing, whether it’s per hour or per project.
If you’re charging per hour, include how these hours will be tracked and when your client can expect you to submit these hours.
- Payment Schedule (and any Penalties)
When do you want to get paid? Do you want payment delivered before you turn in your completed work (this is highly recommended, especially if it’s a new client), or do you want to offer Net 15 or Net 30 terms? Hey, you’re the boss at your freelance copywriting business. You set these terms.
- Cancellation terms
So, you stopped taking new clients because your calendar was full, but now a client wants to cancel the project. What now? When a client cancels a project, this affects you financially. After all, you could have saved their slot for a client who was completely ready.
Having cancellation terms that ensure you are still compensated protects you from losing income because a client put the brakes on a project.
(I’m gonna say again, I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice. Hire an attorney to write your freelance copywriter contracts. It’s totally worth it to make sure you’re completely covered)
- Equipment Expenses
Maybe your client wants you to travel onsite. Maybe they want you to use costly software to complete their project. Whatever the expense is, ask your attorney to include a clause in your freelance contract that obligates the client to foot the bill for their project expenses and not you.
A copyright/ownership clause determines who the completed works belong to once they’re paid for. This means that you can’t sell the work to anyone else and that ownership of the work belongs to your client once the payment is sent.
SUPER IMPORTANT: Ask your attorney about language that allows you to use the completed works in your portfolio. This can vary from client to client, as many will not want you to advertise your completed work with their company name on it.
Many copywriters only want to work with clients who will publish their names on content rather than work as a ghostwriter (meaning, you’re writing “as” someone and not under your own name). If this is the case, have your attorney draft up language that requires the client to attribute the works to you.
Keep in mind that many, many clients will disagree with this. I’d even go so far as to say MOST businesses would prefer a ghostwriting situation, for numerous reasons.
- Permission to Disclose Partnership
If you want to include your client’s logo on your website and to advertise the partnership, put it in your contract. As with using completed works in your portfolio or attributing work to you, some clients don’t like to disclose their copywriting partnerships. This is particularly true in cases of personal brands who don’t want to know they hired out someone to be “their voice” when they’re trying to make genuine connections with their audience, or large corporations that like to keep their secret weapons secret.
Don’t Forget: Contracts Every Time
As a freelance copywriter, your contract solidifies your scope of work, the payment agreement, the timeline, and any other parameters you set for the duration of the business relationship with the client. No matter how long you’ve been working with someone, no matter your previous relationship, you need to work under a contract every single time.
Trust me: your future self will thank you.