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6 essential elements of a freelance contract

A verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, so your first step on the road to your freelance future should be to prepare an airtight contract. (The good news is, you don’t have to be a legal eagle to do it.)


If you’re armed with a freelance contract free of loopholes and grey areas, you won’t be found wanting if things go topsy-turvy with your client. 

But to make doubly sure that your world isn’t turned upside down, follow these six tips.

1. Say what is (and isn’t) included in your service

Be crystal clear about the service you will (and won’t) be providing to your client.

You can be as brief or as detailed as you like, just as long as it’s clear to a reasonable person what they should and shouldn’t expect from you under the terms of your contract.


For instance, if you’ve been hired as a graphic designer to help revamp a client’s website, this doesn’t extend to branding their social media channels too (unless your contract specifically says it does).

2. Define your service boundaries (and what it costs to step outside them)

Being a freelancer doesn’t mean you work for free.

If your client shifts the goalposts by adding extra work that you didn’t sign-up to do and they make no mention of paying you extra for it, this is known as ‘scope creep.’


So, it’s a good idea to insert a scope creep clause, which lets your client know that any work you do for them outside your agreement will be billed separately. After all, few things in life come free and that includes your services.

3. Claim copyright ownership

As a freelancer, you work under a ‘contract for services,’ so you own the copyright for all the work you produce for your client unless you assign these rights to them.

Not all clients are aware of this though. So, to deter your client from laying claim to your work without paying for it, you can insert a clause in your contract stating that you are the copyright holder unless or until your client pays you for your work. This should stop any potentially nasty court action in its tracks.

4. Present your payment options

Cashflow is the lifeblood of freelancing. Without it, you effectively sound the death knell of your freelance business.

Your contract can specify:

  • The project fee on a one-off or recurring basis.
  • The fee for doing work outside your contract (scope creep).
  • Dates for instalment payments for recurring contracts.
  • Accepted payment methods, such as bank transfer, PayPal, credit/debit card, etc.

When your contract lays down its payment terms, your client will have no excuse but to pay you the right amount at the right time – every time.

5. Insert a late delivery clause

In business, it’s advisable to expect the unexpected and, better still, make provision for it.

You may fall ill, experience a family bereavement or something similar and that deadline you gave your client a cast-iron guarantee for now looks like it’s made of jelly.

Ensure your contract allows for falling behind schedule. A late delivery clause along these lines will help: “In the event that the freelancer anticipates not being able to meet the agreed deadline, they will inform the client via email or phone at the earliest opportunity with a view to agreeing an extension.”

Contract delays are never a good thing but, with a properly worded late delivery clause, it’s a case of better late than never.

6. Tie-in a termination clause

A contract can come to a premature end for any number of reasons and a freelance contract is no exception.

As long as your contract allows for different eventualities, you’re home and dry.

Take-away message

It’s too risky working without the protection of a fully fledged freelance contract. You leave yourself open to mistakes, miscommunication and, in the worst case scenario, costly court action.

A sound freelance contract protects you and your client from the perils of the unexpected. It also instils confidence in both sides and minimises the potential for misunderstanding. You don’t need a law degree to put one together either. Just jot down a few specifics, ask your client to sign-off on them and keep your contract in a safe place.

Provided your freelance contract is fair, a reasonable client won’t hesitate to sign it. If they do, it’s a sure-fire sign that you probably shouldn’t be doing business with them. No contract, no deal!