Agony Ant: Legal Coverage for Freelance Copywriters

November 25th, 2020 by admin Leave a reply »

What is a contract?

A contract is basically a way of putting in black and white what you are going to do, when and for how much. But it’s more than that. It also sets down your expectations of the client – what does s/he need to do or provide for you to complete the work? And what happens if they don’t fulfill their side of the bargain?

Generally there are seven parts to a contract:

Description of the job (the brief)

Here you detail all the basics of what the job is about. Most importantly you need to define what ‘completion’ means so that the client can’t drag a project out endlessly. Clearly outline how many revision stages there will be before you start charging extra.


Put down not only the final deadline but also key milestones during a project such as first, second and final drafts. Also highlight what the client is obliged to provide at key stages – and what will happen if they don’t deliver on time. Basically, if they don’t give you the reference materials (or whatever) they promised on time then you won’t be able to deliver the final draft on time.

Money issues

Here you need to set out how much you’re being paid, when you’ll be paid and how. It might be an hourly rate or, more likely for a big project, a fixed fee. It’s standard practice to have a deposit paid at the beginning of a job which commits both parties to its completion. And then state exactly when final payment should be made (e.g. on approval of final draft). The ‘how’ means will it be paid direct to your bank account (hopefully!) but also, in some cases, which currency it will be paid in. As with timings, you should state clearly what the consequences will be if the agreed payments are not made.

Delivery details

This isn’t so much ‘where to deliver to’ (although that’s important!) but what exactly should be delivered and how. Specifically what file format should the job be provided in, e.g. Word, pdf, XML, etc.

Cancellation clause (‘kill clause’)

This is so important! What happens if the client pulls the plug on the job half way through? You need to include a ‘kill clause’ stating a fixed fee that will be payable in this situation. The standard amount is 25% but you may want to have a graded tariff depending on how near the project is to completion at the time of cancellation.

Copyright protection

Make it clear that your work is yours until it’s been paid for.


Obvious but worth mentioning, both you and the client need to sign and date the documents – one for you and one for them. Ideally, each page should be initialled as well to make it that little bit more watertight.
The pros and cons of a contract: Legal coverage for freelance copywriters

The pros are:

It brings clarity to a project and cuts out unnecessary misunderstandings. It clarifies expectations on both sides and will help avoid disputes at a later date.

It provides legal protection to you both. In the event of a dispute you have something in writing that clearly sets out the terms of your relationship.

It gives you control by preventing projects ballooning out of control. In wars it’s called ‘mission creep’, in advertising ‘project creep’ as the client tries to add more and more things that weren’t there at the outset.

It makes you look good if you have a professional looking contract and inspires confidence in the client that you’re going to do a good job.

And the cons?

Hassle. It can be a bit of a faff to put one together and may not be suitable for very small jobs or for a job with a client you know and trust.

Occasionally a client might say No when asked to sign a contract. They’re probably the type of client you should avoid anyway!

It may cause a slight delay to the beginning of a project while you’re waiting for signatures. Then again, it could save so much time and heartache in the long run.


Comments are closed.