Monday, March 28, 2005

Editorial Freelancing: When to Work WITHOUT a Contract

Contracts are a necessary part of any business. However, there comes a time when you can "safely" do away with them. Safely is in quotation marks because nothing in business is safe -- even with a contract.

Outlined below are two rules I followed when I was freelancing:

1. Steady clients: If you've been doing work for clients on a consistent basis for a period of time (I used 6 months as a marker), then you can probably get away without a contract.

For example, one of my clients was a legal publishing firm and they sent projects in rapid succession -- sometimes two or three a week for three months straight. As the parameters of the projects didn't change (hence, the need for a different fee structure), it got to be cumbersome to print up a contract with every job. So, I created a "one-time contract."

It covered all projects for as long as they used Inkwell Editorial for outsource work. Parameters were placed on the projects, but again, since the work was the same, one contract was all that was necessary.

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2. Pre-paid projects: Many of these types of projects came from individuals who usually wanted the work within a short period of time and were willing to pay up front.

In that case, I usually just wrote some type of rider at then end of the invoice saying that the project was "Paid in Advance based on the standard industry rate ($x) agreed upon in the initial consultation." This way, you don't have to write up a contract, but still have something in writing to which you and the recipient can refer.

Contracts Checklist. Make sure any contract you use has at least the following:

Fee structure (word count, hourly rate, page rate, etc.)
Project Due Date
Payment Due Date
Date Submitted from Client
Parameters of work to be performed
Number of rewrites/do-overs/reviews/corrections without charge
Charge for "extras" (rewrites, research fees, gas, telephone, messenger fees, etc.)

Helpful Links: (sample freelance contract) (FYI, the real definition of an Independent Contractor) (sample freelance writer's invoice)

Remember, contracts are to protect you AND the client. When I write contracts, I always pretend that I will have to go in front of Judge Judy and "explain myself". What would she want to know? As her show highlights (brilliantly, I think), the law is basically common sense.

A contract can be as complex or simple as you make it. No matter what kind you use though, make sure the basics are covered. That way you don't risk the wrath of Judge Judy calling you "dumb" (one of her favorite adjectives).
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