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When you are just starting out to work for yourself it can be difficult to know what to include in your first professional contract. How should you specify terms? Will the inclusion put the customer off? What are the most important things to include?

There are no hard and fast rules for this. However, there are best practices that you should expect from customers as well as yourself. After all, it's important to protect yourself. If you don't, you may be taken advantage of. We absolutely want to avoid that!

So what are the most important things to include in a professional contract? Here are the most important …

Professional Contracts: My Terms Or Your Terms?

Freelance contract or your client's contract?

If you agree to freelance work, you must have a written agreement. It saves a ton of headaches across the board! However, some customers want to use their version of a professional agreement instead of yours.

When it comes to the terms of your agreement, you may find that they conflict with those of the customer. This is a difficult situation, but this is where your negotiation skills come in.

The ideal situation, of course, is for them to sign your terms with no questions asked. You should urge them to accept your terms. This is easier if you are a limited company and / or have extensive experience. So keep in mind that you may need to be at least a little flexible.

Do not be so also Ready to compromise. Notice your red lines: how much you're willing to compromise, whether it's your terms of payment, the daily rate, or the amount of research that is expected of you. Do not agree to anything that falls under the brand!

If your terms are very different from theirs, there may not be a happy compromise to land on. If so, it is probably time you left. It is unlikely that this customer would have respected you or your work under inappropriate conditions anyway.

Nondisclosure agreements

It's not uncommon for customers to ask you to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) alongside their (or your) contract. Read the details carefully. Usually it is the case that you do not contact the customer directly. You cannot use the work in your portfolio. You cannot discuss the work outside of our agreement. "This is all pretty standard, but look for any hidden clauses. For example, if there's a non-compete clause that means you can't work for similar clients (because they fear you're sharing intellectual property), don't sign. It can Seriously restrict your future job opportunities and even open you to lawsuits!

Payment terms

Do you need an upfront payment so you can collect materials to research or complete the work? Will you be paid within 30, 60 or 90 days of the invoice date? If it's a big job, how will the customer pay you – will the payments be split? Should you expect a direct transfer or be paid with the staff payroll?

All of these things are important and you need to make sure they are decided before you see your first professional contract so that they can be started from the start. If you are unsure of the details, you run the risk of not getting paid on time. Don't be afraid to come back with contract changes requested if the terms are unfair or different from those you discussed.

As a rule of thumb, you should always set at least SOME prepayments before you start work. At least 25% is a good place to start: it shows the customer's commitment and makes sure they mean business about paying you. It also means you are set up in payroll systems to get started, which makes keeping track of your next bills a lot easier!

What is expected of you?

It is important that a project outline is included in every type of professional contract. What is the exact amount of work that is expected of you? Having this set out from the start avoids what the industry calls "scope creep" – where customers add extra work under the guise that they expected you to do it in the first place or that it was part of the original agreement. The phrase "Can you only …" is a clear sign of an upcoming scope creep!

Scope creep is by no means okay, and you should protect yourself from it. Understand what your service will offer and what is and what is not included. If the customer later wants additions, they can book more work with you at your set price.

If you are clear about this, the customer also has a better overview of what you are working on at every stage. Remember, the contract protects you and the money you invest and protects you!

Milestone dates

Your professional contract must contain milestone dates for delivery items

This is especially important when you're working on a large project or when it takes a few months to complete. If there are different stages of work and different parts need to be submitted and unsubscribed by the customer, then you should be clear about when each part is expected.

Even if it's a smaller project (such as a single article commission), consider setting a fixed date when the publisher expects the first draft. Note that in this situation, you may not always have a formal professional contract to sign. Instead, your terms will likely be set up via email. As long as your agreement is in writing, it is considered a legal contract!

Revisions and changes

You should make sure that the time for changes or revisions is also reflected in the schedules you agree on. How many revisions will you want to make at each stage before you have to start accounting for the extra time? This is likely to be two or three under the original assignment (don't expect you to make major changes or change the original assignment once it's agreed)

How long does each revision take? State this in the freelance contract so that everyone is clear from the start: 48 hours, for example, for minor revisions and longer for more extensive ones. The type and time you spend on the revisions you make will of course entirely depend on your industry and the scope of your work.

Also ask who your contact person is for changes. There's nothing worse than "unsubscribing from committee" when half a dozen people have their thoughts on you. It often contradicts other comments and gets very confusing. Designate a point of contact who will be responsible for collecting your client's feedback – this makes the process a lot easier for everyone!

Finally, determine how much additional time will cost. Make sure this hourly rate isn't too low: you want customers to stick to your agreed project. If not, then you must be paid fairly for extra work!

Intellectual property – an integral part of any professional contract

Another important thing to think about, but which is easy to forget, is: Who owns the work I do? In most cases, this is likely the company or customer you work for. However, it is good to have written confirmation to avoid confusion. You may also want to think about secondary rights – i.e. H. Would you be allowed to resell the work in the future? If so, would the original customer expect a cut? Have your details ironed out in your original contract and avoid confusion later.

Do you have any advice on creating a professional contract? We'd love to hear about your experiences. Let us know on the freelance forum.

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Check out these articles for more tips on setting up and running your freelance business!

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