One of the best ways to protect yourself, your business and your time is to have a contract in place for each client before the project or retainer begins. Hiring a lawyer to hammer out a reusable contract template is a smart investment. Alternatively, you might be able to secure help from your professional union (such as the National Writers Union, which has a contract template for their members). However, if neither of those options work for you, it's still advisable to put a contract in place.
Please keep in mind: the writer is not a lawyer, and these contract templates are simply a summary of several years of experience, along with advice from professional legal counsel. They are meant to give insight into the contract language before the freelancer is confronted with the need to sign fast without understanding.
Here are five contract templates to help situate the freelance writer within the legal framework of the business, and to help you get started in drafting your own sample, whether for actual use or as a first step toward legal help. In addition, don't forget to check out the step-by-step guide on writing a contract.
The Letter of Agreement is an informal variation of a contract. It is best used with clients such as individual authors, smaller companies and websites, or for contracting for services with friends, co-workers or someone else that you know and trust. As you can tell from its name, the LOA comes in the form of a simple letter. It's strengths lie in the easily understandable language and the specific listing of details. However, one weakness is that it's likely the least airtight (legally) document of this series.
The nondisclosure agreement is one which freelancers may run into before the project even gets off the ground. It serves to protect your clients interests, as your signature promises that you won't disclose any of their sensitive or proprietary information. Because of this, some clients may even ask for an NDA to be signed before they even discuss details or negotiate rates and deadlines. Freelancers should be careful to note what information their client considers proprietary and to take all precautions to treat such information with the gravity it deserves. The linked example of an NDA should serve as a basic sample for the freelancer to see what he/she is getting into, and what kinds of stipulations such an agreement details.
A formal contract is often provided to the freelance writer by the client, especially in the case of larger clients such as magazines or publishers. Such contracts are often a common template used by the client for all freelance agreements. A formal contract is generally the most legally airtight. For this reason, freelancers should be careful to vet such documents with a professional attorney if the language isn't plain enough. The linked contract provided here is a general example of what the freelancer may come across in the course of their work.
The non-compete agreement ensures your client that you won't nab their clients. It asks that you sign away any rights to compete with them for specific clients- clients which are noted by name, geographic area, or other stipulations. The noncompete linked here is a sample for freelancers to vet before they sign away their rights to go after new business. Remember- one of the most important parts in the noncompete is the time limit. Make sure you check it out.
The statement of work is a kind of contract that is useful because it focuses very specifically on spelling out the major points of a work arrangement. It often foregoes a lot of the "legalese" that more formal contracts are known for. The clarity of this particular type of contract is much appreciated by both clients and freelancers alike.