Do You Need A Contract For Freelance Work?

Should You Have A Contract As A Freelancer?Do you have a contract for each freelance job that you accept?

Conventional business wisdom suggests that no business arrangement should be entered into unless a signed contract is in place. You wouldn’t sell your car or hire someone to remodel your house without a contract in place, would you?

At least that’s how conventional reasoning goes. Indeed, a year and a half ago, I would have answered the previous question with a resounding “Yes. Yes, I do have a contract for every single freelance project that I accept.”

That was before I entered the “Wild, Wild West” of the web content freelance writing market. Prior to writing web content, even my very smallest freelance writing projects were worth hundreds of dollars and represented a significant portion of a week’s worth of work on my part.

In those circumstances, you’d better believe that I had a contract for every single project that I worked on. In most cases, the client insisted on it.

With the addition of web content writing to my freelance business, the nature of my freelance work changed. Yes, I still have the larger freelance writing jobs that require hours and hours of work. In fact, they are still my bread and butter. But, in addition to those jobs, I am often asked to do much smaller projects: a blog post here, a few articles there…

Here are five reasons why you should consider having a contract for every freelance job that you might accept, and five reasons why you may not wish to have a contract for some jobs.

Five Reasons Why Freelancers Should Have A Contract For Every Job

  1. A contract can help to assure that both you and the client agree on the terms of the project and the nature of the work.
  2. A contract clearly spells out payment terms, due date, number of revisions, and the answers to numerous other questions that might arise during the course of the project.
  3. A contract may provide legal protection for both the client and the freelancer.
  4. A contract clearly conveys that you are a professional running a business and that you are serious about your work.
  5. A contract protects the freelancer from changes in the scope of work and the client from work that doesn’t meet the contractual requirements.

Five Reasons Why Freelancers Don’t Need A Contract For Every Job

  1. Some jobs are too small for a contract to be practical. Writing a specific contract for the job could take longer than takes to do the work and cost more than the project is worth.
  2. Business is based on trust. A client who violates the terms of an informal agreement will probably also violate the terms of a contract.
  3. Requiring a contract for every freelance project may cause you to lose some clients who don’t want to go to the trouble of signing a formal agreement.
  4. Waiting for a contract to be finalized can delay the start of a project.
  5. Some freelancers don’t have the expertise or knowledge to create their own contract and don’t want to pay the price for a contract drawn up by an attorney.

Personally, I find it necessary to have something written about the terms and requirements of each assignment that I accept. With a written document (even if it is an e-mail), the client and I both have something that we can refer back to if there is a question about my work or payment.

However, these days that “something written” is sometimes in the form of an e-mail rather than in the form of a contract. In fact, I’m working on this very blog post on the basis of an e-mail, not a contract.

I think the bottom line is that the decision of whether or not to use a contract for a specific project is about liability and risk. When deciding whether or not you should accept work without a contract ask yourself the following questions:

  • How much liability is likely to arise from this project?
  • How much liability am I willing to assume?
  • How much pay am I willing to risk losing if the client and I don’t agree that my work is satisfactory?

For me, the answer to all of those questions is “not much.” I only do work based solely on e-mails for fairly small projects. What is the answer for you?