11 Critical Elements of a Freelance Contract + Template Ideas

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Looking for some help with writing a freelance contract? In this post, we cover the critical elements of a freelance contract and why you need one.

While I admit, I’ve been really bad about not using freelance agreements frequently enough in my own business, I can also deeply appreciate why they are so important for both the freelancer and the client.

Case in point: I worked for a client and did a lot of work. Then, when the deadline came and I was about to submit the project, they canceled!

I had no recourse. There was nothing I could do. I was out so many hours of work and had nothing to show for it.

To make matters worse, it was in a niche that I would never post about on my own website, so I kind of just sat with the work in my queue for a long time.

I was able to eventually rework it and sell it to someone else, but it should have never gotten to that point!

Legal Disclaimer Our Lawyer Friends Recommended We Add

We’re not lawyers, and we don’t play lawyers online or anywhere else. No one at team Create and Go pretends to be a lawyer in any way, and nothing in this post should be taken as legal advice. It’s important to seek legal advice and consult with a lawyer to ensure that the elements, sections and/or clauses you include in your contract are enforceable and comply with relevant laws and regulations.

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get into the items you may want to include in your freelance worker contract.

Whether you’re an independent contractor, freelance writer, self-employed worker, or anyone else with freelance work, a written agreement is a necessary legal document you need to protect yourself.

11 Critical Elements of a Freelance Contract Template

Now, let’s break these 11 elements of a good freelance contract down further so you understand how to draft them within your own contracts for clients you want to work with.

You can also use this as a freelance contract template for your own written agreement.

1. Names and Contact Information For All Parties

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When drafting a freelance agreement, it is essential to ensure that all necessary information, including names, contact details, and roles and responsibilities are included for all parties involved.

Name/contact info is important because it sets clear expectations for both parties and ensures accountability throughout the project’s duration.

Including all pertinent names and contact details in a freelancer agreement ensures that both parties are aware of their inclusion in the agreement and that they must uphold their roles and responsibilities. 

Put another way, these details provide clarity on who to contact in case of any issues or concerns relating to the project. 

Additionally, having this information helps establish trust between both parties as it shows a willingness to communicate effectively throughout the project’s lifecycle.

2. Statement of Objectives/Statement of Purpose

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The second vital aspect of any freelance contract is the Statement of Objectives or Statement of Purpose. 

This section clearly defines the goals and objectives of a project, outlining what both parties hope to achieve through their partnership.

The statement of objectives/purpose serves as a roadmap for your freelance work, providing direction and clarity from the start. It helps ensure that everyone involved in the project is on the same page regarding expectations and services delivered.

By defining clear objectives, you can avoid misunderstandings and disagreements down the line.

Keep in mind this is an overview of what the rest of the freelance contract will explain in further detail. Therefore, it’s not as critical to include due dates or metrics for measuring success just yet.

3. Scope of Work

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In this part of your freelance agreement, you will drill down on exactly what is expected of you as the freelancer to be delivered to the client.

The scope of work will define your precise tasks, also commonly referred to as project deliverables.

It could also include the contract period, including when the work is expected to be completed or whether it will be an open-ended and ongoing basis.

Take your time with this section, and really iron out all of the details with your client so there are no surprises.

Pro Tip: Get your client on a recorded Zoom call to discuss what you will be adding to your freelance contract ahead of time.

This is not intended to be a “GOTCHA!” tactic. But, it does help to have a record of what was discussed and agreed to prior to filling out the details on your written contract.

It also helps ensure you won’t completely blank out on what you needed to add to the agreement!

I admit I’ve done this before. Not my finest moment.

It feels so embarrassing to have to go back to a client and ask them to repeat what they want from you. Especially on a first or second meeting!

4. Timeline for Deliverables

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Another important aspect of a freelance contract is to address deadlines, including milestones and checkpoints to help keep both parties accountable and on track.

For example, your freelance contract might say:

Project Name

  • June 1 – Outline for [Project] due to [client name]
  • June 7 – [Client name] deadline to approve outline
  • June 14 – First draft of [Project] due (subject to change pending outline approval/rejection)
  • June 30 – Revisions must be sent to [freelancer name] by this date or the post will be considered final
  • July 7 – In the event there are revisions requested, second draft of [Project] due

Depending on the number of deliverables, this might be a longer section, but having it all in writing will be beneficial to both the freelancer and the client.

It ensures you can get everything on your calendar, and schedule other activities around your deadlines.

This is especially helpful if you have multiple clients you are juggling like I do. Having details ahead of time helps me keep my calendar and queue organized so I can deliver things on time.

5. Payment Terms

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Every freelance contract template that you’ll find will also include a clear section for the payment terms of your agreement.

A few of the things to include here are:

  • How you bill: i.e. invoicing once a month, when the project is completed, at timeline intervals, etc…
  • How you will be paid: i.e. via check, Paypal, direct deposit, etc…
  • When you will be paid: how long after your invoice is sent will the money be in hand?
  • Late fee terms and/or interest rates

For example, my invoices state the following payment terms:

TERMS: NET 30 days. Past due amounts are subject to a $10 or 10% late fee whichever is larger.

Here are some additional considerations that may or may not apply to your freelance work:

  • Whether you accept partial payments
  • What happens to the work in the event that payment is withheld
  • Your preferred currency – hugely important if you’re working with a client based in a different country. If you charge in US dollars and they think the quote is in Australian dollars, those are two very different numbers!
  • If a deposit is required to retain your services
  • If you have a monthly retainer fee – helpful for ongoing projects
  • The exact amount you charge for your services
    • Photographers might charge a studio fee and an additional editing fee
    • Website designers might charge a flat fee and fees for revisions
    • Writers like me might charge a per-word or per-project fee
  • What the fees are for revisions and/or changes to the scope of work
  • Cancel or kill fees – We’ll cover this more in-depth in a later section, but this is your brass tax section so include all relevant fees in this section

Bottom line: It’s important to have a well-defined payment terms section in your freelance contract to ensure that both you and your client are on the same page regarding payment expectations.

6. Confidentiality/Non-Disclosure Clauses

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A non-disclosure clause, also known as a confidentiality clause, outlines the legal obligations that freelancers have to protect sensitive information shared by their clients during the course of their work.

Essentially, it ensures that all confidential materials and data will be kept private and not disclosed to any third parties without permission.

The primary purpose of including a non-disclosure clause in a freelance worker contract is to safeguard the client’s proprietary information from being leaked or misused.

Confidential information can include trade secrets, financial records, customer lists, product designs, and other sensitive data that could damage the client if it fell into the wrong hands. By signing this agreement, freelancers agree to maintain strict confidentiality regarding all such information throughout their working relationship with the client.

In general, non-disclosure clauses are designed to protect both parties involved in a freelance project.

In summary, this section of your freelance contract indicates whether or not you’re allowed to tell people about the project you are working on.

For example, one of the services I offer is ghostwriting, and many of my clients require that I sign a non-disclosure agreement or NDA. In this case, I’m signing as a promise I will let them take the credit for all writing I do for them. 

But, it also bars me from talking about anything I learn related to their company along the way as well.

This is reassuring to clients who learn I write for competing companies because they know that I won’t share company secrets that could give one of my clients a leg up on the other.

7. Intellectual Property Rights

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When it comes to freelance work contracts, it is essential to ensure that your intellectual property rights are clearly defined for signing a binding contract.

Intellectual property refers to any creations of the mind such as inventions, literary and artistic works, designs, symbols, and names used in commerce.

These are protected by laws that give their creators exclusive rights over the use of their creations for a certain period.

It’s not uncommon for clients to seek ownership over any work you create during the project – this includes ideas, concepts, sketches, and final designs.

As a freelancer or independent contractor, you should be aware of what you’re giving up before agreeing to transfer ownership of your work.

In some cases where clients require full ownership over intellectual property rights, it’s important to negotiate fair compensation for giving up those rights.

8. Revisions and Change Orders

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The “Revisions and Change Orders” section of freelance contracts outlines the terms and conditions for making changes to the original project scope or deliverables.

Below are some of the key items that should be included in this section:

  1. Scope of Revisions: Clearly define what constitutes a revision or change order. This could include changes to the project’s timeline, deliverables, or additional services not included in the original agreement.
  2. Process for Requesting Changes: Specify how the client should request revisions or change orders. This could include a written request or a meeting with the client to discuss the changes.
  3. Additional Fees: Outline how additional fees will be assessed for revisions or change orders. This could include an hourly rate, a fixed fee, or a percentage of the original project fee.
  4. Timeline for Revisions: Specify how long the freelancer has to complete the requested revisions or change orders. This could include a specific number of days or weeks, or it could be tied to the project’s overall timeline.
  5. Limitations on Revisions: Set limits on the number of revisions or change orders that can be requested. This will help prevent scope creep and ensure that the project stays within its original timeline and budget.
  6. Approval Process: Describe how the client will approve revisions or change orders. This could include written approval or a sign-off on the revised deliverables.
  7. Termination Clause: Outline the circumstances under which the contract can be terminated due to a disagreement over revisions or change orders.

Having a clear “Revisions and Change Orders” section in your freelancer contract will help manage expectations and minimize conflicts between you and your client during the project.

9. Communication Protocols

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This one in particular is one that you won’t find in every freelance contract template online, but it’s an important one that I’ve learned from personal experience.

Adding communication protocols to your agreement lays out precisely how you and your client can communicate with each other.

For example, a website designer might specifically state something like:

Emails will only be read and responded to between 8 a.m. and noon EST Monday through Friday. In the event you have an urgent request, you can leave me a voicemail at 555-867-5309. 

What is defined as an emergency?

  • Your website broke
  • Your website got hacked
  • I didn’t meet the project deadline and I’ve been ghosting your emails for more than 48 hours (highly unlikely!)

What is NOT defined as an emergency

  • You had a new idea about your page layout.
  • You want to change your web design request.
  • You no longer like the color red or blue or green or insert color here.

I’ve seen some pretty snarky communication protocols in freelance worker contracts, but after a nightmare client that called me at 2 a.m. screaming orders at me on more than one occasion, I can understand why freelancers are protecting themselves with thorough communication protocols.

This section is also a good area to repeat contact information and the methods you prefer to be contacted by.

If you only want to handle correspondence via email so that everything is in writing, say so! If you prefer that all calls are recorded Zoom calls, state that!

Having communication protocols outlined in your contract is simply a helpful way to keep everyone on the same page and protect the boundaries of all parties involved.

There might be exceptions and times you choose to break protocols, but it’s better to have it all in writing to be safe.

10. Termination Policies

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No one likes to think about this section of an agreement, but in the event that you experience a project ending sooner than you anticipated, you will be grateful to have termination policies in place.

The “Termination Policies” section of a freelance contract outlines the conditions and procedures under which either party can terminate the contract. 

Below are some of the key items that should be included in this section:

  1. Termination by the Client: Specify the circumstances under which the client may terminate the contract, such as failure to meet deadlines, quality issues, or a change in project requirements. It’s also important to outline the amount of notice the client must provide before terminating the contract.
  2. Termination by the Freelancer: Specify the circumstances under which the freelancer may terminate the contract, such as non-payment, breach of contract by the client, or a change in project requirements. It’s also important to outline the amount of notice the freelancer must provide before terminating the contract.
  3. Payment for Work Completed: Specify how payment will be handled if the contract is terminated early. This could include payment for all work completed up to the date of termination or a prorated amount based on the percentage of the project that has been completed.
  4. Return of Materials: Specify how any materials, documents, or property provided by the client will be returned upon termination of the contract.
  5. Confidentiality: Outline the freelancer’s ongoing obligations to maintain confidentiality after the contract has been terminated.
  6. Dispute Resolution: Specify how any disputes related to the termination of the contract will be resolved, such as through mediation or arbitration.
  7. Survival: Outline which provisions of the contract will survive termination, such as confidentiality provisions or limitations on liability.

Having a clear “Termination Policies” section in your freelance contract will help manage expectations and minimize conflicts between you and your client during the project, as well as protect your rights in case of early termination.

Legal Clauses

It’s also a good idea to include a clause about how you will handle violations of your termination policies, and this could lead to legal action.

Maybe the client canceled and ghosted on the payment or took your work and published it without paying for it.

I hope this doesn’t happen to you, but it’s important to protect yourself and have a clause for this in your freelance contract.

If nothing else, it will likely deter your client from even thinking about doing this.

The legal clauses you can include in this section of your freelance contract include:

  1. Liquidated Damages: Specifies a predetermined amount of damages the client will be required to pay if they breach the termination policies in the contract. This can help provide a clear understanding of the financial consequences of breaching the contract.
  2. Indemnification: Requires the client to indemnify you for any losses or damages incurred as a result of their breach of the termination policies. This can help ensure that you are not held liable for damages resulting from the client’s actions.
  3. Injunctive Relief: Allows you to seek injunctive relief to prevent the client from continuing to violate the termination policies in the contract. This can help you stop the client from causing further harm or damages.
  4. Attorney’s Fees: Requires the client to pay your attorney’s fees and costs if legal action is necessary to enforce the termination policies in the contract. This can help ensure that you are not responsible for the costs of pursuing legal action.

11. Signatures

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Perhaps the most critical element of all is the signatures section of your freelance contract. Why? This is your only proof that what’s in the contract was “read and agreed to”

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I’ve totally clicked the “Yes” box promising I’ve read terms and conditions on a website even though I didn’t.

However, in the case of business, “I didn’t read it” won’t hold up in court. It is the responsibility of both you and the client to read the entire agreement and actually agree to it.

Signatures prevent misunderstandings or disputes down the line when one party claims they were not aware of certain expectations or requirements.

You have a record to reference and “proof” they were supposed to be aware of ALL expectations and requirements

Having signatures from both parties creates a sense of accountability and professionalism. It shows that you take your work seriously and are committed to delivering what was agreed upon in writing.

Thankfully, there are a lot of services, like DocuSign, that exist now to allow you to use electronic signatures to create a binding contract.

FAQs About Freelance Contracts

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To close things out, we thought it would be helpful to address many of the frequently asked questions we see related to freelance contracts.

Why Is It Important to Have a Freelance Contract?

A freelance contract is a legally binding agreement between a freelancer and their client. It outlines the scope of the project, payment terms, deadlines, ownership of intellectual property, confidentiality clauses, and other important details related to the project.

Having a freelance contract in place is critical for both parties as it ensures that there are no misunderstandings or disputes during the course of the project.

One of the main benefits of having a freelance contract is that it provides clarity on what is expected from both parties.

For example, if you’re a freelancer working on an assignment for a client and they suddenly change their mind about what they want or how much they’re willing to pay you, having a contract in place can help protect your interests by ensuring you get paid fairly for any additional work required.

What Happens if I Violate the NDA/Confidentiality of a Freelance Agreement?

It really depends on the client, but legally speaking, if you violate the NDA/Confidentiality section of a freelance contract, your client has every right to sue you for breaching the contract and disclosing their confidential information.

This could be very costly and damaging to your reputation as a freelancer.

Additionally, not only will it affect your current client relationship, but it can make it difficult for you to find new clients who are willing to work with you in the future as well.

I recognize how hard it can be to keep it a secret, especially when you’re working on a really cool project.

I’ve certainly experienced this myself. I have ghostwritten some of the coolest articles (and books!) that no one will ever know came from me.

It sucks sometimes, but if you sign away your right to disclose what you’re working on, you’re asking for trouble.

Can I Use a Free Freelance Contract Template?

There are a lot of freelance contract templates online, and while you can pull ideas from them all, it’s probably a good idea to draft your own contract.

Doing this ensures that you will include all the sections and ideas you want in it.

Once you have created a freelance contract you are happy with, you can use it as your own freelance contract template for future contracts with other clients.

This can save time and energy while also ensuring that all your bases are covered.

However, before using your contract as a template, it’s important to have an attorney review it beforehand. An experienced lawyer can help identify any potential legal issues or loopholes that could leave you vulnerable in case of disputes.

It’s better to invest in professional legal advice upfront than pay the price later on when things go wrong.

In addition to seeking legal advice, freelancers should also make sure their contracts are tailored to meet the specific needs of each client they work with.

Can I Change My Freelance Contract for Future Clients?

Yes! Your business, your rules!

As you grow in experience and encounter different clients with varying needs, you may find that your initial contract template falls short.

Fortunately, the beauty of being a freelancer is that you have complete control over your business operations – including your freelance contract!

You may need a short-term freelance contract and another one for a client with ongoing work. Whatever the reason may be, don’t hesitate to make changes when necessary.

How Long Should a Freelance Contract Be?

The most simple answer is that it should be as long as it needs to be.

The answer to this question ultimately depends on the project’s complexity and scope, as well as the client’s expectations.

A shorter contract may work well for simpler projects with straightforward deliverables, while longer contracts are necessary for more complex projects that require multiple milestones or involve intellectual property rights.

In general, it’s best to include all relevant information in your contract, regardless of its length, so both parties know what to expect from the agreement.

Should I Send a New Freelance Agreement For Every Project?

Maybe. But, maybe not.

First, it’s important to consider the scope of each project. If you’re working on smaller projects that don’t require significant time or resources, then it may not be necessary to draft an entirely new contract for each one.

However, if you’re taking on larger and more complex projects that involve different timelines, deliverables, and payment schedules, then it’s definitely worth considering drafting a separate contract.

Another factor to consider is whether there have been any changes in circumstances since the initial agreement was made. This can include:

  • Price increases – maybe you’re charging more now. You get to decide if you want to keep doing work at your old rate or if it’s time to update your contract to match your new rate
  • Availability – life happens and if your circumstances have changed, you might not be able to meet the same deadlines as you previously did
  • Materials needed – did your client come out with a new course or book you need to reference for the next phase of the project? If so, you need to update your contract accordingly
  • New credentials – if you’re working in a field that requires certifications or accreditation, you might need to update your contracts to include your updated credentials

Basically, if anything significant changes, it’s probably a good idea to create a new contract for every new project. 

This is also why it’s a good idea to have time limits on your contracts. You don’t want to get locked into old rates, terms, and deadlines as your circumstances change.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Write My Freelance Contract?

The short answer is not necessarily, but it is highly recommended – at least for creating a few templates you can use interchangeably with clients.

Because a freelance contract serves as an agreement between you and your client and outlines the terms of your working relationship, having a second set of eyes could help ensure you have everything you need in it. 

Without a comprehensive contract in place, disputes can arise and legal action may need to be taken.

While you can certainly write a freelance contract on your own using templates and the ideas in this post, there are still potential risks involved.

These templates may not cover all aspects of your specific line of work or protect you adequately in case of a dispute with a client.

By hiring a lawyer to draft your freelance contract template, you can ensure that all necessary clauses are included and that the document accurately reflects the needs and nuances of your freelancing business.

In legal matters, it’s always better to be safe than sorry!

Some lawyers even sell templated contracts to use in your freelance business already.

One of our past students, Amira from ASelfGuru.com, created a freelance bundle of templates that works for a variety of independent contractors and freelancers in various industries, including:

  • Freelance writers
  • Virtual assistants
  • Graphic designers
  • Photographers
  • Social media managers
  • And other more

And, if you want to learn more about the legal pages you need for blogging, she wrote a killer guest post for us you can check out here.

Conclusion and Next Steps

Well, if you are searching for freelance writing or blogging jobs or want to start a freelancing business of any kind, you need to get some sort of freelance contract in place.

If nothing else, it will give you peace of mind knowing that you (and your clients) are protected.

We hope that you can use this outline of critical elements for freelance contracts as a template to write your own.

It should give you a good idea of what to include in your contract and make sure to consider getting a legal pair of eyes on your contract before sending it out to identify any areas that may be lacking.