When I decided to pursue freelance writing full-time as a business, I started realizing there was so much I didn't know. Much of the advice I read recommended setting up a website so my clients would take me seriously, so I spent hours online browsing through many freelance writing sites searching for ideas. Thankfully I happened to land on a writer's website that had a copy of her service agreement.
Until then I used a very simple agreement only when I felt like it. This writer's agreement helped me realize just how blissfully unaware I was walking into this business. I had no idea of what to expect. Many writers have had unfortunate experiences with unsavory clients. Here are a few items to consider when drafting your contract:
Establish Payment Terms Upfront
Get at a percentage of your payment upfront. I request a 50 percent, non-refundable down payment from all new clients. I don't start working on the project until the down payment has been received. Requesting a down payment insures that I maintain a steady flow of income. It also provides my clients with reassurance that I won't just take their money and run since the remaining 50 percent balance is to be paid upon completing the project.
If a client decides not to pay me when I finish a project I'll be mad, but not as mad as I would be if I hadn't at least gotten half my money upfront. I sometimes wave the 50 percent down payment requirement for returning clients who consistently pay on time, or if the project falls under a certain dollar amount.
Cap the Number of Revisions You Allow
I once had a client who requested so many revisions, that it began interfering with progress on my other projects. Another client requested several revisions, and then decided not go forward with her project so I got hit with a double whammy: I didn't get paid, and I wasted lots of valuable time performing endless changes (the 50 percent non-refundable deposit could have at least softened the blow!).
My service agreement provides clients with at least three complementary revisions, and an offer to perform more at my standard hourly rate. You should also set a limit for how long a client can wait to come back to you requesting a revision - so they don't show up a year later asking for a revision.
Always, Always Use a Service Agreement
This is one of those things that sets you apart as a professional writer. Even a $25 project should require a contract. Your client will respect you and the work you provide.
I also include information explaining my client's ownership rights and intellectual rights. There is also a clause explaining that I may use the finished product as a sample for my portfolio. Since this is a contract they can choose to agree or not, although I haven't had any problems with this. I also have legal information and would encourage writers to consult with an attorney regarding the laws of their respective states. And of course a service agreement really comes in handy if you are ever forced to call upon the law to settle things.
There are some great templates available out there to get you started. Check out: http://www.findlegalforms.com/product/work-for-hire-agreement-writer/. You can have a nice service agreement ready to email or fax your next client in no time!