Get it in writing!

To Sign a Contract 3

Recently I agreed to do an editing project for an acquaintance of mine. We agreed that I would be getting paid for my services, and I agreed to work for less than I usually do.

This may not be a problem on its own, but I made the HUGE mistake of not getting a written contract. Or even a spoken contract. I trusted the acquaintance and thought that I’d at least get paid a fair wage for my work.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. And I know the damage is done.

Being a nice guy is great, I suppose, but if you want to get paid properly you really need to get some kind of contract. By just letting things fall where they may you set yourself up to be used. You can be a nice guy by giving your friend, family member, or acquaintance a “nice” contract to sign. It may seem harsh, but it’s the only way you can (sort of) protect yourself.

Even with a contract there’s no guarantee you’ll get paid. This is one reason it makes sense to get some type of deposit up-front…at least you get something for your work. But without a contract you set yourself up for getting nothing at all.

What kind of contract should you write?

The simplest (and maybe nicest) contract is an email exchange. After you talk on the phone or in person and iron out the details, send a short email summarizing what price and terms you’ve agreed to. I did do this with my last client, but I didn’t do one more crucial step. Before you start working on the project, WAIT for your client’s emailed response. In that responding email the client should clearly concur with your summation.

Another method is to write up a general agreement that outlines your terms and the price you’re charging. You should sign it and then give it to your client to sign. Either make a copy of the signed agreement or just have two agreements for the each of you to sign. Once you have that in hand, go ahead and start working on the assignment.

Contracts that are spoken — oral agreements — are legally binding, but they’re difficult to prove and, therefore, difficult to enforce. Don’t feel like you’re being a bad guy by running your business properly. As a benefit, you’ll start finding that clients treat you with respect when you command it from the beginning.

What kinds of contracts have you used for your freelance work? Do you have any horror stories?

24 Responses to “Get it in writing!”

  1. Rick M says:

    Balancing “being a nice guy” and “running a business properly” is very difficult.
    You want to be easy to work with and trusting, but you also don’t want to get ripped off.
    It’s pretty tough to do and I struggle with it sometimes. Thankfully I haven’t been bitten too badly yet, but you never know!
    .-= Rick M´s last blog ..How Web Content Writing Attracts Visitors =-.

  2. Tracey says:

    I’m sorry that that happened. Usually with a friend you assume you are safe, but usually that’s when they take advantage, it’s usually family or friends who abuse their relationship with you. Thanks for sharing that.
    .-= Tracey´s last blog ..An Interview with Brenda Novak =-.

  3. Your right, its very important to have everything in black and white, without which it becomes difficult to prove anything. I completely agree with you, atleast an email with all the details should do. Very useful post indeed. Thanks for sharing this post with us.

  4. Another problem with writing for a friend is that bringing up the subject of a contract is like bringing up the subject of a prenuptial agreement when getting married. It seems so cold.

    My attitude here would be if I need a contract with a friend, this person is no friend of mine. Just like, if I think I need a prenuptial agreement, better stay single.
    .-= Beth Charette´s last blog ..New Article: Elf Culture: One with Nature =-.

  5. Erik says:

    To me – When it comes to business..friend is just another customer. I will get everything done before starting the job. I had a bitter experience before and she just told me she was not responsible for the happenings..I just told her not to bring any offers and that would spoil our relationship. She is a good friend of mine till now.

  6. Elizabeth says:

    We often forget to take precautions like this, especially amidst all the tasks we try to accomplish. Thanks for the post though, it’s got me motivated to work up an agreement to keep on hand.
    .-= Elizabeth´s last blog ..After C-Section Exercise – Avoid Sit Ups =-.

  7. Yes that is very unfortunate.

    However, chalk it down to experience. I doubt the same thing will ever happen to you again.

    Many people think that silence constitutes agreement in contract law. It doesn’t.

    It still made a great post. Keep up the good work.
    .-= Joseph Condron´s last blog ..About Ennio Morricone: The Greatest Composer The World Has Ever Known =-.

  8. Eren Mckay says:

    Hi Theda,
    That is one thing that is sooo wrong and gets me really mad. People think they can use others and that it’s all fine and dandy. This sure is a pet peeve of mine. People abusing others’ good will.
    I’m sorry this happened to you 🙁
    Blessings ?,
    .-= Eren Mckay´s last blog ..Fresh pear desserts recipes with chocolate =-.

  9. I’m guilty of the same and nice guys do often finish last. It’s amazing how your client/friends assume that the work was just “a lil’ somethin” that you did in a few minutes. They so often don’t realize the actual time and effort it takes to complete a job.
    .-= Ron @ etf trend trading´s last blog ..etf-trend-trading =-.

  10. Ana says:

    I’m glad you shared that story with us. It’s too bad that happened to you, though.

    When you get a client online, do you have that client sign something as well? Would you just use the e-mail correspondence as your contract and ask for half the fee upfront?

  11. People will respect you more if you stick to proper business etiquette. If the contract would have been mentioned early on, things may have been different. Sorry for your troubles… and stick to your guns next time.

  12. I think the biggest problem is that family and friends tend to under-value the skills that you bring to the table.

    If you’ve spent years gaining a skill, they don’t seem to understand that that skill has significant value.

    When it comes to friends and family, I tend to do it for free, or not do it at all. That kills off this kind of problem completely, and there’s no room for mis-understanding.

  13. It is really sad what your friend did to you.I don’t work with friends or aquaintances because they always turn to cheat you so rather than working with a friend i prefare working with a stangers coz with friends i am not safe.
    I am sorry this happened to you

  14. alex says:

    That is very unfortunate.

  15. I’ve never used contracts for my freelance work however i’ve had some pretty bad returns on some outsourcing… I guess that’s expected, though, this was before nobody told me that cheap writers give you what you pay for. I guess i got punished for my lack of common sense!

  16. andrew says:

    hmm i agree..I too usually dont want to involve personal stuff like family or close friend to business like that
    .-= andrew´s last blog ..Ankle Sprain Rehab Exercises =-.

  17. Troy says:

    Oh yes, always get it in writing. Apart from anything, it’s really good to clarify the deal and what is expected of everyone. Identifying exactly what the deal is, and crystallizing it, is just as important as a contract for payment.

  18. I totally agree. As a freelancer I’ve hurt myself before as well by assuming that people would be honest enough to pay me fairly for my wages. However, a lot of people may value your skill at a much lower level than you do and that’s where the problems begin. Having a contract is crucial.
    .-= Ashley Baxter´s last blog ..You’ve Got To Start Somewhere =-.

  19. Tim says:

    Better safe than sorry. I remember this happening with one of my wife’s husband. We weren’t close friends, but talking about money was little uncomfortable, well.. at the end we both had other idea and it really costed us our relationship. So make sure in the beginning of all financial dealings, you get it in writing. So no one is confused.
    .-= Tim´s last blog ..Crosley CD Recorder =-.

  20. Neus says:

    Very nice observation! Always get a written contract describing the work to be done, what it will cost and how payments will be made. Never agree to anything before you have it in writing.
    .-= Neus´s last blog ..North Carolina Barbeque – Yummy With Macroni And Cheese =-.

  21. When you worked over someone, it is really recommended that you have a written contract for documentation purposes in cases like this of if he/she will denied what you agree before. This is a security for you that you should really keep for yourself.

  22. gretel says:

    A written contract is far better than oral. It serves as a written evidence.

  23. Daniel Camp says:

    A video contract is more authentic. It shows both you and your contractor vowing your agreements.

  24. I completely agree with you, at least an email with all the details should do. Very useful post indeed. Thanks for sharing this post with is really recommended that you have a written contract for documentation purposes in cases like this of if he/she will denied what you agree before. This is a security for you that you should really keep for yourself.

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