This is valuable content from my free online newsletter, the
FREELANCER'S BUSINESS BULLETIN. In the April 2004 issue I shared
with my subscribers the secret to getting at least 50% of your
freelance fee up front, plus a whole host of other important
requirements for your freelancer's business.
It was FREELANCER'S BUSINESS BULLETIN subscriber and copywriting
expert Susan Fantle who asked for a discussion of this topic
because she had recently encountered some difficulties with
clients. In her own words:
"I've been in this business for 23 years and only in the last
two years do I finally see the need to have a contract with
Now I've seen a lot of contracts in my freelance life, but
none more complete or protective of a freelancer's interests
than my own. And I'll share its elements here so you can create
your own contract, or perhaps improve the one that you use.
But before we get started I'll make a couple of points:
The first concerns semantics: Somewhere along the line I read
that the word "contract" is negative and off-putting, and after
some thought, I had to agree. So I call my contract a "Fee
Agreement," which I think is friendlier and sets the tone for
the positive and equally respectful workingrelationship to come.
You might think about doing the same for your own contract.
Point two is that you should always, always use a Fee Agreement
and get it signed and faxed (or emailed) back before starting
any work. When you work with the proper forms you are telling
your client that you are a professional, and your client will
then treat you with the respect you deserve. Much of the success
of the freelancer/client relationship is built upon how you
conduct yourself in your financial transactions.
In my Fee Agreement I always make it clear that I will Invoice
for half the fee up front, upon receipt of the signed Fee
Agreement. That way the client has agreed to pay an up front
fee of 50 percent.
Then I email the Invoice, which instructs the client to send the
check via FedEx or another overnight delivery service. Since I
tend to work with mid-size to large companies, I never have a
problem getting my up front fee or having it delivered over
My feeling is that clients are in a hurry to get their copy and
are at their most agreeable at this stage. However, once they've
received their copy, there is no incentive the rush the check.
So I send a final Invoice "due and payable upon receipt,"
instructing the payment to be sent via regular mail.
Since I work directly with the client, this arrangement works
well for me, however you may need to be more flexible depending
on whom you work with, or what market you're working in. For
instance, ad agencies may ask you to collect 100 percent at the
back end, especially if the job is small and fast.
For very large jobs, paying in thirds is also common. And small
businesses may prefer to pay in thirds if their budget is tight
(and it usually is). And then, of course, there are those pay
arrangements that include bonuses or royalties, which you will
most often find in the business-to-consumer side of direct
marketing, among very large mailers.
Does anyone ever get paid 100 percent up front? The answer
is yes, but I've seen it rarely. Recently one of my coaching
students was paid 100 percent up front for a very small job
worth $300. And another student was paid in the four figures
from a sole-proprietor entrepreneur, who obviously understood
that the copywriter realized the risk involved with working
with a risk-taking marketer.
My advice is to try for 50 percent, and if the client balks,
proceed very carefully if you proceed at all. If the client has
problems paying you now, before you do the work, it's a very
serious red flag. You're better off to say no, and spend your
time marketing yourself to find a better client.
A Quick List of What Should Be in Your Contract if You're a
Copywriter or Other Business Freelancer:
- A very detailed description of the job, listing virtually
everything you will do
- A deadline for the work to be completed
- Revision terms
- Payment terms
- Late payment terms
- A description of what will be included in your services
- A description of what will not be included (interviewing and
creating testimonials, for instance)
- A policy on how change orders are handled (you charge more if
they make a significant change after work has been done)
- Ownership (you own the copyright until you've received full
- Indemnity (a legal disclaimer holding you harmless against
any legal charges such as libel and copyright infringement;
you don't need to add false advertising since you won't be
doing that anyway)
- An agreement for the client to share work samples and results
(so you can use them in your promotions)
Don't be so anxious to get the work that you fail to get a
signed Fee Agreement and payment up front. Getting payment
up front is an effective screen, and evidence that you are