How to Save Time and Money When Negotiating Client Contracts

Deal with issues before your client engagement, in those dreaded contracts

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Freelance life can be tough. Demanding clients, beyond-the-scope projects and overlapping deadlines all require your attention. You have to create on demand and not necessarily when you are at your best.

Even if the perfect “how to” guide existed, you probably don’t have time to read it.

Contracts are the most important part of your business, but the truth is they aren’t always your priority. You skim them for the “essentials” like compensation and milestones because that’s what matters at this very moment. As for the rest, you just don’t have the time. There are projects calling your name at this very moment, and if you are going to pay yourself and the team, you’d better get to it.

So, you deal with problems as they come. In other words, you run your business in the defense.

Some common freelance contract issues include:

-The client suddenly changes the scope of their project and expects you to just deal with it (and of course, your ask for additional fees is completely unreasonable);

-The client does not provide the documents or information that you need in order to move on the project. Deadlines are missed, and of course (as with anything else) it’s all your fault.

-The client has approved a design brief, or even worse, the final proofs, and then decides that they don’t like anything. They want to head in a new direction.

These things happen. All of the time. So why hold your breath while the bricks slowly tumble?

Deal with these issues before your client engagement, in those dreaded contracts.

Here are three things that you must negotiate in your freelance contracts (that will save you unnecessary stress, money and time in the end):

1. Client Responsibilities: Make sure that your contract provides a thorough list of everything that the client needs to provide before you can (and will) move forward on a project. Specifically state that you will not be responsible for any project delays due to the client’s failure to submit the requested documents or information by a specified date. Any missed deadlines due to the client’s failure to submit these items will not constitute a breach of contract on your end. Also consider adding language that after [insert number] of days the contract will cancel and the client will forfeit their non-refundable deposit.

2. Project Scope: You want to make sure that you clearly define the scope of each project. One pain point commonly seen among graphic designers and writers is when clients request numerous revisions of work. Specifically state how many revisions are included in the project scope. Additionally, your contract should explain what will happen if the client’s requests are beyond the original scope. Will you bill them an additional hourly fee? If so, state that. Lastly, always remember that any changes in scope should be approved in writing by the client.

3. Approvals: Make sure that your contracts not only require approval from your clients at various stages of the project, but an approval that is in writing. I would also specifically state that any changes received more than [insert number] hours after the initial approval will be subject to additional fees. This is an easy way to deal with the client who says “But, I emailed you the very next morning.” Figure out what time frame works for you, hold the project during that time, and stick to your guns if clients try to get over.

Don’t wait until you get a new contract to address these issues. Figure out what you want for each of these scenarios now, and take notes. That way, when a prospective client shows up, you can make sure that these areas are covered.

Patrice N. Perkins is the Principal Attorney of Creative Genius Law located in Chicago, Illinois. She counsels creative brands and businesses from ideation to market. Patrice publishes Creative Genius Society, a business and law blog for brilliant minds and regularly speaks on legal topics affecting creative entrepreneurs, particularly social media and cyberspace issues. She is a member of the advisory committee of Art Business Create 101, a professional development series for the Chicago Artists Coalition.

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