Contract Basics for Freelancers

http://www.freelancewritinggigs.com/2008/07/contract-basics-for-freelancers/

by Jodee Redmond

Disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer (and I don’t even play one on TV). Please consult with an attorney to get the appropriate legal advice for any concerns you may have.

A contract is an agreement that is legally enforceable under the law. In order to make a contract valid, certain requirements must be met:

Both Parties Must Agree

If there is no agreement, then the contract is not valid. Each party must behave in a way that indicates they accept the terms of the contract. In a situation where someone signs a contract but secretly has no intention of living up to its obligations, that person can still be held legally responsible for what they agreed to do. In this situation, appearance is what counts.

Consideration Must be Present

In a contract, consideration is the idea that each person agrees to do or give something to the other. The freelancer agrees to provide a certain service (write “X” number of keyword articles) in exchange for a certain amount of money to be paid by the client.

Competence

Each person signing the contract must be legally competent to do so. This means that a contract entered into with a minor or someone who is not of sound mind due to physical condition or mental illness or disability is not valid.

Legal Purpose

A contract requiring one person to do something illegal is not valid.

A contract does not have to be in writing to be enforceable. Only a few types of contacts, such as those involving buying and selling real estate must be written in order to be valid.

Breach of Contract

If either party doesn’t perform his or her duties under the contract, the injured party can sue for damages. If you complete the work as ordered and don’t get paid, you can sue the client to get the money owed to you.

As a freelancer, you need to understand that if you fail to deliver the work as promised, your client can sue you for compensation or ask the court to order you to perform the work you agreed to do. This is known as specific performance.

If you don’t have a formal written contract with a client, it’s a good idea to send an e-mail to them once you have been hired confirming:

  • the type of work you are to do
  • how much you are going to be paid
  • how payment will be made
  • when you can expect to receive payment

This communication can be used as a way to back up your claim for payment if there are issues surrounding the work or getting paid later on.

Comments

  1. I suppose I need to be a little more diligent in this area. I recently did a couple of articles for a site that apparently hasn’t paid any of the writers. But it’s good to know that an email can at least provide some sort of leg to stand on. Thanks, Jodee!

  2. One thing I’ve learned is that you need to watch what’s in a contract. I had one contract end six months early because the company sold themselves without notice, so while I had a contract stating I was guaranteed work for 12 months, the sale negated that contract. I should have had them add something about what would happen to me if they sold, but it’s not something I thought about and in the end, I was left scrambling to find something that paid anything close to what they were paying me weekly.

    Then the Today.com fiasco. They changed their payment rates two weeks after I started blogging with them. They had clearly stated that they would evaluate blogs once a month, but I didn’t take the time to verify if they meant a month after I started or the 1st of every month – as it turned out it was the 1st of every month. I hadn’t had time to build up their required $50 before they would pay, so they took the money they did owe me and ran. Another lesson learned.

  3. @Ann: Your the second person I’ve seen with Today.com trouble. I’ve been with them since May. I’ll be cautious, because now I’m nervous.

  4. I wrote about the Today thing at NBT. They hired writers at $5 a post and then the next month lowered the rates to $1 a post saying the bloggers aren’t doing well enough in promoting their traffic. Well excuse me but traffic doesn’t build up over night. Some people were only blogging for Today for a couple of weeks before having lowered pay. It’s for this reason Today.com will be on my list of places to warn against working for.

  5. Today.com is all over CL looking for new bloggers right now. No big surprise, considering what they did.

  6. I started with Today.com in May and got my reduced rate notice today. The really bad thing is that I have been tracking my numbers and keeping records. My traffic, referring links, comments (mostly spam that I don’t publish, but some reader comments) and subscribers have consistently been going up since I started. I started getting Google alerts recently about the topic I blog on for Today, and my blog with them has made 3 or 4 of those alerts in a short period of time. Clearly my blog is getting traffic and notice – but to drop me from $5 a post to $1 a post makes it not worth it to me.

    Plus, to collect the money you are owed, it has to hit $50 first and they only pay once a month. This means only getting paid once every two months since one month will not make $50.

    They told me the rate goes into effect on the 7th. That would give me $35 for this month – but to collect it I would have to write for 15 days after that to make the $50.

    Writing is how I pay the bills – I cannot afford this hit($150/mo to $30/mo -paid every other month in approximately $60 increments). I am very disappointed in Today.com.

    Side note: their FAQs say they ‘do all they can’ to help your blog, but I don’t know what they do. The majority of the referring links are coming directly from MY efforts to promote.

  7. I just wanted to add something. I hope my comment above doesn’t sound bitter – I’m not bitter, but I am confused and disappointed. If they gave me a reason for the drop that made sense or was supported by facts, I wouldn’t feel this way.

    Right now, I am just scratching my head wondering what is really going on. I got a little more time than others, it appears – but in the end it was basically the same thing. I did get a paycheck after the first 30 days – it was mailed from Canada, so it took about a week to get here. It did clear, too – and there was no problem from my bank about it, as it was drawn on a bank in New York.

  8. I’ll shut up after this – I just wanted to apologize for getting a bit off-topic here (the comments about Today.com got my attention since I got my notice today).

    This is a great topic, Jodee. This was well-written and very informative. Thank you!

  9. I wanted to add that magazine contracts can be good templates. I had contracted with a few different magazines that pay lawyers to draw up this type of stuff, so I just selected the best tidbits from those and compiled my own contract. This article and comments provide further ideas for contract additions, too! I try to use a contract with each client, but particularly when I get “that feeling,” and it paid off big for me one time when a client didn’t want to pay.

  10. Great information Jodee; got me wondering about whether contract law is the same in Canada as the US. Something for me to google later. :-)

  11. @ Amy: Thanks! :) The information for this post was taken from a U.S. legal site. The law re contracts is basically the same in Canada, though.

  12. You may want to look into letters of agreement as well. Not as formal as contracts, so may not scare off some potential clients, but are also legal documents (caveat: I’m no lawyer)

  13. Re: Today.com

    One thing I should have mentioned. I stopped posting to my blog and received the email on Friday that due to inactivity they have deleted my blog. Therefore the money I had earned was short of the $50 requirement, so I won’t ever see that money because they did make it clear that they would not pay until you made the $50 mark. So those who are just now dealing with the rate drop, it’s something to consider. If you become sporadic with your posting, they’ll take away your account.

  14. @ Ann G:

    That is interesting and thank you for that information. As I have been trying to decide what to do I looked in their FAQs section and they state:

    “How often should I post?

    You can post as often as you like. If you are being paid per daily post we pay for the first post of the day that is 100+ words. Writing more than one post a day certainly helps your blog, however, you will be paid according to the current terms associated with your account.

    If you are unable to post for a while for any reason (e.g. vacation!) you can start posting when you are available again, or publish posts with a future timestamp. Posts published with a future date go live at the date and time you choose when publishing.

    Posts published with a past date in ineligible for payment.”

    I read nothing in the FAQs that stated you had to post within a certain time frame or it would be deleted, so it is disappointing that they responded in that manner.

    @ Anyone:
    I know Today bought the rights, but would there be an advantage to having screen shots of various blog entries with them to use as clips? (You can keep screenshots of your work for clips, right?)
    Or would that open a can of worms (why they aren’t still displayed) with a potential employer/client that shouldn’t be opened?

  15. @Dani: I actually have my Today blog syndicated to 2 other blogs, mostly to drive traffic there. I suppose that could be done in a way that the entire post comes up instead of just the first few lines. At least that way you have the samples (I think). Maybe I’ll just go back and save them as files, just in case…

  16. Just a couple of comments about contracts. In the strictest legal sense, consideration is what the freelance writer receives for the service provided. In other words, a contract exists because the purchaser of the service seeks the service which the freelancer provides and agrees to provide consideration. That is their obligation under the contract. The freelancer is obliged to deliver the service in the agreed manner as stated under the terms of the contract. Failure by either party to uphold their obligation is tantamount to breach of contract.

    The issue of competency isn’t quite as cut and dried. There is such a thing as temporary incompetence due to illness, or other condition that would so incapacitate the party that it would make the contract null and void. Also, don’t forget coersion. If either party can prove they were forced into signing, or forced to accept the terms in order to get the contract, that also makes the contract invalid.

  17. I forgot one other issue, invalid vs. unenforceable. An invalid contract is one that never existed in the fist place. An unenforceable contract can certainly be a vaild contract; however, it cannot be enforced becasue certain statutory requirements. haven’t been met. Jodee’s example of the statutory requirement for written contracts for real estate transactions is a classic example. You may have a valid oral deal in place, but it can’t be enforced because the statutory requirement of having to write it down hasn’t been met.

    It’s never a good idea to quote legal issues from a web site unless you truly understand what you are quoting. Contract law is extremely complex and like most other areas of the law, is changing because of the requirements of digital transactions.

  18. @ Andrea: Thanks for the tip! Question – how do I syndicate it to another blog? I have feed reader things (or something) in the side bar of other blogs that show the newest post and title and it auto-updates, but that is something different, right?

    I am not really a technical person. I just sign up for the cool stuff or I just find out where to get code for cool stuff and then copy and paste. :-D

  19. @Dani: I also did some looking and there’s a site called Blog Backup Online. You can register for free and it will automatically backup your entire blog up to 50MB (I think that’s the number). The potential problem with syndicating (I’ve discovered) is that you aren’t necessarily getting the entire post unless you click back to the original blog. At least that’s the way I’ve got mine set up at the moment. I’m toying with some things to see if I can get the full posts. To syndicate to another blog, I think you’d just go into that blog and set up the RSS or Atom feed from your Today blog. That’s pretty much what I did, but I’m only using WordPress and Blogger blogs, so I’m not sure how other formats work.

  20. Oops, sorry, that was 5MB of storage space!

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