Freelancing and contracts

Today we’re talking about contracts: What is a contract? Why should you be using one? What stuff should it have in it? What is my contract?

What is a contract

Let’s see what our old friend Wikipedia has to say first.

A contract is an agreement having a lawful object entered into voluntarily by two or more parties, each of whom intends to create one or more legal obligations between them.

Whew that’s a bit of a mouthful if you ask me. Basically a contract covers your butt and covers your clients butt’s. I try to make my contract as understandable and fair as possible.

Like many people I actually dislike contracts. I’d like to see a time when your yes was yes and your no was no. Sadly we are far past that point and contracts are a reality of being a responsible freelancer.

A contract should cover a bunch of stuff like:

  • the scope of the project (though mine refers to the estimate for the scope)
  • payment terms
  • legal recourse
  • liability (how much and who owes if things go south)
  • browser support (I say most current released versions in mine)

Should you sign a contract?

Yes you should always be working with a contract. Doesn’t matter who you are working for you need a contract. Even on the personal kayaking site I ran with a friend for years we had a 10 sentence email saying who owned what if it all went south.

If you ever encounter a client that says you don’t need a contract tell them you don’t need their work. The only clients I’ve ever heard of that balk at contracts are ones that are going to balk about paying you later.

What about someone else’s contract, should you sign that? I have never had to sign someone else’s contract all my clients sign mine.

Now what if Coca-Cola wanted me to sign their contract? Yes I’d sign it after I had a lawyer read it and advise me on it.

Changing contracts

I’ve had the odd client that wanted clarification on my contract. Or wanted it to allow for certain types of use that were not specifically spelled out.

As long as the change is reasonable I have no problem with the change at all. Often I actually add to my contract after a client has questions to make sure that it’s clearer next time.

By the same token if you’re signing a contract from someone else don’t be afraid to make changes if parts are pretty heinous. Like a terrible non-compete clause. Cross it out, initial it and sign it.

What constitutes a signature

In Canada you just need to show that the terms of the contract were agreed to. That means in my contract I have a single sentence that can be emailed back to me. With that sentence in hand I can prove that the contract was agreed to. I have checked that with a lawyer and I have talked to US freelancers that tell me their lawyer says the same thing.

Remember I am not a lawyer and you should triple check with your lawyer.

Of course you can also sign scan/fax and email it to prove agreement as well.
If you’re looking for a contract here is the one I use. I’ve had it looked over by a Canadian lawyer but you should get it looked at by your lawyer as well. It uses simple language but I think it covers all the important parts.

Most importantly it doesn’t read like a bag of garbage.

Here is my contract

Please remember that I am not a lawyer, nor am I familiar with contract laws in all parts of the world, this is what I have learned through my experiences running my business. If you are seeking legal advice please do so through a lawyer in your area.

photo credit: NobMouse via photopin cc

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