Everybody needs a contract, right??? After all, we need to be safe—to protect ourselves!!!
But…to protect ourselves from what, exactly?
Like the topic of whether or not to bill upfront, the question of contracts comes from the same impulse to “protect ourselves” from nefarious clients.
People believe that having clients sign contracts means that they won’t have to worry about not getting paid.
Well, I have two pieces of very good news for you. The first is that there are far, far, FAR fewer “nefarious” clients out there than you might think there are. In fact, in my 15+ years of writing copy, I’ve never had a client not pay me.
Sure, sometimes clients have taken a little longer than I’d have liked to make their payments, but even that’s usually due to an innocent mistake or it slipping their mind, and a gentle, but firm, email or two did the trick.
So the chances of you needing some “legal recourse” against a non-paying client are going to be extremely slim—if it ever even happens at all.
And the second piece of good news is that you don’t need a physically signed, legalese-full, “I spent $300 on Legalzoom” contract to constitute an agreement.
After you and your would-be client talk about a project, you’ll send over a proposal via email that details the exact scope of the project, when you’ll deliver that copy, and how much you’ll charge for that work.
(Note the word “exact”—you need the description of your project to be as detailed as possible. Not just “an email series” but “a six-email sales series”; not just “website copy” but “full website copy, comprised of copy for the home page, the About page, and the Work With Me page”. It needs to be as clear as possible so both you and your client understand the expectation and what will be delivered.)
Once your client responds to that email with “Great! Let’s get started!”, guess what? You have a written agreement. And, in the US at least, it is legally binding and, for all intents and purposes, a contract—even without a bunch of legalese.
(Full disclosure: I am not an attorney. If you have questions, you should contact an attorney.)
But, again, it’s very unlikely that you’d need to use this legally binding document to (read this with a deep, booming voice) take a client to court.
(Side note: Taking someone to court is so expensive that it likely wouldn’t be worth it, anyway. But again, this is a very, very, VERY unlikely scenario to begin with.)
The purpose of these agreements is to make sure that both you and your client are clear on and agree about all of the key points of the project: The exact scope, the delivery date, and the price.
This means that when your client says, “Can you also add in a new page about XYZ?” you can say, “Absolutely! That’s out of the scope of this project, though, so let me send you a new quote for just that page.”
It also means that you and your client are both referring to the same single agreement if any questions come up. (Oh, and it also makes it so much easier to write up your invoice!)
You don’t need a lawyer and you don’t need legalese; you just need a detailed scope of the project (including the cost and delivery date) and then you need your client to write back in agreement. That’s it.
Your turn! How does this affect what you thought about the proposal and agreement process? Did it turn on any lightbulbs for you? Let me know in the comments below!