Your Guide to Crafting the Perfect Freelance Writing Contract

By Sean Ogle •  Updated: 05/16/23 •  10 min read

If you want to cover your ass, not to mention protect your business, having a freelance writing contract in place is the way to go.

While most clients out there are great and honest, things happen.

The company may not be as well off as you think, or they put paying freelancers on the back burner. Whatever the reason, you should have a contract in place for all the freelance work you do.

That’s what I want to cover today, freelance writing contracts, why you need one, and what to put in it to help ensure you don’t get screwed.

Whether you’re brand new at this or a more experienced freelance writer, you don’t want to miss this one.

And if you prefer video? You know what to do, click below.

What is a freelance writing contract?

Essentially, it’s just a legally binding agreement between you and the company you’re working for that has the terms of the arrangement, payment details, and what’s expected to happen.

It’s there to make sure everyone is on the same page and knows their roles.

So protection is the first goal of a contract. But the second one is it can make your job easier because a good contract has everything laid out in it. All the terms and expectations should be very clear to both parties.

And, if one party doesn’t follow through, you have recourse to protect yourself. If you’ve written 5 articles, as laid out in the contract, and the other party hasn’t paid, you can point to the document and use it to get things back on track.

In my experience, 95% of freelance interactions go great, people are doing their best, and businesses are ethical, but this is there to protect you from that handful of times that doesn’t happen.

And, I’d guess pretty much every freelancer has one horror story of a client who tried to pull some of the shady stuff.

Unfortunate, but it happens.

So a freelance writing contract is another form of insurance.

What should you put in a freelancer contract?

Ok you’ve landed a freelance writing job, and things are looking great. So, let’s cover what you need to put in a contract to protect yourself.

First up, is a section called the scope of work.

That just means outlining all the work you’ve agreed to for this particular contract. So that could be a one-off project of writing new copy for a website, or it could be an ongoing project for monthly blog posts.

Regardless of what kind of contract it is, you want to include an outline of the work you are going to do in basic details, with a list of deliverables and the time frame.

So a basic scope of work for a blogger may be:

Writer will deliver one blog post per week, between 1,200 and 1,500 words, at a rate of $400 per post. Writer will provide one round of revisions per post. The agreement will cover all of 2023. 

You can also work out with the client if there will be specific points of delivery for work. So if you’re a copywriter doing a full website revamp, you may say something like:

Project will run 3 months. Copywriter will deliver part 1 for review at the end of month 1, part 2 at the end of month 2, and part 3 at the end of month 3. 

This way, there are milestones with the project. And you can also tie payments to those milestones. So once the client approves part 1, you can send an invoice for 33%. Some people like this approach, others don’t. But it doesn’t hurt to figure out what approach you like best as you go.

See? Doesn’t have to be complicated. Just make sure you lay out exactly what you’re going to deliver.

Next, cover payment details.

Ok, next let’s talk about payment terms. This is a big one, so you want to cover a couple of different things here.

A lot of new freelancers focus on the first one, but you definitely don’t want to forget number two or three. Make sure all of these are in your contract.

If you aren’t sure, ask your clients before you agree to the job so you can add it to the contract.

Get the information so you can spell this out.

Know if you’re going to get paid via PayPal, direct deposit, credit card, or some internal method the client has. Ask how and when you should submit your invoice — some clients want them at the end of every month, while others may want them at the end of every completed post.

Also, find out when you’ll get paid. Can you expect the funds immediately? After two weeks? After 30 days?

So your contract may have language like this:

Writer will be paid $400 per 1,200 to 1,500 post. Writer will submit invoice via PayPal by the last day of each month. Invoices will be paid within 14 business days. 

Each of these depends on the client, there really isn’t a standard system.

I’ve had some clients pay me 20 minutes after I sent the invoice, and for others, I’ve had to wait 30 days.

Knowing this is going to help make your income a little bit more predictable. That helps take some of the stress off being a freelancer if you can look at your clients and have a general idea of when you’re going to get paid throughout the month.

Ask if you can use the work.

Another thing to add to your freelance writing contract is who owns the work.

Work you create will show up on a site in one of two ways: under your name or what’s called ghostwritten, where someone else’s name will be on it.

In most cases, if you are writing for a client, they own it. So what you need to specify is not only if you can use it for your own promotional purposes but how you can use it.

In my experience, most clients are perfectly fine with you sharing work you’ve created on your freelance writing portfolio. But, when you’re creating a contract, add that in.

It may look something like this:

Company owns the rights to all written content. However, writer can use written content for marketing purposes on freelance writing site. Writer cannot post links on social media and claim authorship.

They may say it’s totally cool to put a link on your website, but we don’t want you sharing it on social media. And, in some cases, clients may not want you to share it publically at all. It may be ok to show potential clients ‘upon request’ but you can’t put it out there for everyone to see.

Add what happens if things don’t work out.

A termination clause details what happens to end a contract.

If you’re doing the monthly blogging gig, you’ll want to note how you (and the client) can get out of it if things change.

It could look something like this:

Either party can terminate this agreement with 30 days written notice. 

I tend to think it’s a good idea to have a termination clause in your contract. It helps with a smooth transition and ensures you know you’ll get paid for at least one more month before the contract ends.

And, if it’s not working out with the client, you have a way to get out of the job cleanly.

In some cases, you may want to add in something called a kill clause. That’s an amount of money, usually around 25% if you’ve done some work but you and the client just aren’t a fit. So rather than doing some work and getting nothing, you can get something for your efforts.

I’ve seen these more with bigger contracts, like a large project or something that takes a lot of research and reporting versus a standard blog post.

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How do you create a freelance writer contract?

How do you actually create it? Well, the easy answer is you can go hire a legal expert to do it.

But chances are you may not know a legal expert, and it may be more money than you want to spend.

The good news is there are a lot of options out there.

Inside Location Rebel Academy, where we have a bunch of templates for freelance writing contracts. So if that’s something you’re interested in that is one of the benefits of being an Academy member, check that out here.

There are also a lot of sites out there that offer contracts, some free, some paid. Rocket Lawyer is one option, and if you do a search, you’ll find others.

Another place is to look toward your past clients. A lot of companies will provide you with a contract first, and if you like that contract, then adapt it and create your own version of it so you can use it moving forward.

And since it’s 2023, and AI writing tools are all the rage, don’t forget to turn to these to help you too. Open up Content at Scale or ChatGPT, fill in your prompts using some of the information here, and ask it to create a freelance writing contract template for you.

ai tool freelance writing contract template

But honestly, one of the best places to get help with your contracts is through other freelance writing friends. As you build your community and start befriending other freelancers, ask them about their contracts, their tips, and if they’d be willing to share.

A lot of freelancers have blank templates they use, and more often than not, many will be happy to share.

Approaching contracts with clients

All right. You know why you need one, you know how to create one, you know what should be in it. And that brings us to the last part of the whole contract situation, which is how to have that touchy conversation with the client.

I’ve found most clients that already work with freelancers will have contracts ready as part of their onboarding process. So that makes it easy.

And if they don’t, just keep it simple. As you’re in discussions with them and you feel like everything sounds good, say I’ll send over a contract that will have all the information we discussed. That makes you look professional.

The vast majority of the time, the client is fine with it. And in many cases, they may appreciate you taking the extra step to present it, so don’t be afraid to do that.

And if they aren’t? Well, that may be a red flag.

Protect your business

A freelance writing contract is just there to help protect your business. It’s something you should seriously consider putting into place.

Now that you know the basics, you’ll see these are pretty easy to create and can help provide a little bit of insurance in case things go wrong.

One last thing, please remember that the information in this post is just a template and may not cover all the legal aspects required in your specific circumstances. If you have specific questions, consult a legal professional.

Sean Ogle

Sean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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