A large percentage of my clients have never worked with a freelancer before hiring me, and many of them are surprised when I ask them to sign a contract. This isn’t a sign of mistrust or a red flag by any means. In fact, it serves as protection for both the client and the freelancer.
Why use contracts? I write up my contracts after a first meeting or email exchange with a client. The goal is to outline the job so we both know what we’re agreeing to. My contracts list the expected work (such as: developmental feedback on a personal statement), as well as due dates, method of delivery, and cost of services. This ensures the client knows what they are paying for, and it gives us the opportunity to catch misunderstandings before the work is done. Some contracts go through multiple revisions, but it usually only takes a day or two, even if done entirely by email. The larger the project, the more details to iron out.
On large or long-term projects (such as editing or developmental editing on a novel) I always include an escape clause that can be invoked from either side. This allows the client or me to end our partnership, while ensuring I’m paid for the work I completed. I feel it is critical to be able to excuse myself if I find I can’t provide useful feedback or revision on a project. This can be because I’m not the right audience and therefore I’m not getting it, or because I actively dislike reading it. It’s essential to have an escape clause if I find the client too difficult to work with (not something that has come up often, but once is enough for the lesson to stick). Likewise, I feel it is essential that clients have an editor who fits their work style and their project, so giving them an out is a sign of respect for that need.
Contracts don’t have to be written in complicated legal language; I primarily use plain language contracts. The goal is to be as clear as possible while avoiding potential double meanings.
It’s worth pointing out that non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are a type of contract. I will readily sign an NDA if a client requests it. Even when I haven’t signed one, I function as though I have, but new clients may feel more comfortable with that signed document.
Contracts don’t have to be scary and they aren’t a red flag when hiring a contractor. If anything, they are an assurance that the freelancer knows your needs, so they can better meet them.