If you want to avoid certain confusion about a project, then get it in writing. Freelancers like other small business operators should work with contracts especially when larger sums of money are involved. The following are a number of “good practices” when it comes to working with prospective and current clients.
Your state may require that you put any agreement you make in writing to guarantee its validity. This may include projects that go on for at least a year, involve a certain amount of money, and include contracts that transfer property or copyrights.
You may have a gentleman’s agreement that is working out just great, but if a dispute does arise and becomes something that you cannot settle apart from outside assistance, then mediation, arbitration or a court visit may be necessary. Without contracts in place, it can be difficult to make a case and win it.
Your state law notwithstanding, is there ever a time when not working with a contract can work out? Yes, provided that both parties spell out the project terms. Typically, this is done over the phone and is followed up with an email exchange confirming same. This option can work out if you have a one-time article to complete and payment is received upon delivery of that article.
Still, even without a contract you may find it difficult to obtain payment for work done. With a contract in hand, you have a document that outlines the requirements for both parties. If those requirements are met on your side, then you have leverage with your client.
Offer and Acceptance
What sometimes gets freelancers in trouble is the contract offer and acceptance. Specifically, both parties discuss a project to be completed. For example, you agree to write a 1,200-word article about the plight of migratory birds on the Outer Banks. The parameters of the article have been outlined (i.e., the people you will interview and the related photos to be taken), and you present your offer.
The magazine editor reads your pitch, and she agrees to accept your offer. At this point you are legally bound to deliver that article and the editor is also bound to pay you when the work has been satisfactorily completed. Of course, in the writing arena your payment may not come until after the article has been published, typically 30 days later. The payment terms should be outlined in the contract.
As freelance writers, we’ve each made pitches to editors and have provided offers as well. Ideally, the decision on a pitch would be rendered quickly, but we know that this is often not the case. Instead, weeks or sometimes months go by. So what happens if an offer is accepted six months later?
You have some flexibility here: if the offer meets your terms and you are still able to provide the service, then do it. If not, you can turn it down and not be held liable. With any contract both parties have a “reasonable” time to accept or reject it. The definition of “reasonable” isn’t always clear, but the longer it takes for an offer to be accepted the more likely you can simply turn it down. To avoid a problem, always include an expiration date with your contract.
You can also revoke an offer before it is accepted. Let’s say that a larger gig becomes available, making it impossible for you to write your Outer Banks article within the expected time. As long as the editor hasn’t accepted your offer, you can withdraw it. Of course, in doing so you might harm a relationship that is delicate from the beginning, perhaps closing a door that you prefer to leave open.
Andrew Bowman is a professional blogger that provides information on the criminal and civil case process. He writes for Banks & Banks, Attorneys at Law, P.C., the top criminal defense and civil attorneys in College Station TX.