Free Advice Friday: Writing Contract Language

What’s on the iPod: No Line on the Horizon by U2

I get by with a little help from my friends — The Beatles said it, and it’s true. This week’s Free Advice Friday is brought to you by one of my closest friends. Cathy Miller was part of the original conversation that became this Free Advice notion, so it’s only fitting that her advice is included. She’s graciously volunteered to help us through our next free-advice topic: contract language. Thank you, Cathy!

Today’s free
advice topic: what to include in a contract.

by Cathy Miller

You do
have a contract for your freelance writing gigs, right? Or perhaps you fall
into the category of, “I know I should. I just don’t know where to start.”
Some contracts are
complex, filled with legal speak. Larger business organizations are usually the
source of that type of contract. Reviewing those is a topic for another day.
Today’s free advice covers the basics of a contract – one you create yourself.

You may choose formal contract language, such
as this Sample Freelance Writing Contract or a less formal Agreement. My work is
project-based and I use what I refer to as a Statement of Work. Feel free to contact
if you would like a sample of my Statement
of Work.

Regardless of your
preferred format, the following outlines the basics for your freelance writing

Scope of work: This section describes the work you and
your client agreed to. I recommend you be as specific as possible. Vague
descriptions lead to problems when your client has one idea of what is included
in the work, and you have another. Services to consider in the description
include the following.
  •   Description
    of writing service (e.g., white paper, article, blog post)
  •   Length or
    size (e.g., 1,800 to 2,000 words; up to 10 pages)
  •   Non-writing
    services (e.g., phone calls/interviews, research, editing, emails)

Be specific. Include
parameters. For example, initial
conference call not to exceed 30 minutes
– or – estimate includes up to two rounds of revisions. I also document
what the scope of work does NOT include – e.g., the estimate does NOT include graphic design, layout or marketing

Timetable Here again, I recommend you be as
specific as possible, and add language to protect against unforeseen circumstances.
Who hasn’t been burned by a deadline that proved challenging because of delays
beyond your control? I add a timetable that includes more than the delivery deadline
for the draft copy.
  •   Initial planning call – no
    later than…
  •   Interview (if applicable) – no
    later than…
  •   Delivery of draft – MM/DD/YYYY

I include the following caveat. The delivery date of the draft assumes the
timely delivery of all required information from [Client Name], occurring no
later than [Date].

also include language regarding revisions (discussed in Terms).

Fees: For me, this is straightforward
because, as I mentioned, I work on a project basis. If you work on an hourly
basis (or some other form), be specific. (Are you getting the “be specific” theme
For example, Fees: $XX/hour (not to exceed XX hours).
Work that exceeds XX hours will be
negotiated separately and an amendment will be added to this contract,
specifying the terms of agreement.
Some writers include a
minimum number of work hours and/or a Kill Fee. Similar to the clause used by
magazines, a kill fee protects you if the project is canceled before completion.
Your kill fee can be a percentage of the total fee, an hourly charge for
uncompensated hours or some other form of compensation.
Terms: Terms cover payment methods and any
other caveats not described in other sections of your contract. 
The following
are a few examples of terms.
  •      Payment requirements – include requirements,
    such as advance deposits or upfront payment-in-full
  •      Accepted forms of payments –
    such as check (include made payable to),
    PayPal or credit cards
  •      Invoicing process – when the
    invoice will be submitted (e.g., with delivery of draft/final copy), deadline
    for payment (e.g., within XX days of receipt), late fee terms
  •      Copyrights – at a minimum, I
    recommend you include language that until you are paid in full, you retain the
    rights to the copy
  •      Other requirements – as
    mentioned, I include language regarding revisions – If there is no request for changes to draft copy within 10 [or other
    number]business days of receipt, copy will be considered final

If you work on a project fee basis, include
in Terms what happens if there are changes to the scope of services – e.g., If changes to the Scope of Work require significant
additional hours, an amendment will be made to the original Statement of Work,
based on the change in scope.
My Statement of Work Agreement has
undergone several changes over the years. Live and learn, right? A written
contract is a protection for both you and your client. It fosters good
communication and sets reasonable expectations.
I am certainly no legal expert. Take these
recommendations as the tool they are meant to be. There are plenty of online
resources for contract templates.

Do you have favorite templates? What provisions
did I forget? What other terms do you include in your contract?


Cathy Miller has a business writing blog
at Simply stated business, a health care blog at Simply stated health care and her personal bog, millercathy:
A Baby Boomer’s Second Life

About the author




  • Cathy Miller January 17, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    Thanks for the real estate, Lori. 😉

  • Lori Widmer January 17, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks for the brain power, Cathy. 🙂

  • Cheryl Ann January 20, 2014 at 2:19 pm

    Really helpful advice, Cathy — even if it IS free. :>) Thanks a lot for the sample contract. In an Ed Gandia podcast I listened to, the expert called her contract an "e-mail of understanding." I like that — sounds much less intimidating than the word contract, but it accomplishes the same thing, I think.

  • Lori Widmer January 20, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    She's good, isn't she Cheryl Ann?

  • Anne Wayman January 20, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    Good stuff, here Cathy… if it's a long work I sometimes add 'goal' and 'method'- method is where I describe the back and forth between me and the client.

  • Cathy Miller January 20, 2014 at 7:05 pm

    Thank you kindly, Cheryl Ann and Anne. 🙂

    I like that, too, Cheryl Ann (email of understanding). It already sets both sides up for some positive vibes. 😉

  • Cathy Miller January 20, 2014 at 7:07 pm

    P.S. You brought up a good point, Anne. A long project, like your ghostwriting for books, would have its own set of provisions for a contract. I believe you've shared those on your site, haven't you?

  • Ashley January 21, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    I just updated SO much of my contract with these goodies! Thank you, Cathy!

  • Lori Widmer January 22, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    She rocks. 🙂 Good seeing you here, Ashley!

  • Lori Widmer January 23, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    I especially love the time limit you put on client review, Cathy. I think it's enough time, and it doesn't leave you hanging for ages.