Do you really need a copywriting contract?

Hand holding a quill pen, representing a client signing a copywriting contractGreetings and welcome to yet another installment of Heather’s “how to start an SEO copywriting business” video series!

You’ll want to pay especially close attention to this one, because here Heather talks about the intimidating subject of copywriting contracts.

For new freelancers, getting a client to sign a contract can be a really scary thing. Here you are, so very close to getting the gig, and you’re asking the client for their signature. Thoughts race through your mind: are they going to sign the contract? Is something going to go wrong?

Tune in as Heather quells your fears and addresses the question of whether you really need to work with a copywriting contract…

Short answer: YES!

On the left side of the slide, I have a photo of Judge Marilyn Milian from The People’s Court. Judge Milian often makes the observation that many of the people who come to her courtroom are those who don’t have contracts – or don’t have good contracts. (She calls them “litigants”.)

– A contract spells out the terms and gets everyone on the same page.

– A good contract protects you and protects your client, too.

– If a client won’t sign one, consider it a huge red flag (and consider walking away.)

Even though a contract seems scary – and maybe even too formal, depending on your clients – they’re actually really good. They’re good for not just you, but they’re also good for the client because it protects both parties.

A good contract clearly defines what you’re going to be writing, when you’re going to turn it in, when you’re going to get paid, and what your policy is for revisions. All of that needs to be spelled out in a contract – and I’ll discuss more details on what needs to be included in a contract in a future video.

Sometimes a client doesn’t want to sign a contract. I have talked to prospects who say things like “Well I’ve been in business for thirty years and I’ve done everything on a handshake – and I’m not going to start signing contracts now.”

If you hear that from a client – and chances are you’re going to at least once in your freelance career – then consider that a big, huge red flag and consider walking away.  At that point, you don’t have much to protect you, and a lot of things can go wrong.

In fact, in the times that I’ve heard of something going majorly wrong with an account and the copywriter didn’t get paid are often when s/he didn’t have a good contract, or any contract at all…and that ended up coming back to bite them.

Should you sign your client’s contract?

This is another question I get that’s related to the first one. It is especially likely to come up when you’re working with larger brands: the client may have their own contract.

– Maybe – although it’s good to have your own contract.

– Don’t just blindly sign – no matter how excited you are about the gig.

– Always have your attorney review your client’s contract and make changes.

– See something you don’t like? Speak up!

Ideally, I would recommend that you have your own contract. Talk to an attorney and have him or her draw something up. I know it sounds expensive, but it’s really important and it doesn’t cost that much money.

So seriously consider having your own contract drawn up by an attorney – especially since you’re going to be attracting a lot of clients in your lifetime! You want to be working with a document that ensures both you and your client are covered.

That said, if the client presents his or her own contract, my advice to you would be: don’t just blindly sign it – no matter how excited you are about the gig!

I’ve seen instances where copywriters sign their client’s contract only to realize after the fact that it stipulated that they wouldn’t be paid for six months. True story.

Or, that they won’t get paid for something they’ve created if the client doesn’t use it. Another true story.

So really dig into the contract and read precisely what it is the client is saying. A lot of times these things can be negotiated, so if you spot language in the contract that you don’t like, speak up!

In a perfect world, you are sending client-drawn contracts to your attorney and having him or her review it and make any necessary changes. And again, while it may sound scary and expensive, it really isn’t. It typically takes an attorney maybe ten or fifteen minutes to go through and redline an agreement, and then you can be sure your interests are protected.

More often than not, when you send the amended contract back to the client, they sign off, everything is fine, and it’s a win-win for both parties.

So in moving forward with your freelance copywriting business, concentrate of finding an attorney you can work with and getting a solid client contract created. Or at least have an attorney review your current contracts to ensure you’re protected.

Thanks for joining me! As always, if you have any questions or comments about this video, or suggestions for a future topic, please let me know. You can reach me at, or find me on Twitter @heatherlloyd.

photo thanks to >WonderMike<  (Mike Wade)

Want to learn more about copywriting business contracts? Check into my Copywriting Business Boot Camp classes, where legal expert Bob Ellis discusses just that! The next Boot Camp begins in a week, on Monday, Feb. 11thregister now to reserve your place!




5 replies
  1. Kevin Carlton
    Kevin Carlton says:


    I look forward to your next post on the subject of copywriting contracts.

    There are, in particular, 2 issues that I’d love to hear your views about. These are:

    (i) Your thoughts on template contracts that you can download from the web.

    (ii) Small one-off copywriting jobs, where a contract may seem OTT for just a few hours’ work.

    Just curious as to whether you’d be covering these 2 points in future instalments.

  2. Heather Lloyd-Martin
    Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

    Hey Kevin!

    Thanks for your comment!

    To answer your first question – a template contract is “just OK.” It’s more than nothing, but I recommend having your “own” contract ASAP. You can also take a template contract into an attorney and ask him/her to customize it – that may save some $$ in attorney fees, too!

    To answer your second question…well, your question was SO good, that I think it will be next Monday’s video post. Stay tuned…and thank you! :)

  3. Claire Hawes
    Claire Hawes says:

    Hi Heather,

    This post caught my attention as I had a contract related issue recently.

    I have a client who loves meetings… preferably in London – 50 miles from my home on the South Coast. I charge by the hour. I charge ‘out of pocket costs’ – such as travel separately. Up until now all has been fine.

    In my last quote, I dropped the line about ‘out of pocket expenses’ – due to would you believe – space purposes. I wanted my quote to fit neatly on a page.

    For my latest project I was asked to attend a meeting – 260 miles from my home. Out of courtesy I asked whether the company would be happy for me to save circa 6 hours travelling time by train, by flying up for an extra £20 ($31). I am so glad I asked – as I was told that from now on the company would not pay my travelling and meeting expenses, as their web developer doesn’t charge for meetings. I was expected to give away a day of my time for free and incur the cost of travel – £100 ($157).

    I suggested the web developer may charge for his time differently – by day, and would build in meeting time into his quote somewhere.

    After a very difficult conversation – I will now attend the meeting via conference call.

    But, in the back of my mind I am still thinking about the fact that if I hadn’t had asked the question about flying – and just attended the meeting – I would have been quite severely out of pocket!

    So the moral of this story is – yes I totally believe in contracts. I like your idea of having a lawyer look them over. And will contacting one in the near future.

    Thank you very much.


    • Heather Lloyd-Martin
      Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      @Claire – what a great story. You illustrate a fantastic point – contracts may seem “scary” or overkill, but they get everyone on the same page. You may think, “Of course the client would know that my travel fees are extra.” But clients may not think the same way we do – and that perceptual difference can cost us money (plus, make things weird with the client.)

      Congratulations on keeping the client and being able to attend the meeting via conference call. I’m sure that was a hard conversation…



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  1. […] This will change your life. Clients will respect your time much more if they know they’re paying for it. Just make sure that this is in your contract (and yes, you really do need a contract.) […]

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