Do You Need A Contract For A Quick Copywriting Job?

Three fountain pensGreetings and welcome to another installment of the how to start an SEO copywriting business series!

In this video, Heather builds on her previous two posts speaking to the importance of having a freelance copywriting contract. Specifically, she answers a question posed by a reader/viewer asking whether a contract is still necessary for small copywriting jobs.

This is an excellent question, and one that will come up many times in your freelance copywriting career.

A client will need some work done and after looking over the scant requirements, you’ll think “Oh, I can knock this out in a few hours.” Then you’re presented with the question of what to do about a contractual agreement, knowing that dealing with that would actually take more time than it would for you to do the work.

In this commonplace scenario, do you still need to send the client a contract? Or can you just do the work, call it a wrap, and get paid already?

Tune in as Heather outlines some options for you to consider…

Short answer: YES!

You may recognize this first slide from Heather’s original video post discussing how crucial it is for freelance copywriters to work with a legal document.

While contracts may seem like a pain and a huge hassle, they’re a necessary evil for two compelling reasons:

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

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

Here’s a possible option…

That said, here are some things to consider when you’re in that position…

– Is it a NEW client? Have them sign the agreement. Consider getting the money up front.

If it’s a brand new client, even if it’s a fast job, have them sign the agreement…because they’re unknown and you’ve never dealt with them before! The client is not familiar with your terms, either, so a contract gives them an opportunity to review them and determine whether they still want to work with you.

You may also want to consider getting paid before you begin work, because it is a quick job and getting 50% now and 50% two days from now may not make sense.

–  Is it an EXISTING client who has already signed your agreement? Spell out your terms in an email. Tell your client you’ll need written confirmation before you start. 

If it’s an existing client – you have a history, they pay their bills, everything’s gone fine – you may opt to just outline your terms in an email.

So while you’d still spell out your terms (i.e., what you’ll be doing, when you’ll send it to them, how much it will cost, and when payment is due), you’d simply let your client know that you’ll need written confirmation from them before you start work.

What I’ll do is write an email reiterating my terms, and then ask “is this ok?” at the end of the message. Then I wait for the client to respond with “yes, this is ok” before I’ll start the work.

–  Ask your attorney about a master services agreement.

This is another option – asking your attorney about a master services agreement.

Again, I am not an attorney and none of this constitutes legal advice. I highly recommend all freelance copywriters to work with an attorney to figure this stuff out, because it is so important!

A master services agreement is something that your clients sign once, and then you’re done with it. At that point, all the terms have been negotiated, they’re set, and then you’ll be able to work with email – or whatever paper trail you and your client prefer – for future jobs.


photo thanks to Keith Williamson

6 replies
  1. Brandon N says:

    Thanks, Heather, for this very important post. I would add that on a first-encounter, it will be a much smoother process to have itemized and solidified your services, then work with a contract based on those services. This way, you can tailor any specifics to that job while still feeling confident that you have everything in there you need. And it’s definitely a good idea to work the agreement over with your attorney to make sure you’ve covered your bases.

    Oh, and the other important thing: your contract means nothing if you don’t stick by it! So, don’t be afraid to (politely) refer to it if necessary when on a project.

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      @Brandon, EXCELLENT point! If you don’t stick to your contract, you’re sending the message that the contract is “no big deal” and not enforceable. I’ve talked to a few copywriters who have “bent the rules” for folks, only to get burned in the end.

      Thanks for that super-smart reminder!

  2. Kevin Carlton says:

    I’m currently moving towards written agreements with all of my clients. So your post is great reassurance to me that I’m doing the right thing.
    I’ve noticed that certain clients, who’ve never had a contract with me, have tended to think that it is they who wholly and exclusively dictate my terms of service.
    This is not a situation I’d like to be in again, whatever the size of the job.

  3. Cathy Goodwin says:

    I’d like to know more about the copywriter who ghostwrites ebooks – I’ve got a ton of my own ebooks and could do this. I wonder how she charges, as clients need to sell many copies to earn back her fees!

    • Heather Lloyd-Martin says:

      Cathy, thanks so much for your comment! Something to consider – some companies use ebooks as lead generation. So, they wouldn’t be selling the books…but they would benefit from prospects downloading the information (and eventually signing up for services/buying something.) It’s all about selling the value… :)

      Have a fantastic day!


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