Contract tips to ‘Freelance like a boss’

A well-written contract helps set expectations in advance and leads to a better experience for both the client and the freelancer. Photo: Freepik

A well-written contract helps set expectations in advance and leads to a better experience for both the client and the freelancer. Photo: Freepik

Published Aug 25, 2023


In Freelance Like a Boss, Shea Karssing helps stunted in-house employees and frustrated freelancers create successful, sustainable businesses that will give them greater flexibility and earning potential.

Here is part 1 of an extract from the book on why contracts are essential for freelance success, and the first four of 10 things to include in your freelance contract:


As we speak, six years into going freelance full-time, I am owed R80 000 for a job that was completed over six months ago. Frankly, I don’t think the client (a government department, no less) gives a shit. So, what can I do?

  • Sue
  • Beg
  • All of the above

Sadly, the answer is B, and it’s 100% my fault. Why? I started the work with no contract in place. Sometimes, we learn these lessons the hard way, and I don’t want you to have to do that. Please, please, please, don’t start any job without a contract – even if it’s work for the sweet old granny down the road. Let’s face it, she probably doesn’t know what ‘out of scope’ means. A well-written contract will give you the protection you need. It helps you set expectations in advance and leads to a better client experience, since both parties have full transparency and all the awkward details are out in the open.

Disclaimer: Please bear in mind that this is not legal advice. It’s best to have a lawyer review all your contracts.

Ten things to include in your freelance contract

1. Description of the work and services

Include a start date, end date, payment rate and schedule. Establish the scope of your project by listing what you’re going to do for the client and when – the more detailed, the better.

2. Payment terms

I had another regular (now ex) retainer client who frequently paid me up to five months late. They were also an acquaintance of mine – a bad idea. So, what could I do?

• Sue

• Beg

• All of the above

Yup, you got it this time. A big, fat B. I was at school with the guy. I could trust him, right? Even though it just so happened that he wasn’t the one paying the bills, I still should have had a signed contract in place.

Anyway, do as I say (and as I now do) and include detailed payment terms in your freelance contract according to the specifics of your agreement. Here are some questions to consider:

• What is the pricing model you’ll be using? (More about your options in the next chapter.)

• Is there a minimum or a maximum number of hours you’ll be working on the project?

• What are the payment terms? On delivery, 30 days after delivery, or after specific milestones?

• Will you be charging an upfront deposit?

• Will there be interest or a late fee if the client doesn’t pay on time? If so, will this be a percentage of the total project cost, and will it be charged per day/week/month that the invoice is overdue?

• Who is responsible for other project expenses and material costs? For example, if you’re a photographer, who’s paying for the props you need for the shoot?

3. Ownership rights and licensing of the end product (copyright)

Once all is signed, scoped and delivered, who owns the end product? Since the client is paying you to do the work, they will generally require that the contract grants them full rights and ownership of all aspects of the project deliverables. Giving them these ownership rights allows them to decide how they want to use the work you deliver. There may be some elements of the work that you will retain, depending on the industry and the type of work. For example, a freelance photographer may licence an image, whereas we freelance writing folks usually wave our little words goodbye and give up all ownership of the content to the client.

You may also wish to use the copyright section of the agreement to address whether or not the client gives you permission to showcase the project in your portfolio, whether online or otherwise. For example, some clients might not want their intellectual property on show for competitors to see.

Laws regarding copyright can be complex, so you may want to get a lawyer to create your copyright clause (and review your entire contract while they’re at it) if you need something specific included.

4. Terms and termination

There’s only so much you can learn about someone or something before you get to work, and sometimes a project or relationship just doesn’t work out. Including a termination clause (or right to terminate) in the contract allows either party to pull the plug according to the specified grounds for termination, along with any expenses or penalties associated with ending the contract early.

Part 2 of this extract – in next weekend’s Smart Works – covers the remaining six key contract elements to include. Don’t miss it!