Effectively managing your finances is a key part of every WordPress business’s success, and that includes your freelancer contract. It’s going to be really hard to assure yourself of any financial security if you can’t guarantee payment from clients. And not only that, but also guarantee that they abide by certain guidelines and expectations in order for you to work as efficiently as possible throughout the lifecycle of the project.

I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing I dread more than having to chase down a client when they’ve failed to pay me for the work I delivered to them. It’s embarrassing to feel like some sort of penniless beggar and, somehow, this always seems to turn me into the bad guy:

When you're working on jobs that will net you hundreds or even thousands of dollars at a time, and you have no history with the client, this is not something you want to mess around with. My advice? If it’s not already, contract preparation, delivery, and finalization needs to be part of your business process.

I know it’s annoying and tedious and yet another step that keeps you from doing the work you actually enjoy doing. But trust me on this: without a freelancer contract in place, you’re putting your business at serious risk.

8 Reasons You Must Have a Freelancer Contract for Your Business

Here’s what I’ve discovered about client contracts: you can tell a lot about the type of person you’re about to work with based on how they respond to it:

  • Did the prospective client make excuses for why you don’t need one? And did those excuses include the phrase “trust me”? Then there’s like a 99% chance you can’t trust them to abide by it.
  • Did they seem surprised when you presented them with the contract but were still open to reviewing and signing it? That’s a good sign you’re about to work with a new-ish business owner who is going to be willing to trust and grow with you.
  • Did they instead bring along their own lengthy and dense contract? Well, you’re about to work with someone who’s already considered every angle and is very careful about protecting their business. This could be a good thing, though it also could mean you’re about to commit to months of endless, intense scrutiny.

Regardless of who you encounter and end up working with, you’re going to need a contract of your own ready to go. Every Single. Time.

Here’s why:

  1. A contract is a legally binding agreement that protects both you and your client.
  2. A contract clearly defines the relationship between you and the client.
  3. It sets clear expectations regarding what the scope of the project entails, helping you avoid scope creep.
  4. It’s an unofficial way of explaining to the client what it is you do and what they can expect from your process.
  5. It gets all those awkward conversations about payment, deliverables, and other legalities out of the way.
  6. Contracts are a good way of holding both of you accountable to the project.
  7. It’s a great way to weed out low-value and difficult clients before ever starting a project.
  8. On the other hand, this super-professional start of your client-contractor relationship is a great way to attract higher-paying clients.

The bottom line: it's about starting this relationship off right while ensuring that your business and cash flow remain protected.

Deconstructing the WordPress Freelancer Contract

First, let me start by saying there are a number of tools available to take the work out of creating a contract for your clients.

You can use templates like the ones from Docracy or Rocket Lawyer. Those will at least get you started with the right legalese if you’d prefer a DIY approach. You may want to go this route if you intend on customizing the contract with your own terms.

You could also use contract creation tools like Bonsai or AND CO. While you can personalize many of the elements within them, there isn’t as much room for customization as with DIY templates. However, when you use tools like these, they will send an electronic version of the contract directly to your client and notify you when it’s been viewed and signed. You can then use this system to create project invoices, which makes it super handy if you want to consolidate all these elements into one system.

Considering how you want to create your contract is only the first step. The second step? Deciding which clauses to add in.

Essential Clauses

Each of the clauses below are essential when you’re working as a WordPress professional. There are any number of ways things can go south and these clauses will protect you from those obstacles.

Overview

An overview is basically a high-level summary. In it, you should explain that you are providing a service. This will ensure that you are not held responsible for any post-project issues they experience with WordPress or third-party integrations they choose to use. You did not create the software and should make it clear that your job is to solely provide this service.

Independent Contractor

One of the more annoying and unfortunate issues I’ve run into with some clients is when they confuse our relationship for a formal employee-employer one. Unless your client is willing to pay you a salary and benefits, and compensate you for your software and hardware, they have no right to treat you as they would an employee of the company.

One clear and simple statement regarding your status as an independent contractor is all that is needed here.

Scope of Work

Based on how long this section ends up being, you may want to add this on as an Addendum. Regardless, you want the scope of work to cover all the details of the project so that, if anything should be called into question later, you can come back and reference what was agreed upon.

Consider defining the following in your contract:

  • What exactly you owe them (e.g. 20-page responsive website, monthly SEO services, etc.)
  • Schedule and availability to complete the work; this should include project milestones and a delivery date
  • Project phases and specific deliverables the client should expect to receive at the end of each phase
  • Number of revisions included with each phase or task of the project
  • Projected turnaround times for individual tasks so the client doesn’t continually have to ask where that mockup is
  • What you need from the client in order to complete the project as promised (e.g. content, style guide, access to web host and cPanel, response times, and so on)

Change Requests

You’re no doubt familiar with scope creep. It’s one of those things you encounter once and vow never to let it happen again… but it’s hard. Sometimes you have a really great client who just can’t help themselves and continues to ask for one more small favor over and over again. And, before you know it, you’ve blown the budget and taken a loss on the project.

If you want to keep this in check, then you need to require formal change requests and additional fees for work that exists outside the scope of your project.

Payment

This is probably the most important part of the contract as it solidifies the terms of payment. Now, this isn’t as simple as saying “Client owes $8,500 for completed website”. WordPress projects are much more complicated than that, which is why you should clearly define the following payment terms:

  • Will you ask for an upfront deposit?
  • If your project is split into phases, do you require payment upon completion of each phase?
  • When is the final payment due?
  • Will you tack on any additional fees or taxes?
  • For late payments, how much interest do you intend on charging?
  • For early terminations, is there a kill fee?
  • What sort of payment types do you accept?

Additional Expenses

Because you are not an employee, there really is no rule in place that says your clients owe you compensation for the tools you use or other expenses you incur over the course of the project. And while you can’t rightfully ask for them to pay part of your Internet bill, you should be able to demand that they pay for the software you purchased or licensed specifically for their project. This could include web hosting, domains, plugins, and themes.

Copyright

Copyright is a complicated subject and one that requires too much time to aptly cover. Suffice to say, your clients are going to be concerned with the following question and you’ll need to address it in your contract:

Who owns the website?

If this is a work-for-hire situation (which it is if you’re a freelancer), then the website and all content within it is the intellectual property of your client. If you’re an employee or the lines are blurred in any way, shape, or form, you could potentially have a case for claiming it as your own. Which is why you need to include this clause that gives away all rights to the site. The only thing you might want to ask for is to be able to use it as a portfolio sample.

Liability

This clause is to protect yourself from two situations.

The first is from having to pay legal fees if your client should be charged with infringement in the future. If you did not knowingly or willingly use copyright-protected material on their website, then you should not be at fault or have to compensate your client after your relationship has terminated.

There’s also the case of your client looking to charge you for damages if their site should break or go down. Unless you have been hired to manage the website for a certain length of time, you cannot be held accountable for what happens to it after you’ve completed the project.

Termination of Contract

It seems silly that you’d have to define what “termination” actually means, but you’d be surprised how many clients will come forward months down the road demanding your free assistance. In this section, include information regarding:

  • How do you define the end of the contract (i.e. the site going live? handing over all deliverables? revoking your own access to WordPress?)?
  • Who can terminate the project early and what are the terms?
  • If a client is unresponsive at any point in the project, how long before you are allowed to terminate the project and require a re-start fee and relaunch if or when they resurface?

Non-Disclosure

This isn’t something you need to include in your contract, but it is something to be aware of in case your client brings their own and includes this clause. It basically says that you agree not to share any information regarding the details of the project or the company with anyone outside the project. This is a fairly standard clause and not one you should be scared off by. Simply remember to inform your team members about it before beginning work.

Non-Compete

This, on the other hand, is never an acceptable clause to find in a freelancer contract. Can you imagine if Client A were able to dictate who you could work for in the future? Especially if you specialize in that particular niche or industry? Nope, absolutely not. If you see this in a contract, it’s a major red flag.

Wrap-Up

As you can see, the matter of creating a freelancer contract for your WordPress business is no simple matter. However, by utilizing a number of best practices, you can easily integrate this into your business process and lessen the amount of work and time you have to spend on these with each new client:

  • Have one baseline template you can re-use for each project.
  • Don’t be afraid to include too much detail. It’s best to cover your a$$ and give clients a 10-page contract to review and sign than to leave something out.
  • Never ever start any work until you have the contract signed and dated.
  • Always send them an official copy that you’ve signed and dated as well.
  • Don’t be afraid to reference the contract if anything changes during the project or the client calls something into question that was previously agreed upon. That’s what it’s there for.

Protecting your business is priority #1. If you don’t currently have a freelancer contract in place to do so, what are you waiting for?


 

Suzanne Scacca is a freelance copywriter whose work has been featured on WordPress and web design blogs like Elegant Themes, Pagely, and A List Apart. She believes in the power of good quotes, timely statistics, and simple, easy-to-follow language that speaks directly to the pain of the audience.