6 Common Freelancing Problems That Using a Contract May Solve

by Laura Spencer

January 23, 2014 in Business/Freelance

Tired student or businessman working with laptop in the office

Frequently when I hear or read of a freelance web designer having problems with a client, there is no contract in place. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Contracts are very important for the freelancer. If you can’t get a formal contract with a client, at least get your agreement in writing. An email recapping a telephone conversation you had can work.

Why is getting your freelancing agreement in writing so important? Simply put, a written agreement or contract can solve a lot of common freelancing problems.

Without a written agreement, the terms of your project can easily deteriorate into a debate about who said what. Trust me, you do not want that to happen. When it does, it isn’t pretty.

With a contract in place, you both have something to refer to during the course of the project. And, in a worst case scenario, you can use your written agreement to support your case in court.

In this post, I’ll identify six common problems that freelancers face and explain how having a written work agreement can help with each problem. If you liked this post, you’ll probably also like 7 Keys to a Successful Design Project.

Problem #1. The Never-Ending Project

If you’ve been freelancing for any length of time, you’ve probably already encountered the never-ending web design project.

The never-ending project occurs when the client refuses to close the project, instead keeping it open by making revision request after revision request. The project just seems to go on and on and on…

This common problem is even worse if you’re waiting to close the project so that you can get paid for your work.

Fortunately, a good contract or written agreement can help. Simply include a clause that states that your agreement includes x number of revisions and that the client will be billed for any revisions beyond that amount.

Problem #2. Getting Paid on Time

Payout Day on a background with a diagram, a pen and a calculator

At one time or another nearly every freelancer has had problems getting paid.

I can remember finishing a project as a subcontractor and billing the client who had hired me, only to wait and wait for payment. When I emailed my client to ask for my payment, they stated that they were waiting to be paid for the work by their client. Apparently, they wouldn’t be able to pay me until they got paid–something I hadn’t realized when I took the job. Two months later, I finally received payment.

The whole payment problem should be dealt with up front. I highly recommend requiring most clients to make a partial payment before you begin work. In addition, your work agreement should spell out exactly when and how you will be paid.

With a written agreement or contract, both you and the client know what to expect when it comes to payment. And you have something to fall back on if you don’t get paid when you expected to get paid. It pays to include payment details in your contract–literally.

Problem #3. Creeping Scope

Did you ever seriously underestimate the amount of work that a web design project would take?

If you have, the culprit may have been scope creep. The scope of a project defines what work is included in the project (and sometimes it also specifies what is not included). The more scope details you consider when you create a project estimate, the more accurate that estimate will be.

Every written agreement or contract should include a detailed description of the scope of the project. If the client has not provided you with enough details to create an accurate project estimate, then you need to continue asking questions until you fully understand the project.

Taking a project with a poorly defined scope may cause you to wind up spending far more time on the project that you intended to.

Problem #4. Ownership Debates

Who owns the finished web design when you have completed the project?

Can you base other web designs of off the web design you just finished? Can you market variations of the web design to other clients? What about your client? Can they market the finished web design to other businesses? Can they use it to develop other web designs?

Without specifying who owns the intellectual rights to your finished work, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise.

When negotiating your work agreement with your client, be sure to bring up the issue of intellectual property. Include any intellectual property agreements that you and the client arrive at in your contract. This way, if there are any questions about who owns what later on, you have it in writing.

Problem #5. Mismatched Expectations

You expected the client to be available to answer all of your questions about the project in a timely fashion. However, the client expected that they wouldn’t be bothered by you until you turned in the finished design.

If this has ever happened to you, you understand how mismatched expectations can really sabotage a freelancing project.

It’s best to get these differences in expectations ironed out before the project starts. Again, it’s a matter of communication. Tell the client what you expect from them and ask how they expect the project to go. Don’t automatically assume that you are in agreement unless you have talked about it.

Once you have discussed expectations, you are ready to include a clause including your assumptions in the work agreement.

Problem #6. Too Many Meetings & Phone Calls

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This is a tricky problem. You certainly don’t want to discourage your client from communicating with you. On the other hand, you don’t want to sit through boring weekly status meetings that are several hours long and have little to do with your part of the project.

Different clients have different expectations when it comes to phone calls and meetings. Some clients are happy to meet with you only once to define the terms of the project. Other clients expect regular meetings and updates from you–even when you have nothing new to report.

Unfortunately, meetings and phone calls can take a lot of your time if you let them. It’s important to ask the client what their expectations are about meetings before you come to an agreement. If the client indicates that you will be participating in regular status meetings, include the cost of that time in your estimate.

In your contract or working agreement, you can specify how many hours of meeting time are included in the project. State that meeting time that exceeds the specified number of hours will be billed for at your hourly rate. This type of clause makes a client think twice about requiring you to attend unnecessary meetings or calling you up just to talk.

Your Turn

While some problem clients are destined to be problems no matter what, a surprising number of problems can be solved by having a strong and detailed written agreement in place before you start work.

Do you include any other problem-solving clauses in your contracts or agreements? What are those clauses? Share your answers in the comments below.

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About Laura Spencer

Laura Spencer is a freelance writer from North Central Texas with over 20 years of professional business writing experience. If you liked this post, then you may also enjoy Laura’s blog about her freelance writing experiences, WritingThoughts. Laura is also on Google+.

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