By Kevin Gault
There’s an old saying: “A verbal agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.” Nailing down a contract for a writing project can guarantee smooth sailing, but is it really necessary?
For Peter Bowerman, successful copywriter and author of the bestselling Well-Fed Writer series, formal contracts are the exception rather than the rule. “Since starting in 1994, I’ve signed fewer than six formal contracts of any kind, and almost all of them came from clients. I’ve only had one situation where I got burned on a deal and a contract might not have even helped in that case.
“Use a more formal contract when dealing with a new client or if the job is fairly large, complicated and multi-faceted. But for your regular clients, formal contracts for each job aren’t only unnecessary, but will likely be insulting. If you have a good working relationship and you’ve always been paid, a contract isn’t necessary.”
Keep It Simple
Gordon Graham, veteran white paper writer and founder of www.thatwhitepaperguy.com, concurs: “I don’t like legal mumbo-jumbo and long forms, so I keep things very simple. I talk to a prospect on the phone, we exchange a few emails, and then if everything sounds right, I send them an invoice for a 50% deposit on my total fee. On my invoice, I include a few terms such as a list of my deliverables and the due dates for each one. When I get the deposit check, I consider that the deal is on and I start work. This seems to satisfy all but the most legalistic of clients. I’ve never had a legal dispute with a client in more than 25 years of freelancing.”
Bowerman feels that for most projects, a one-page “bid letter” will do the job, spelling out basic project parameters such as deposit, fee, timing of payments, what the project entails and deadlines. Ask the client to sign it and send the original back to you and you’re in business.
In his book Pricing Your Writing Services, author and copywriting guru Steve Slaunwhite (www.steveslaunwhite.com) also favors a one-page email “contract,” but with a slightly different flavor, including:
* Scope of the project
* Objective of the piece of writing
* Recommendations on writing style
* Highlights of similar projects done for well-known clients
* Deadline and number of revisions
* Stipulation of 50% payment to start the project and 50% after it is completed
When Things Get Complex
But it’s not always so simple. In his White Paper Pundit blog (www.whitepapercompany.com/blog/), white paper specialist and Appum Group founder Jonathan Kantor maintains that for complex projects (such as white papers), it’s best to use not one, but two contracts: “Both provide the framework needed to ensure satisfaction and success for the development of the paper. The first is the ‘terms and conditions‘ contract that stipulates project timelines and deadlines, rates, payment terms, ownership rights and potential penalties.
“The second is a ‘work‘ contract that takes the form of an outline and provides details of what will be produced by the writer. This outline ensures the final white paper draft will be on message and meet all customer expectations. As part of this ‘contract,’ the outline establishes the marketing message, estimates page length, guides content flow and provides opportunity for the client to make changes.”
Listen to the gurus. For most projects, a simple bid letter is just fine. When the project is complex, use a formal, detailed contract – or as Kantor suggests, two contracts – spelling out terms and conditions and giving an outline for the work. With any agreement, it’s smart to request partial payment before you begin crafting your masterpiece.
“Don’t over complicate things,” advises Graham. “Just be businesslike and confident, establish your terms for the project, and stand up for yourself and everything should turn out fine.”