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When starting out in the freelance world, it can be easy to jump straight in and focus on the important task of finding clients. After all, the clients are where the money will come from. However, there are some legal factors to take into consideration before jumping straight into the freelance game.

Whether you are writing, accounting, acting as IT support or even engineering as a freelance occupation there are certain legal requirements you need to meet. Not doing so could hinder your freelance career in the long run.

So, here’s a list of 5 legalities that you should address as a freelancer:

Contracts

As a full-time employee, you would fully expect a contract with your employer, to protect the both of you throughout the length of your employment. Why should it be any different when freelancing?

A contract between you and your client helps to set the details of your service in no uncertain terms. From payment, the length of engagement, to what is expected as part of the goods or service. Doing so makes everything clear at the beginning of the process, so if your client were to try to change terms mid-project - which unfortunately happens from time to time - then you can refer them back to this document. Or even email, as that can be used as proof of a written contract.

Verbal agreements can also be referred to, but these are too easy to refute or ‘misremember’. The written word leaves little to dispute over.

Insurance

Even if you are working from home primarily, you should consider becoming insured. If you are out on the road and suffer an accident, or if a client visits you at home and become hurt, your home insurance alone will not cover you. Office and public liability is one of the things you should consider when looking for media insurance or similar.

Data Protection

If you keep a record of your client’s personal information, whether this is simply their address or more intimate details such as their address or bank details, then you have a liability to protect their data.

The way you do ensure this data protection can depend upon where you are freelancing from. Throughout the US, the exact nature of data protection differs from state to state, there is no all-encompassing federal law on the matter.

Here in Seattle businesses must abide by the data breach notification statute of Washington. Meaning if you suffer a breach of ‘personal information’, it must be reported. This includes both hardcopy and electronic data, with a 45-day deadline for notification and you are required to notify the Attorney General if more than 500 citizens are involved.

If unsure, it is always best to check the exact regulations for your area, as not doing so can have a negative result for your budding freelancer career.

Website

Depending on your industry, there may be compliance factors that you need to consider even for your website. Privacy policies, e-commerce regulations, data protections laws, consent to leave cookies and full terms and conditions for services. As a registered business your site must also include business name, place of registration, number and the official address.

Making the site completely accessible for people with disabilities - including text-only capability and comprehensive alt-text on images - is also important to adhere to. When collecting information for email campaigns, the collection must be opt-in and all marketing emails should include an opt-out button.

Incorporation

Starting out as a sole trader is the way many freelancers begin their out-of-office career. For the short term, this may work well to see how well you are able to do in your chosen industry or freelancing niche. However, for some industries incorporating may not be a choice. Choosing when to set up your limited company is a matter of the right time for your business.

Becoming a fully-fledged limited company can help you with taxes, limited liability, acquiring funding and even protecting your company name by law.

Starting out in the world of freelance can be an exciting time and a fresh start - so don’t let it be ruined with being caught unawares by the legalities. Start out by knowing your legal responsibilities and watch your freelancing business grow without any hiccups.

Zack Halliwell is a lover of long walks with his dog during the day and a freelance writer by night. Kind of like Batman(coincidentally the name of his dog). Find him @ZackHalliwell on Twitter.

PLEASE NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR LEGAL ADVICE. IF YOU HAVE SPECIFIC CONTRACT ISSUES OR QUESTIONS, DISCUSS THEM WITH YOUR LEGAL ADVISOR.