• Advice

Here's my contract: how to ask for what you want

This is a sponsored resource from Joust, the first financial services company animated by and focused on the unique needs of freelancers. What if your bank admired your passion and respected your work? And what if it could guarantee you got paid? PayArmour, a revolutionary new solution from Joust, takes the hassle out of invoicing clients and protects you against client nonpayment.

Who wears ties or pantyhose to work anymore? Even the corporate salaryman can show up in a hoodie.

Going with that ethos, when your trusted former colleague, the guy who lived across the hall from you in college, or your sister-in-law’s cousin hires you for a freelance job, it’s all cool, right?

Well, of course not. You know that. That’s why you’ve been recapping the conversation you had with them on the phone in an email!

You can do better.

This is a great moment. Here’s your chance to flex some legal muscle and get comfortable dictating the terms of your assignments.

I’ll admit, the casual contract scenario is a breath of fresh air compared to those clients who send over the 15-page contract with an attached scope of work statement and a non-disclosure agreement. Usually freelancers can just scan those to make sure there’s nothing too restrictive in the non-compete section and then pick their signature font in DocuSign.

I mean, that whole section about how freelancers are “not on staff” and “promise not to try to hit companies up for benefits” certainly isn’t anything that you’ll need. Remember that contracts should be designed to support both parties involved, which includes you.  

Other than the bare-bone details of your rate and a clear assignment, what else do you need? Well, payment terms and an indemnification clause (that whole thing that says something like, “Party A will perform work at own risk, and indemnifies Party B against all loss, damages, expense, and liability resulting from injury to property.") are prime examples of what to include in a contract that serves and protects you.

This isn’t the first time the what-should-I-put-in-a-contract issue has come up. Freelancer’s Union has been on this. Try this scenario on for size:

CLIENT A: “Sure, yeah, just send me an email recapping our call.”

YOU: “Let me send over my standard contract.”

Then you can go to this template and tailor it to suit your line of work and the specifics of the assignment.

You’ll sound experienced, prepared, and like you’re ready to get you going on the work already!

It’s nice to be the one who already has the boilerplate language. Taking control of the written agreement is a great way to build contract confidence. You may be ready to move on to more ambitious — yet still totally reasonable — negotiations.

Often when you get a new, plum client, you don’t want to gum up the works with what feels like very hypothetical deliberations. Especially when it’s a larger company and the person assigning the work sends you over the boilerplate that’s already been vetted by legal.

That’s when it’s time to button up or put on your pearls, figuratively.

CLIENT B: “Great, I’ll send over our standard contract."

YOU: “Let me send over some language that I generally use and would like to have in the contract.”

CLIENT B: “Oh. But this is what we use for everyone. I’d have to get Legal to approve the revisions.”

YOU: “That’s OK, it’s worth it to me to take the time to do it right so we both have the terms we need.”

There’s no doubt that there are some parts of your contract that are absolutely essential. Here at Joust, we think about the payment timing issue a lot, as we are all about protecting you from that client that “forgets” to pay you. That’s why we recommend always having some sort of statement in your contract about your payment terms.

Freelancers Union has some handy tips such as negotiating payment of “at least 20% of the fee on signing” and “include a late payment penalty clause”. These may not be a requirement if you’re making use of our PayArmour invoicing guarantee tool, but it’s always better to cover yourself on all bases possible.

Again, all of it is quite reasonable. Some clients might balk. We don’t guarantee that every client will work this through with you. But some of the good clients will.

A few months ago we wrote about how to deal with the boom phase of the freelance work cycle. Part of that was about being selective in taking on new clients. How a prospective client handles your contract agreement will help determine whether they are worth your time or not.

Vicki Apodaca Vicki is the Head of Marketing & Communications at Joust, the bank platform for freelancers. As a digital nomad, she's always in pursuit of the perfect beach.