One of the very best things about being a freelancer is the flexibility that it can bring. No longer will you be tied to regular office hours or have to do the same set of tasks everyday: you can manage your own schedule and seek out work that you find thrilling.
On the other hand, be sure not to confuse flexibility with… vagueness. Without a proper employment contract, you don’t have the same worker’s rights as an employee: your clients could end up trying to take advantage of you by asking more of you than you’ve agreed.
That’s why contracts are still super important for the self-employed. It’s invaluable to have a formal, written agreement with your clients.
But for a lot of freelancers, especially writers who may work on multiple smaller-scale projects simultaneously, the hassle of a full contract may simply be too much. In that case, try a Letter of Agreement instead. Read on to find out what it is, and for a sample you can use.
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Now, back to what you came here to read.
A Letter of Agreement is a formal agreement between two parties – a freelancer and a client – which spells out exactly what is expected of both parties, for a particular piece of work. It can be written by either party, and should be signed and dated by both. It doesn’t have to be in the formal, legalese-style language of a contract.
It should specify all the terms that you’ve agreed upon, which should include the following.
You must include the agreed-upon fee, or the agreed rate per word (or per page, or per hour, or whatever).
Also specify how you expect to be paid, and when payment is due.
Write down the subject of your article and whatever you have agreed about what the article should cover, the style required, and so on.
As well as what the article should include, it might well be worth stipulating what it should not include. For instance, if you’re not required to interview anyone for the article you’re writing, it could be worth specifying this, so that the publication can’t complain about it when they receive your copy.
The Letter of Agreement should say how you will deliver the finished work: for instance in a Microsoft Word document (.doc or .docx). It should also state the deadline.
For writers, there is one additional concern of great importance: copyright. This is something you should clarify with the publication before you get to the Letter of Agreement stage.
In the case of an article written for a magazine, you shouldn’t generally be selling the text itself: only the right to publish it on this occasion. Most commonly, you should likely be selling First English-Language Serial Rights***.*** That means that, after the publication has published it, the work is still yours, and you can sell it for publication again and again.¹
So you need to make sure you specify this in the Letter of Agreement. Don’t give the impression that your client will own the copyright to your work, unless that’s something you’ve actually agreed to and are happy with.
Publications may well have their own standards and expectations regarding copyright, so it’s worth clarifying early on in the process. Check out the Copyright Office for more information on your rights.
Here’s an outline Letter of Agreement that you can adapt with specifics as necessary. It’s only a rough template, which may have to change a lot to match the particulars of your project.
For larger-scale projects, a full freelance writer contract template may be better, rather than just a Letter of Agreement. And for detailed advice, it could be worth contacting or joining a professional organization like the National Writers Union. But this template might be handy as a starting point.
I, [name] (“Writer”), agree to provide to you, [client] (“Publication”), the following services:
- [Description of the work you’re going to write, as already agreed]
- [Any extra details regarding the scope of the project and what it does and doesn’t include]
- [Information on the style in which you’ll write – mention a style guide such as AP or Chicago if you’ve agreed one]
- [Any other relevant information]
I will deliver the work in the following manner:
- [Method of delivery – hard copy? Email? Which document format, if digital?]
- It will be delivered no later than [Deadline].
My fee will be as follows:
- [Exact fee or rate]
- [Information on possible additional expenses: will you be charging them for any travel, supplies, shipping fees, etc? If none, specify]
- Payment will be due [Terms of payment – e.g. within 30 days].
I grant the Publication [First English-Language Serial Rights, or whatever rights you’ve agreed]. [Spell out the copyright terms in more detail, if you think there’s any room for ambiguity]
If you agree to these terms, please sign and date below and return a copy to me, and I will sign as well.
[Signature and date lines]
Never forget that it’s usually cheaper for companies to get freelancers to do work, rather than hire employees: you’re saving them money simply by not being permanently on staff. So you need to really make sure that they don’t rip you off.
The best way to do that is to get stuff in writing. That means being super clear about everything, even if you’re only providing them with a few paragraphs. And if the publication doesn’t offer you its own standard contract or set of terms, you should be ready to step in with your own.
That’s where the Letter of Agreement template above will come in handy: nothing beats having stuff spelled out in clear, concise language. But hey: if you’re a writer, you’ll know that already.
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
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