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Nothing makes me weep more than seeing those long posts in Facebook Groups about how someone is dealing with a sticky legal situation or a client who won’t pay up.
Most of the time these freelancers didn’t have a contract in place at all.
If you’ll be working with clients you need a contract to protect yourself and the client as well as to make sure all the guidelines and boundaries are set from the go.
I’ve been lucky enough that I’ve never been in a situation like that but I always use a contract with my clients no matter how small the project or how many times we’ve worked together. It gives me peace of mind and makes my business look professional.
If you’re ready to start using contracts in your business then you’re in luck! You can easily find templates and get contracts signed electronically all for free.
Keep reading to learn what your contract needs, what tools you can use, and advice on using contracts in your business.
Legal Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and recommend you seek legal advice if you want a rock solid contract to protect you.
What to include in your contract
Before you go hunting for a template to use you’ll want to have a few ideas of what exactly to include in your contract. It will probably vary depending on your niche and what service you provide but you’ll want to make sure you cover your bases.
A cancellation clause. You don’t want to end up with a client who sucks and no way to get out of your contract. Some type of cancellation or termination clause can outline your ability to terminate and under what cause, some sort of deadline or timeline for termination, and what happens to any money or work that has already been transferred. Don’t forget your client may want to terminate the contract at some point so cover that as well.
Who keeps what. If you do creative work like design then you’ll want to clearly outline what files your client will receive in the end and who has the rights to the designs, ideas, etc. If your client demands the source files you can then refer them back to the contract.
Client “delay” clause. In the event your client shall disappear off the face of the planet without so much as a ‘see ya later’ then you need to decide what’s going to happen with their project and any deposit or invoice they’ve already covered. Or if you have trouble getting content or files from a client within a deadline then create a clause that will deter that.
Project specifications. Such as pricing and payment details, hourly rates, deadlines and check-in dates, revisions and “extras”, etc. You don’t want to not have all the details you’ve discussed not laid out on the contract. It may seem redundant but you’ll have peace of mind knowing everything is squared away.
Finding a contract template
The first step to utilizing contracts in your business is to find a template to use first.
There are plenty of free options out there and even premium templates created by lawyers for freelancers and entrepreneurs. Your best bet is to contact a lawyer to craft a contract tailored for you and your business.
But I know that’s probably not gonna happen for most of us so using a well crafted template is the next best thing.
Notice: Docracy was supposed to shut down on July 1st, 2018 but as of this writing the website is still active. I do not know if it is still shutting down but currently everything is still working.
This is the first place I ever used to find contract templates and get them signed by clients. It’s completely free to use and has tons of different legal documents for all kinds of jobs and niches available for open use.
My tips for finding contract templates on Docracy is to look for highly rated documents, like this Independent Contractor Agreement. Also look for documents related to you industry or niche (designer, developer, VA) and don’t be afraid to mix and match to create your own.
After you found a template you like you can add it your documents dashboard and use it as is or start making changes. Docracy has smart fields that autopopulate with things like the name and date.
Not only can you find your template here or upload your own, you can also send it directly to someone to get signed electronically. Still totally free and very easy to use which is why I was happy to use it for years in the beginning of my business.
While this option isn’t a free you can purchase all sorts of contracts, legal documents, privacy policies, terms and conditions, and other agreements for just about any niche or business under the sun.
And the best part is every document has been prepared and reviewed by an actually legal attorney!
You’ll be able to see what each document includes and outlines and how it protects you and your business. All you have to do is fill in your template and you’re good to go!
If you’re not sure which contract is right for you they will soon have a quiz that will point you in the right direction. For now, this independent contractor agreement is a good general contract for freelancers.
Getting your contracts signed
Once you have a great contract template in place it’s not going to do much good unless you can get it signed by your client.
While I used the free tool Docracy to get my contracts signed for years, it doesn’t make for a pretty client experience, there’s no way to brand anything, and it can’t hook up with Zapier or any other tools.
So if you need something with a little more punch check out some of these contract signing tools.
Although I haven’t used HelloSign personally, I’ve seen many business colleagues who have recommended it.
The free version allows for you to send 3 documents per month but doesn’t give you the ability to have any templates saved. This is probably fine if you are only booking 1-2 clients a month or just getting started with freelancing.
If you just need a quick contract signed that’s secure and professional this will do the trick. But I can’t really recommend anything more than the free version because I just think there are more affordable (and better) options out there.
This is a plugin for WordPress so if you don’t have a WP site this won’t work for you. But if you do it’s a great solution for contracts right on your own website!
Prior to returning to Dubsado, I use WP Online Contract for sending and signing client contracts. You can have as many templates as you like, use shortcodes (basically like smart fields), setup your email notifications and more.
Some of my favorite features of this plugin is that it allows you to use templates and fields to easily fill out and send a new contract. It literally took me less than a minute to send out a contract to a new client.
It also makes getting paid super easy because after the client signs a button can appear to send them straight to Paypal (or another processor if you purchase an add-on). This eliminated the need for me to make separate invoices and ensured the client would pay right after signing.
There were some problems I ran into though.
Since it is a WordPress plugin running on your site you might run into plugin or theme conflicts that may cause the contract plugin to behave weird. This happened to me and I was able to get around it but those who aren’t so tech-savvy might not be so lucky.
Some other hiccups I had were small bugs like the email template not correctly showing my reply email or the client’s name. Luckily the developer of this plugin is very helpful and constantly improving and updating the plugin.
Dubsado is so much more than contracts. It’s a complete Customer Relationship Manager and covers contracts, invoicing, workflows, email templates, time tracking, to do’s, calendar, bookkeeping, templates, forms, and even more than that.
If all you need is a simple contract signed with no frills this isn’t going to be the solution for you. But if you’re ready to completely streamline your client process then I totally recommend diving into Dubsado! (You get 3 clients to use for free on your trial!)
All contracts (and other types of templates) in Dubsado can use smart fields which means it can pull in data about your client, their project, and the invoice. This saves me a ton of time when onboarding a new client; all I have to do is attach the right contract and click a button.
The great thing about Dubsado is that it is always improving. Recently the ability to use your own domain and title (custom url mapping) was released and now my clients experience my branding 100% from the domain and text to the colors and imagery.
They generously offer a free trial that gives you 3 clients to try out. You can also save 20% off your first month or year when you use my referral code: shayleesmith
Templates and signing all in one
These tools include their own “ready to use” contracts and the ability to send and sign them all in one. The downside to this is that you can’t really customize every part of the contract usually. Sure you can update fields and tweak sections but you won’t be able to use your own contract.
If you need something quick and easy to use plus reviewed by fellow freelancers then these options are going to be perfect.
When And.co by Fiverr came into existence I was pretty surprised because it looks like a great tool for new business owners. It’s free to use and has a lot of similar features as Dubsado although not quite as robust.
For the contract features of And.co you get their “freelance vetted” contract template that can be customized along with e-signing, alerts, “self-destruction” options, and automatic invoice creation.
I’ve briefly tried And.co myself and it was a breeze to get started with. There appears to be an option to upload your own documents or contracts but I’m not sure that can you digitally sign uploaded files.
Like Dubsado, And.co offers a lot more than just contract templates and signing. They also cover your invoices and payments, time tracking, reports, recurring payments, proposals, and basic workflows.
For free I think And.co is a great choice for new business owners or those on a budget.
Another great “all in one” business tool for contracts, invoices, and proposals that has a beautiful and clean interface. This used to be a free service for freelancers but now they only offer a 14-day free trial.
I won’t go into all the features but it does pretty much everything And.co does though some of the features are more extensive, support is probably better, and I think the UI is really snazzy.
Like And.co, you get to use their pre-made contract template and fill in the blanks or tweak clauses. Although it’s nice they’ve taken care of contracts for their users it would be even better if you could use your own contracts on a paid service.
In my opinion, if you’re going to be paying the monthly fee for one of these services, I would pick Dubsado.
Hopefully this post has helped you get a grasp on contracts for your own business! It’s so important that you have a contract that protects both you and the client in place even before you book your first client.
What tool do you use for your own contracts? Let me know in the comments!