When I started freelancing, I didn’t have legal documents. I went on an honour system. “How did that work out for you?” Let’s put it this way: I found out the client’s word and 80 cents would buy me an 80 cent cup of coffee. Here’s how to get some legal documents when you can’t afford a lawyer yet:
Caveat: I am Not a Lawyer
The closest I’ve been to law school is wearing a $6 vampire outfit for Halloween. Nothing here amounts to legal advice.
Obviously, none of these alternatives is on par with getting an actual lawyer to draft your contracts.
Now that’s out of the way, there are four main ways of getting free legal documents. These are:
- Free Online Documents
- Modifying Existing Documents
- Writing Your Own Document
- Ask the Client to Draft the Contract
1. Free Online Documents
There are plenty of sites that offer free templates. This one is my favourite.
The key to using free online docs is to use the simple ones. Some sites offer five to 12 page documents, that read like the transcript of a hostage exchange. While they may look impressive, they’re more likely to screw you over.
The wordier the document, the more likely it is you’ll miss something. I’ve had local freelancers send me template documents that are subject to laws in Arizona, because they didn’t read that part.
2. Modifying Existing Documents
If you’ve ever bought similar services / products to what you’re providing, dig up the old documents and modify them.
Failing that, contact someone in a similar field. Offer to do business with them, and get a peek at the contract when they offer it to you. Copy and modify it to suit yourself.
(You should be talking to them anyway, to get a feel for the competition.)
3. Writing Your Own Document
As long as you write it down and get the client to sign on it, a contract stands a half-decent chance in a courtroom.
Just be ready to make a ton of revisions. If your clients know their legalese and you don’t, you’ll almost definitely be asked to make changes. Just be sure to ask what those changes are about before you approve them.
And every time you get feedback on your contract, make the appropriate revisions so you don’t have similar issues next time.
Also look for these commonly missed points:
- Requirements on the part of the client (e.g. they will provide necessary information on time. They will provide the software and equipment that you need).
- Termination clauses (what happens if the project doesn’t go through, if the client changes the project too much, etc.)
- Duration. If you’re working on a monthly retainer, you’ll want to specify how long it is before renewing the contract.
- Things you will not do, which clients may sometimes expect you to. For example, web developers often have to state the client is responsible for providing their own stock photos.
4. Ask the Client to Draft the Contract
If you are truly too lazy to do it, you can request that your client draft the contract. Most of them will have no issue doing this, since it lets them create a contract that advantages them.
Usually, you will only do this once. After you spend six months designing their website and scrubbing out their urinals, because you really should have read all the contract terms, you’ll have a functioning template for your next client.
Just modify the contract with your current client for the next one, in a way that better benefits you.
For more on how to do this, follow us on Facebook. The article on that is out next.
What sort of problems do you encounter in your side-business? Comment, and we’ll tell you how to fix it.
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