It happened again.
The fear returned.
It made your heart race and turned your insides to ice.
What caused this dread?
Not the latest (lame) horror movie. Or a recently booked speaking engagement.
It was . . . a contract.
Maybe a client presented one to you and expected you to read and understand it because “it’s just a standard agreement.”
Or a client asked you to “email me a contract and I’ll review it.” But you don’t have a contract prepared.
Or, maybe you just avoided the subject. You know you shouldn’t begin work without a contract, but you did because you couldn’t stand to look at one more “legal” term or phrase such as “witnesseth” or “comes now”.
THE FEAR IS NORMAL
I get it. And so do your fellow freelancers.
It’s normal to fear something that’s unfamiliar, or that makes you uncomfortable.
But it’s possible to conquer the fear.
Easy for me to say, right? I’m a lawyer. I don’t fear contracts.
But even lawyers get scared.
Sometimes I see an 80-page behemoth and my blood runs cold.
How am I going to get through this thing?
What if I miss a critical word in paragraph 14, line two, on page 53?
Is that period in the right place?
I thought this was a lease, but it’s a sub-lease? NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!
The truth is, we all get intimidated from time-to-time. And anyone who tells they don’t is either lying, or their enormous ego won’t let them admit it.
But you can conquer your fear so that you don’t hear the theme from the movie Halloween (the original, not the remake, of course) when the client gives you a contract.
Or when that voice in your head says, “oooooo, it’s time to discuss contracts, oooooooo!”
And here’s how to do it.
6 WAYS TO CONQUER YOUR FEAR
1. Realize That Contracts are Your Friends
You need contracts. And so do your clients.
Contracts guide and protect you.
Contracts explain exactly what you and your client must do.
They also limit the scope of work you must do, make sure you get paid and help you collect if the client tries to stiff you.
And if you work without one, it’s your word against the client’s if something goes wrong. And that can result in not getting paid.
So the next time you think about working without a contract, don’t. Because working without a contract is scarier than dealing with one up front.
2. Educate Yourself
Legal issues or concepts become less scary when you educate yourself.
Knowledge is power. And with that power, you can kick your fear to the curb.
There are resources to help you understand contracts, including numerous books written specifically for non-lawyers. Not to mention websites that focus on educating non-lawyers about contracts and other legal issues (hint, hint).
You can find such books at the library, and you should probably subscribe to this website. I’m just sayin’.
And there’s no time to start your educational journey like the present.
So, as a special bonus to add some knowledge to your arsenal of fear eliminating weapons, let’s discuss the minimum requirements for a contract.
First, you need an offer.
The offer is simple to understand: one party makes an offer to another party.
For example, you may offer to write an article for a client that you will deliver in two weeks for $500.00.
Next, you need an acceptance of that specific offer.
So if the client says, I accept your offer to write an article for me to be delivered in two weeks for $500.00, you have an acceptance.
However, do you have an acceptance if the client says, I accept your offer to write two articles for me to be delivered in one week for $500.00?
That is a counteroffer. And you can accept the counteroffer, reject the counteroffer or make a new counteroffer.
Now let’s complicate things.
Okay, not really. But the third element of a contract makes people a little nervous.
And they get nervous because it involves one of those pesky legal terms.
So get ready. And don’t scream and run out of the room.
Here it is . . .
Actually, that’s not so scary, is it?
And, like offer and acceptance, consideration is EASY.
Because consideration is simply what one party gives to the other party.
Can you identify the consideration in the offer and acceptance described above?
Go ahead and try. I’ll give you a couple of moments.
. . . Jeopardy theme music plays . . .
Okay, I bet you got it. But just to make sure, I’ll reveal the answer.
The consideration you give the client is the article you will write in two weeks.
And the consideration the client gives you is the $500.00 for writing the article and delivering it in two weeks.
And guess what?
Now you know the basics of a legally binding contract.
I bet they don’t seem so scary anymore, do they?
And now that you have the basics down, you should educate yourself further. Especially with respect to issues that directly affect your type of freelancing work.
So get out there and read, talk to a lawyer or visit a website that helps freelancers understand legal issues (hint, hint).
3. Don’t Over-Complicate Things
Remember that 80-page behemoth?
Unless you’re dealing with mergers and acquisitions, securities issues, or complicated business deals or leases, most contracts won’t be that voluminous or intimidating.
In fact, many times simple contracts are best. Especially when you’re freelancing.
That said, sometimes contracts need to be more detailed.
Such as when you need confidentiality or non-compete provisions. And these provisions can cause your page count to balloon.
They’ll also increase the chances that you’ll have to read legal terms that you thought were extinct.
And if your contract needs complicated provisions, a lawyer should review it (see #6 below).
The good news is, if you have a form contract that includes such provisions, you probably need a lawyer to review it once.
Then, you can use it again and again and just change some of the basic provisions (such as the client’s information, the scope of work, etc.) to fit your needs.
So remember. Complexity isn’t always better.
So don’t make your contracts more complicated than needed.
But if you need a complicated contract, have a lawyer review it (again, see #6 below).
4. Nip Any Issues in the Bud
If a client gives you a contract and it contains terms you don’t understand or don’t agree with.
Or if the client makes revisions to a contract you or your lawyer prepared, and you don’t agree with them.
Or if there is anything that just doesn’t feel right about a contract.
Don’t let it slide.
Talk to the client.
Most times, a simple conversation will resolve the disagreement or confusion.
And dealing with the issues up front is vital. Because if you don’t, they’ll bite you in the end.
So, have this conversation before the contract is signed.
And when you do, make sure the client understands that you want to ensure that you are both protected and the project goes smoothly.
If you bring this to the client’s attention up front, and explain it in that way, the client should respect you for addressing the issue.
But if the client doesn’t handle it well.
Or if the client refuses to remove or revise a provision that’s clearly unfair to you.
That may create some new (and different) fears, especially if you are just starting out.
But, 9 times out of 10, a client who is unreasonable with the terms of your agreement, and won’t compromise with you on a provision that is clearly unfair to you, is a client that you don’t want to work with.
They will likely turn into the client from hell. And you don’t want to work with clients from hell if you want to get paid.
5. Prepare a Form Contract in Advance
You should have your own contract ready to go in case you are asked for one.
Not only will you have it ready for the client, but the process of putting your own contract together, with a lawyer if needed, will help you to understand contracts.
Which will enable you to conquer your fear.
And remember, don’t make your contract complicated unless it must be complicated.
Just make sure it contains an offer, an acceptance, and consideration.
And include provisions for getting paid, scope of work, attorney’s fees and any other provisions that are appropriate.
And how will you know which provisions to include?
See #3 above.
You need to educate yourself.
And if you’re still unsure . . .
6. Have a Lawyer Review Your Contracts
A lawyer should review your contracts.
But some people can’t afford it.
Or they think they can’t afford it.
But, you’d be surprised at some of the available low-cost options.
These include online legal providers such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer. But these can be hit and miss.
I’ve had clients who’ve prepared documents with online legal service providers ask me to review those documents, and they don’t do what the client thought they would do.
So be careful.
Plus, you’ll probably be able to find a lawyer to review a contract at a relatively cost effective price.
I review contracts for freelancers and other small business owners at an affordable flat rate.
So, if you do all the above, and you still don’t feel comfortable, then you should have a lawyer review the contract.
And, even if you do feel comfortable, it’s still a good idea to have a lawyer review it.
And it probably won’t cost as much as you think. But you may need to shop around a little.
NOW GET OUT THERE AND CONTRACT!
Remember, you are not alone.
Everyone gets intimidated by contracts from time to time, including lawyers.
You can get rid of this fear by preparing and educating yourself as outlined above.
And, if you still need help, you should be able to find a lawyer who can help you review a contract for a one-time fee.
Now it’s up to you.
No more Halloween theme. And no more working without contracts.