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Do Copywriters Need Contracts?

Copywriting Contracts Afford You Less Protection Than You Think


copywriting red flag

Is a client who won’t sign a contract planning to rip you off? Not necessarily.

Hi Susan,

I have a copywriting project that looked like it was going to be a go. However, I just ran into a snag, and I’d like your opinion on the situation if you don’t mind. 

After the client and I had agreed to the project parameters, I asked the client if I should send my contract or if they have one for me to sign. She replied saying that her company doesn’t use contracts for vendor services like copywriting. 

Does this seem like a major red flag to you? I’d like to trust the client, especially because she sent over many examples and details of what she wants. It would be an awful lot of work for them to have put in if this isn’t a credible process. But it’s obviously riskier without a contract in place. 

Should I proceed with the work or walk (or maybe run) away? Please let me know your thoughts whenever you get a second.

Tabitha K.

copywriting contract

Some clients won’t sign a contract until their lawyer approves it. That’s a hassle and expense that may cause them to walk away. 

Hi Tabitha,

I don’t see the lack of contract as a red flag. And I understand why the person you’re dealing with might be hesitant to sign one. They’re not a lawyer and don’t want to risk signing an agreement without having their lawyer review and possibly negotiate the terms. What a hassle, not to mention the delay and expense!

I very rarely use contracts on routine, average-sized projects, and I’m sure most of my freelance colleagues don’t either. We’re all into fast-and-easy. Get the copywriting gig, do the work, get paid, move on to the next!

I can think of only a handful of times a client has asked me to sign a contract. The situations were for copywriting on extremely large projects or for ongoing work.

And my “contracts” for clients are usually just proposals spelling out the job parameters — what type of project, approximate length, turnaround time, revisions policy and price. That way the client and I both know what’s expected. I don’t even include a place for signature on my copywriting proposals, because it’s a hassle for clients to print out the proposal, sign it, scan it, email it back.

I don’t like creating friction with my clients, so I try to make the process as easy as possible for them to move forward. I have very rarely had a problem collecting. As I’m sure you’d agree, most clients are honest and decent.

If this client and her company seem legit, they likely are. But there’s nothing wrong with asking for a deposit like 50% up front. In that case, you’re splitting the risk with the client. You’re taking a chance they’ll pay the 50% balance when the project is done. And they’re taking a chance you won’t take the 50% deposit and leave town.

Another option is to ask to be paid after you turn in say the first or second part of the assignment before proceeding, thereby mitigating your risk.

Take a moment to Google the company name and your contact’s. If you don’t find anything nefarious, then they’re probably credible. I realize a Google search is not an extensive vetting, but it’s something and probably enough when combined with your impression of the client having spoken with or emailed back-and-forth with her. 

copywriting contract

Even though a Google search is not a comprehensive vetting process, it’s still worth checking if you’re suspicious.

I can remember one instance in particular when a prospective client made me leery. He was offering to pay a ton of money for a relatively simple job. He promised me loads more work and all at the elevated rate. And when I asked for a deposit, he had some excuse like his bookkeeper was on vacation.

Because those three factors made my Spidey sense tingle, I Googled the client (company owner) and his company name. I found a lengthy post written by a fellow freelance copywriter who described a scenario like mine with this client and said he’d never been paid. He said the client just wanted free copywriting services for his business and had no intention of ever paying. “Steer clear of this thief” it warned!

As soon as I saw that post, I ended all communications with the client. And I did one more thing. The client had previously given me the name and email address of his web designer so I could coordinate with him on the project. I immediately contacted the designer and told him what I learned.

He said he’d been a bit suspicious but had decided to do the work anyway. He was already into the client for several hundred dollars but appreciated my telling him before he got in even deeper. We spoke again a few weeks later, and he confirmed that the client didn’t pay for work completed up until that point. Neither of us was surprised.

So again, unless you have reason to be suspicious of your client or found anything questionable about her or the business on Google, you’re probably fine. Just don’t get in too deep without getting a deposit or partial payment.

One more thought to add.

Be aware that a contract doesn’t afford you great protection. And someone who is dishonest knows it.

A contract gives you a false sense of security. Here’s why — it’s so costly and time-consuming to sue someone that unless it’s for a substantial amount, suing is not an option. You just eat the loss and move on.

Through other companies I’ve owned, I’ve had a few situations where I hired a lawyer. His rate was $450 per hour (typical rate), and each time I had to pay $5,000 up front as a retainer for him to get started on the case. Because the situations involved real estate, the numbers were much more substantial than for copywriting so hiring a lawyer was an easier decision. Had it been a copywriting job for a few hundred or even a few thousand, I would have eaten the loss. 

So, my point is, you can do a contract if it makes you feel better and your client is amenable, but it’s b.s. because there’s not enough money at stake to pursue collecting if a client flakes on you.

Business, at least in the U.S., is largely based on trust. If you’re uncomfortable with the risk that comes with business ownership, then you might not want to be an entrepreneur or self-employed copywriter.

Instead, do as most people and become an employee. I mean that in a nice way. Being employed provides a level of security that many people need in order to sleep at night. When you work for an employer, you’ll still get your salary whether or not your employers’ customers pay their bill. Choose the path that helps you live the life you want to lead.

Susan Greene

Copywriter

 

Contact Susan Greene

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