Handling the legal side of freelancing could possibly be one of the more annoying tasks required for the job. Having worked as a full-time freelancer I can attest the amount of legal paperwork and information can become overwhelming, especially for newbies entering the field.
No matter what your practice, be it web design to freelance writing, there is generally some form of legal contract you'll need to create with your clients. Networking comes with the freelance territory, and within that is contracts and due dates for project completion. Below we'll be considering some great tips for legal actions and pursuing your own career further in freelancing.
Always Draft up Contracts
Why are contracts so important? This question has been asked countless times throughout the decades and doesn't come without a strong answer. Business has always been a shady game. Unfortunately levels of trust are indicative of a strong professional relationship. Unfortunately, not all clients will be so easy to work with.
Building a contract and having both parties sign from the start sets in motion a state of initial working values. These could include a timeline of project work, when and how much you'd be getting paid, along with other details you may find pertinent. These should be nailed out between you and your clientele until a reasonable agreement can be achieved.
It's important to include each aspect that you're both concerned with inside a single document. This will be your go-to primer for any difficulties which stem from project work. It's an important document to not only cover your client in case of project failure, but also protecting you in the case of your client backing down from the work and payment.
Always Set Dates
Having a scheduled calendar is just another strong framework keeping you from drifting too far off task. An agreeable schedule of dates is something both parties should be able to look at and consider a reasonable amount of time for each task.
So for example, you may quote 1-2 weeks for a website mockup and graphics/icons designed. At this point the client would look over the designs, suggest any changes, and you'd plan for another 1-2 weeks for frontend development. This type of timeline is very lenient and doesn't provide specific dates for when a piece of work must be done. This won't work with all of your clients, although it's a much more lax environment for creativity to flow through.
If it's easier you may want to consider sketching out a small calender with weeks shaded in based on task completion. I have seen a few demos of these from past freelancers and it's a great way to draw the attention of your client. This proves to them you not only understand what you're doing but hold the creativity and business sense to plot out a course timeline for their project!
It may also be useful to set up meeting times to share information face-to-face. The frequency of these would vary depending on the type of project being worked on. A from-scratch new website infrastructure may require 3 meetups weekly while an icon set design may not even require face to face interaction. Keep your schedule loose and ready for anything, but once you've got something solid ensure you get it down in writing.
One of the big pet peeves we see in freelancing today is the client base looking into running the show. If you've done any work as a freelancer you have probably run into this countless times in the business world. After creating a perfect mockup design your client may say "yeah it's okay, but can you update changes X, Y, and Z? Oh and let's scrap ideas A and B while we're at it..."
This is not only very frustrating for you but will also mess up your pre-planned timeline of events. It's important to include a clause about revisions and a detailed policy on work updates. There are no set rules here, but it is important both your client and yourself agree upon the terms.
You may charge extra for more time spent updating colors/layout spacing. However, if your client isn't aware this is going on they may have an awfully difficult time forking over any cash. Alternatively I know many freelancers who include the first 2-3 revisions for free and will charge after that based on an hourly rate. It's all up to you regarding how you'd like to structure your overtime. Just be sure to include something.
Final Products and Delivery
In the wacky world if web design it is often possible for confusion to settle when it comes towards a finished product. There are so many freelancers offering icons, animations, Flash graphics, videos... from a client's perspective who doesn't understand much of technology this can be awfully confusing.
It should be discussed before even starting the project work what is expected to be delivered as a final result. This could include multiple things, however for a general website design it's often only a handful of graphics and coded HTML/CSS documents.
If your client is looking for something slightly more convoluted such as WordPress theming or plugin development include a few sentences referencing the types of files to be shared. These could be .css, .php, .js libraries, or anything else which may be included inside the projects' files.
If easier just draft out a bulleted list of the files to be returned and at which stage the work will be ready for client's eyes. This shows a sign of trust that you actually know what you're doing and will be able to deliver quality code! If you'll be personally uploading all files into the web server this may not be necessary, but still good practice to include just to avoid possible confusion.
These tips on legal writing should get you pointed in the right direction. The career path of a freelance web designer is not easy, especially entering into business for yourself. There are plenty of tools to help out with invoicing and paper trails, so make use of these whenever possible.
If you're just getting started I'd also recommend building up a small network of clients to get some buzz going around your name. Here are some tips on finding local freelance clients if you're looking for a way to break into the market. At the end of the day legal structures are all about protecting both parties of a freelance project to ensure they will deliver their regards on-time and respectably.
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