June 16, 2014 at 9:18 pm #28179
If this topic has been covered, please forgive me–I’m new here:D
So–contracts and rights. Re: contracts– I’m starting to get clients for updating or writing new web content, also general business materials and promotions. What kind or form of contract do you recommend, or recommend against? What about payment forms and terms, i.e. down payment, balance due, check or PayPal or??
Re rights: a local business wants to increase their visibility in the region as not just a retailer but also an entertainment and community event destination. I will be writing several articles for and about them from a news feature angle. I will then submit them for publication. We agreed upon a price for the pieces. If these pieces are accepted and run by magazines, how do I handle the payment from the publication? Do I just happily ‘double dip’? Do I disclose this in the contract with my client? And what about rights? The client is paying me to write these pieces, for potential publication. Do the rights belong to the client? To me? Yikes my head is spinning!June 17, 2014 at 4:11 am #28181
Here are my thoughts:
I’m not as fussy about contract formats as many people are, so you might get some differing opinions on this. My policy is simply to make sure there’s something in writing to confirm terms. Sometimes that’s a formal contract. Sometimes it’s a project brief the client has to sign off on. Sometimes it’s an email exchange (usually for ongoing projects for clients I’ve worked with for a while or for smaller projects). If the client wants a very formal contract, I usually let them submit theirs to me for review first, and I make revisions (sometimes myself, sometimes having one of our lawyers look it over if I’m not comfortable with something).
It all comes down to the individual clients and the trust level with them. I’ve only had one non-payer in the last decade, it was a very small project, and even then the client tried to hire me again after the fact.
Another reason I’m a bit more comfortable with staying adaptable is the fact that most clients pay me in full up front these days. I make very few exceptions (such as for extremely large projects where I’d split things up in 2-3 payments, but only if the client requests it).
It’s a great position to be in, but you’ll need to focus on building demand first. Once you have more prospects looking to hire you than you have the time to take on, you’re in a much better position to set all of your own terms. That said, you’re the business owner offering something someone else needs. So you should still take the lead and set payment terms rather than leaving that to clients. It’s up to you how much you’re willing to negotiate on a case-by-case basis.
What I’d recommend is to start with no less than a 50% down payment up front, and make the final payment due on delivery (though some freelancers don’t require final payments until the project is approved and edits are made. If the project will take quite a bit of time (weeks or months), you might want to break payments up even more so you receive payments as you continue to make progress.
In situations like those, I never double-dip on payments. It crosses an ethical line, especially when dealing with news pieces where are generally held to higher journalistic standards. Either I let the publication pay, or I let the business pay and the piece is pitched as a PR piece on behalf of the client. Many smaller publications accept these types of pitches from businesses, and they’re quite common in trade publications. My preference is to work for the business rather than the publication because you can usually charge significantly more. At a bare minimum I would disclose any relationship with the business to the editor for publication. But my guess is that most would consider a double-payment to be a conflict of interest. They generally don’t pay for promotional pieces submitted by, or on behalf of, a business. That would be a bit more similar to sending them a press release.
As for who owns the rights, that would depend in part on where you’re located. In the U.S. for example, you own the copyright as soon as you write the piece. For the rights to transfer to the client immediately, you would have to work under a contract with a work for hire agreement. This must be a written contract. Here’s a document you can review from the U.S. Copyright Office for more background on how this works:
If you wanted to be able to resell the articles to publications, you would not be able to work under one of these agreements. Otherwise only the client could resell the work. You’ll want to clarify rights in your contract or whatever written agreement you have. Often exclusive online rights or first publication rights are enough.
If a client wants the full copyright I have to be 100% certain it won’t affect future projects for me (if it’s in a niche I cover regularly I’m not going to potentially limit myself from using the same source material or writing about the same issues for example). Even then, I charge a minimum of 10x my base rates for a full copyright transfer. That’s usually enough to convince the prospect that the rights offered are more than adequate.
There are occasional exceptions though. For example, if the client is providing 100% of the material and it’s solely about them, I have no use for it anyway, so I’m more willing to give up those rights without charging an arm and a leg for them. An example would be if I’m asked to write an executive bio or a case study dealing with a very specific project of a client’s.
I hope that helps!June 17, 2014 at 11:09 am #28193
Jennifer, you’re a marvel!
Good to know my ‘squirmy’ feeling about double payments was right on. I’d already negotiated 50% down, balance on delivery so beginners’ luck there. And wrote up a pretty simple agreement letter (I’m not a lawyer: KISS principle) so your counsel is heartening.
I’ll be adding the copyright article and source to my permanent library of sources.
Thank you for the time, care and expertise you put into your reply.June 17, 2014 at 11:45 am #28195June 17, 2014 at 1:25 pm #28198
I have a multi-page contract, but it’s fairly simple. I include a kill fee (for larger projects because I will have turned down other work to accommodate the project deadline), payment schedule, specific terms about how/when my content is turned in, limits on edits. etc. I also make it clear that they can pay via check even though I bill via paypal, and that work doesn’t begin until payment is received. Since I require a down payment I also spell out the terms for refunds due to early project cancellation. 99% of the time I don’t have to actually act on any of these terms because projects move forward and payments are made on time, but I like having a clear safety net. I’m a real, “just in case” kinda girl.
As for the publication of articles, if you’re ghostwriting them then the client should be handling the submission and will have the byline. Otherwise, like Jenn said, you need to disclose the relationship and take it from there.
Good luck!June 17, 2014 at 9:51 pm #28202
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