Sadly you can’t rely on contracts alone to keep you out of trouble. It definitely makes sense to have a contract in place, but all they’re really there to do is to give clarity around what’s been agreed.
A contract sets out the parameters of the project so you both know what deliverables are expected, an idea of the timeline, and a fixed fee or agreed day rate for the project.
It would be madness to start a project without agreeing on these details. But getting everything in writing won’t prevent disputes or disagreements with your client.
Nothing stops a client from pointing fingers or being completely unreasonable. Or you might end up breaching your own contract for reasons you couldn’t have predicted.
“I’m not going to use your work so I’m not paying”
One With Jack freelancer found themselves without payment after a client decided they weren’t going to use their work. The freelancer had completed all the work to the specifications in the brief (and outlined in the contract) so – of course – it’s not relevant that the client has decided not to use the work. But you’re in a tricky situation if the client decides not to pay.
It’s a surprisingly common issue, and thankfully we managed to resolve it without a formal claim being made. The freelancer used their legal expenses insurance to get the advice they needed. This, combined with the late payment templates we shared with them meant they secured payment from the client.
Resolving a client dispute
There are two things that will help if you do find yourself in a dispute situation.
- Legal expenses cover means you can get professional advice over the phone before a client threatens you with legal action. Chatting things through with a specialist can help you to prevent the situation with your client from escalating.
- Professional indemnity insurance is triggered as soon as a client threatens you with legal action. This means that you can pass the issue on to a legal team and you won’t have to go through stressful negotiations directly with your client.
Diffusing disputes early
Often just knowing that you’ve got insurance can be enough to get a client to back down. Going after an individual freelancer is a very different kettle of fish from pursuing a freelancer with legal backup. So that’s another reason to make sure you have the correct insurance.
But, as always, I’d prefer it if freelancers managed to steer clear of stressful disputes in the first place. It’s no fun trying to work and enjoy your life with a client dispute going on in the background.
The kind of clauses it’s worth adding to your contract to reduce the likelihood of disputes are:
- Stating how many rounds of edits are included in the project before you’ll charge an additional fee.
- Stating what you need from the client in terms of timescales for their feedback to ensure the project stays on schedule. Plus what will happen to the timeline if the client delays things.
- Adding a pause clause so that if the client causes major delays, they’re aware they’ll have to make a payment to restart the project.
- Stating how you’ll handle changes in scope and making it clear that additional work will be chargeable.
The more clearly things are laid out in your contract the better. Just remember there are no guarantees and your client may not stick to what you’ve agreed.
That’s when you want to be sure you’re covered. If you’d like to know more, you can take a look at the options here.