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Summary:

All clients are different, but there are some things you can count on every client needing from you as a freelance contractor. Some may be obvious, but others might not be so apparent, and having them in place could save you a lot of both embarrassment […]

All clients are different, but there are some things you can count on every client needing from you as a freelance contractor. Some may be obvious, but others might not be so apparent, and having them in place could save you a lot of both embarrassment and money.

In this post, I’m going to list the standard things I provide every client. If any of these elements are missing, I find that someone walks away dissatisfied, be it the client or me. When present, they seem to allow things to progress fairly smoothly, although, as we all know, there’s no such thing as a sure thing.

Contract Document

Get it on paper. This is something I can’t stress enough, and something which still gets forgotten or overlooked so often it makes me doubt our capacity for learning as a species. If you need any evidence about the necessity of a contract document, look no further than the recent kerfuffle between TechCrunch and Fusion Garage over the CrunchPad/JooJoo device.

You don’t have to spend hours putting together a huge and complex contract before you start doing any work. At one firm I used to work with, we would issue proposals that included an abbreviated contract component. It wasn’t much, and it didn’t require a massive amount of time upfront when we weren’t yet getting paid, but it did ensure that clients felt the agreement was strong, and protected the interests of all parties.

Simple Mission/Objective Statement

The key to the document I’m talking about in this section is that it be simple. Make sure that you can express in plain language what it is the project is meant to achieve. Ensure that both you and your client agree on the wording, and agree on what it means before you set it in stone.

It will also help if this statement details a specific product or project endpoint that’s measurable. Otherwise, you might run into problems with an unknown quantity or an ambiguous endpoint that could result in a contract that drags on to a point where it isn’t really profitable for you to work on it any further.

Scheduled Check-Ins

Just like your significant other, your client is going to want you to check-in once in a while to make sure everything is still OK. It can become quite annoying, depending on the client, though you should always remember that the client is risking money on you as a contractor, so progress updates really are their due.

However, you can make it easier on yourself. At project outset, set up a regular schedule for progress updates, and hopefully that will curtail some of the unnecessary looking over the shoulder clients tend to do. It will also give you mini-goals to work towards between your larger milestones or deliverables, which should keep you on target.

Scope Change Documents

This isn’t strictly always necessary, but if it looks like the scope of the project is going to change, then it’s a definite must-have. I have a template of this type of document ready to go at project outset, in fact, because I end up using it so often, even though it only comes into play when the project you find yourself doing deviates from the one you set out to do.

As soon as you anticipate having to do more or different work than you and the client had agreed upon, the best thing for all involved is to provide them with a scope change document for approval before proceeding, unless you absolutely know that you have free reign. You’ll be protecting yourself from a whole heap of trouble, believe me.

Needs and Wants

Not every client will want all of the things I’ve listed here. In fact, a good many of them may try to talk you out of some of these. The fact remains that I think they’re necessities, and most clients will, too, once you actually use them. In the end, it’s all about making sure everyone involved gets what they want out of a project, not just what they think they want.

Do you agree with this list? Is there anything missing?

By Darrell Etherington

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  1. Clear info on how and when to invoice the client as well as paperwork or forms that need to be completed so payment can be sent or deposited.

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  2. Good list. However you should keep in mind that a project description/mission statement works both ways. I generally try and stay as general as possible, and when working by any metric except for by the hour it is very important to define the number of interaction/drafts allowed so that you don’t get yourself into an open-ended project. You may be interested in seeing a related post on my blog:
    http://charleshurwitz.wordpress.com/2010/01/17/biggest-client-turnoffs-part-i/
    and
    http://wp.me/pFKK1-29

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  3. It is amazing to me how many clients try to wave off the signing of a contract document. That is one of my biggest red flags.

    One thing worth mentioning especially for freelancers just starting out is that when working with a new client it is good to get a deposit. When approached correctly (“this protects us both”), it can be a lifesaver. A deposit isn’t always necessary, especially if you’ve worked with the client for a while and know that they are reliable but when the relationship is new it is definitely something to consider.

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