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What is an Independent Contractor Agreement?

An independent contractor agreement serves as a blueprint for your relationship with a client. It defines the who, what, when, and where of a project, setting you up for a successful collaboration. With this kind of written agreement — also known as a consulting agreement or freelance agreement — you clarify the terms of your work and solidify your rights as a self-employed contractor.

The most effective contracts protect you, but they also serve your clients. Independent contractor agreements explicitly state the boundaries of your work, as well as your exclusion from employee benefits, preventing legal issues for both parties.

Stipulations and Clauses of Freelance Agreements

Freelance agreements always include clauses and stipulations that illuminate your role and the role of your client in the project. Here are some essential topics to cover in your agreements:

Payment Terms

Make sure your contracts explicitly state the amount the client owes you, as well as your chosen payment method, and due dates. Freelance creatives or consultants also benefit from including either a required upfront payment or a “kill fee,” in case your client cancels the project.

Ownership

Do you own the completed work or does your client? If you provide a company with a license to use deliverables, go into details about the specific terms — explain if you require written attribution, and if the license is exclusive.

Scope of the Work and Timeline

Define and over-communicate the specific deliverables. Describe the expected timeline, and state the number of revisions included in the total fee. Note that any revisions beyond the original scope of the work are at the discretion of the contractor.

Responsibility

As a contractor, you need a lot of information to do your job well. List out your expectations for your client — these can include assignments, rounds of feedback, or signed approval of deliverables. If there are certain tasks you will not complete as part of the project, list those out as well. It’s better to be upfront about the limits of your work than to try and address them later in the process.

A Note on Master Services Agreements

If you’re doing a few long-term projects with the same freelancer, consider building a master services agreement. Instead of summarizing a collaboration in one contract, a master services agreement references a set of different projects included in separate exhibits.

Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

The most effective independent contractor agreements are greater than the sum of their parts. They highlight the most important aspects of a project, bringing a sense of mutual ease to an otherwise amorphous project. Contracts also serve as a touchpoint throughout your work together — you can always politely point clients back to the agreement when needed.

When you build your first independent contractor agreement, you may not know where to turn for guidelines. These three sample agreements dive deeper into specific wording you can use in a contract, with room to add and subtract clauses as needed.

Freelancer Union’s Contract Creator

Society for Human Resources Independent Contractor Agreement

Shake Work-For-Hire Agreements

Set some time aside to look through these samples and pull together your first contract — an on-hand freelancer template will save you time when onboarding new clients. You can tweak it as you go to suit each project!

Elizabeth Wellington is a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist who lives to tell stories. You can find her with a cup of tea in hand, scratching away in her favorite notebook.

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