One of the frustrations of a freelance writer is not being paid for the work done. The freelance writer would just charge it to experience, so to speak. However, it keeps on happening, especially if the client sounds too good to be true.
So to avoid this kind of scenario, it is better to set up a written contract which, for me, also serves as my proposal. And once the client signs it, it becomes a contract.
I have on my file a template that I can freely edit depending on the client’s job request. So each of my clients receives a different scope, thus, a different rate.
Statement of Work
You might have heard of these acronyms or terms before:
- RFI (Request for Information)
- RFP (Request for Proposal)
- SOW (Statement of Work)
- SLA (Service Level Agreement)
- MSA (Master Service Agreement)
- Independent Contractor Agreement
Technically, they operate in different ways. These documents describe specific aspects of how an agency or a contractor is going to serve the needs of a client. These documents could represent a section or the entire contract itself.
Most businesses prefer a general contract. BPO companies do have a separate SOW and SLA within their Contract. Others prefer an Independent Contractor Agreement for freelancers.
The reason why I chose to call my contract a Statement of Work (SOW) rather than anything else is its purpose. A Statement of Work provides a detailed and descriptive list of all the deliverables of a project. For me, aside from providing a detailed description of my deliverables, my SOW serves as my free quote or job proposal, including my promise of service level. And if the client signs it, this becomes our contract.
Let me show you how I compose my Statement of Work.
The Parties Involved
At the beginning of the contract, I always state who I am dealing with.
This [type of contract] is by and between me, YOUR NAME of and the client, CLIENT’S FULL NAME of [client’s company].
I prefer to deal with one person, even if the clients are in pairs. This way, I avoid any miscommunication or misunderstanding during the course of the project. However, if they are a pair, like a husband and wife team, I state both full names in the contract.
If the person has two companies, I prefer to set up a separate contract for each company. Why? Let me tell you a story:
I had this client who reached out to me to write for his website. The topic is within my expertise, thus I wrote blogs on his behalf comfortably well. However, when he announced that he would set up another website and asked me to write its content, I thought twice. The topic is not within my expertise but I could write about it if I’ll research it well. That would mean more time for research and writing, meaning more time and effort. Thus, I gave the client another set of rates, different from the first assignment. At least, I would not feel I’m at a disadvantage if I write for both websites at the same time.
Most clients would take advantage of this situation. Since they already know how much I charge, they would find a way to use my talent to do something much bigger than the first assignment. Clients would think that the same rate applies across the board. It may apply to other freelancers like illustrators who could charge per piece, but not to freelance writers.
Scope of Work
This part of the contract contains a detailed and descriptive list of all the deliverables. It defines the type of project, its scope, and limitations. This serves as a compass for the project so both parties can track the progress and make sure everything is going according to plan. It is better for me to define everything, even in the slightest detail. A vague SOW only opens the door to disputes. It’s in the best interest of both parties to eliminate vagueness whenever possible.
SCOPE OF WORK: This is a [type of] project for the client which includes:
• [describe the nature,
• scope of the project, and
• limitations of the project]
An example of what I presented to a client recently looks like this:
SCOPE OF WORK: This is an SEO and Social Media Management project for the client, which includes:
- administering the WordPress site,
- article/blog writing,
- social media posts on one (1) Facebook page and one (1) Twitter account only (additional social media platforms will have additional charges),
- responding to comments for audience engagement (but not including critical or sensitive customer service or technical support issues which I may not be able to handle due to my limited knowledge of and exposure to the company/organization),
- content curation,
- and other activities related to Search Engine Optimization and Social Media Management.
Although the above example does not show many details, the important thing is I laid out the general scope and limitations of the work first. Particular details may be discussed and laid out later during the negotiation phase and/or final drafting of the contract.
Delivery Date and Deliverables
This part defines the desired outcomes based on the scope of work. I usually state what I would produce (e.g. 2 articles in .docx format), when or how frequently they are delivered to the client (e.g. weekly), and how they should be delivered (e.g. via Google Drive).
Here is what I have on my template:
DELIVERY DATES: I shall complete the Services and/or Work by or in accordance with the delivery schedule below:
Deliverable/s: [number of] hours per week (a total of [number of] hours per month) of writing in [type of] format or [number of] words of [type of] writing in [type of] format within [period of time] upon my acknowledgment receipt of written instructions via email.
Submission: Submission of deliverables will be via email or Google Drive or whichever the client prefers.
Some freelance writers miss this part because they might not have given a thought about it. There are clients who keep on returning the work for revisions many times that the writer’s pay itself is no longer worth it.
As much as possible, I make sure that the work needs no revisions at all. However, there are times when clients point out an issue or two for the writer to revise. Once is acceptable. But more than twice require additional charge.
Here is how I stated it in my Statement of Work template:
REVISION: Edits will be avoided at all costs and are not anticipated except in extreme circumstances. An article may be returned to me only once for revision at the sole discretion of the client. The revision will be done within 24 to 48 hours upon return. Succeeding revisions, if any, will be charged as per the writing rates stated below.
Also, in order to avoid confusion, it is better to define clearly in the Statement of Work what satisfaction means. For example, my current client has defined that all works should be 100% unique or 0% plagiarized. Although there are instances when direct quotes from sources are all over the Internet, these would show a result of 97% unique or 3% plagiarized, which is still acceptable within the principle of fair use.
I guess this is the part why freelancers need to set up contracts with their clients in the first place. Getting paid for writing may be fun, but getting paid right is another issue.
This part of the contract should define how much you will charge for what type of project. Specify also how you should be paid (e.g. via PayPal or bank deposit), how much is the deposit, and when and how the balance should be paid.
Here is how I worded mine:
PAYMENT: The total project price is quoted at $xxx.xx USD (₱xxx.xx PHP) per month. A minimum of 50% down payment is paid upfront… Payment is done [frequency], no later than [day of the week or month]. Should [day of the week or month] fall on a non-banking day, payment should be made no later than the next banking day. An invoice from me should reach the client no later than the closing of working hours of every [end of pay period]. International payments will be paid in [currency] via PayPal to [email address]. For direct bank deposit, it should be payable to: [bank details]
Sample Writing and Kill Fee
Here’s the sad and frustrating part. Many clients require sample writing from applicants. A few of them would pay for the sample writing, but most of them don’t. If they belong to the latter, I refer them to my website, blog, or portfolio so they could check it out. If they insist, I won’t bother. Most likely they will pay me lower than my worth.
To avoid this problem, I offer a paid writing sample or paid trial. I charge this the way I charge per article. The Statement of Work specifies that if the client likes the sample, the project will push through. If not, the payment for the writing sample serves as the kill fee.
A paid trial will be done to see if my writing suits the client’s requirements. A writing task will be given and will be paid for at the amount of [amount] per 500 words plus [rate] per hour for research and other non-writing tasks upon submission. If the paid trial satisfies the client, the project will push through. If not, the payment will serve as the “kill fee” and is non-refundable.
The kill fee also serves as good protection for freelancers who are in the middle of a project. If the client suddenly decides to terminate the project, and the freelance writer is not yet paid for the current task, it would make sense that the payment for the current task would serve as the kill fee. However, this should be stated in the Statement of Work, too. Better specify in the contract how would you like the sample writing, down payment, and kill fee to be paid for your protection.
Rights, Disclosures, and Non-Compete
We are now reaching the end of the contract. However, there are other issues that need to be discussed.
I usually ghostwrite for clients. Thus the issue of copyright should be laid out in the contract. Often in ghostwriting projects, writers would declare that the copyright belongs to the client. However, it is stated in Section 178.4 of the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines that:
In the case of a work commissioned by a person other than an employer of the author and who pays for it and the work is made in pursuance of the commission, the person who so commissioned the work shall have ownership of the work, but the copyright thereto shall remain with the creator, unless there is a written stipulation to the contrary;Section 178.4 of the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines
In other words, the client owns the material but the copyright belongs to the writer. Thus, in ghostwriting projects, it would be better to declare the full copyright of the article and allow you to have your by-line attached to it for portfolio purposes.
Another issue is the non-disclosure agreement (NDA) between the client and me. This is especially applicable in ghostwriting projects where we both agree not to publicly (or even privately) tell anyone that I write on the client’s behalf. This is stated in the contract as well.
Since freelance writers get many jobs from different clients, it is common that a writer gets two clients having the same industry or niche. To prevent conflict arising from this situation, I declare and include a non-compete clause in the Statement of Work.
This is how I wrote mine:
RIGHTS, DISCLOSURES, NON-COMPETE: Although the client would own the material, I hold full copyright to the materials created as a writer as stated in Section 178.4 of the Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines. I agree to the non-disclosure of rates, processes, and client lists. I agree to refrain from competing with [company name] for the same client during the course of this contract.
Execution and Effectivity
This is the last part of the contract. It specifies how I will deliver the Statement of Work to the client, and in what format. It also specifies what will happen if there are changes in the terms and conditions during the course of the project.
Also, I specify the date of effectivity of the contract and when the project should start. If the client can define the date of when the project will end, the contract contains that detail as well. However, most of my freelance writing contracts are open-ended.
EXECUTION BY COUNTERPARTS. This SOW may be executed and delivered via email in PDF format. Any changes in any of the items herein should be done in writing and must be mutually agreed upon.
At the bottom of the contract are two signatures: one for me, and one for the client.
I usually write the terms and conditions on MS Word or Google Docs. Then save it as PDF before sending it to the client. I don’t need to have this notarized because most of the clients don’t want to be hassled, too. However, there are organizations that require the contract to be physically signed and notarized.
My Final Thoughts
A well-constructed Statement of Work (SOW) should be detailed. Otherwise, it will open the door to disputes. Take time to review and polish each section well and make sure to be descriptive and detailed as possible leaving no room for misinterpretation.