Did you know? Contracts need not be in writing to be enforceable in New York City.
However, a written contract will help greatly increase the chance you get paid.
If you don’t get paid, a written contract will also help you prevail on your Freelance Isn’t Free Act (“FIFA”) claim and possibly collect double your unpaid invoice amount.
In this guide, I will explain why NYC freelancers need a written contract. I will also offer several tips to help create or improve your written freelance contract.
Why Freelancers Need a Written Contract
In New York, a contract is binding if there is an offer, acceptance, a mutual intent to be bound, and both sides agree on all of the essential terms.
However, as the Plaintiff (sometimes called the Claimant) in your proceeding to recover your unpaid freelance work, YOU bear the burden in court of proving all these things are present vis-a-vis your relationship to the party who hired you.
What will you do if you the party who hired you later denies they agreed to pay you for your work? Or that they agreed to hire you but they thought you were going to deliver more work product than you actually provided?
How will you prove your entitlement to money? You might have photographs or text messages, but a written, signed contract is the best evidence.
In fact, New York law actually requires some contracts to be in writing in order to be enforceable, including, for example, contracts that cannot be completed within one year.
Psychology also plays a large role. Having a written contract just makes you seem more credible. It’s one small aspect that makes you a professional.
Many of your clients may not even read your contract and will just breeze through it and sign it.
But, just by having a contract, they will take you more seriously, which will increase the chance you get paid on the front-end.
And, not having read your contract is not a valid defense in court.
Under New York law, anyone admitting to having signed your contract is presumed to have read it, and they are bound by its terms (unless the terms are per se illegal, which is extremely rare).
And now, here are:
15 Ways to Improve Your Freelance Contract
1. Use Plain Language.
Normal people, including your clients, don’t like legalese. They don’t understand it and they gloss over it.
Also, certain legal terms have specific meanings that you may not intend. So avoid them.
Pro Tip: If it’s a Latin word or you frequently see it written in italics, don’t put it in your contract.
Ask yourself what goods you are delivering or what services you are providing. Then, spell out your work as briefly as you can, but don’t be afraid to add details as necessary.
2. Check Your Grammar, Spelling, and Punctuation.
Your contract is your chance to impress. So check it and double-check it for good grammar.
Pro Tip: Print out your contract and read through it on hard-copy paper. You will frequently catch typos on paper you might miss in a digital document.
3. Include a Reasonable Deadline to Pay.
Terms like “Due Upon Receipt” are aggressive, but okay. You might say “Net 15,” which means payment is due within 15 days of the work being complete.
No later than 30 days following the completion of your work is perfectly fine. Anything more and you may be selling yourself short.
Pro Tip: FIFA requires all payments to NYC freelancers be made within 30 days of completing their work. Any hiring party who violates this provision is subject to double your unpaid invoice amount.
4. Identify What’s Not Included.
Clients often complain they did not receive what they ordered. By listing the things that are excluded in writing before starting work, you will nip this in the bud. Basically, there is less of a chance your clients will balk on the back end.
5. Include Your Logo and Contact Information.
Including your logo adds an air of professionalism. Including your contact information gives your client an easy way to contact you with questions.
6. Identify the Acceptable Forms of Payment.
No, you will not trade a used iPhone for your work. You accept cash, credit card, PayPal, Venmo, and perhaps a personal check.
Pro Tip: Make it easy for your clients to pay you. This will also help increase your chances of getting paid promptly and in full.
7. Consider Asking for Partial Payment Upfront.
Many freelance jobs require mobilization costs. If it costs you money before you even start doing your work, try and get your client to cover those costs.
Pro Tip: Consider including a provision in your contract that allows your client to see the receipts for your upfront costs. This establishes trust.
8. Be Clear.
This goes without saying. Ambiguity is not your friend in a contract. Ambiguity will lead to problems later on.
9. Consider Defining Key Terms.
If your work is specialized, you may want or need to define what certain terms in your contract mean. This is another way of decreasing ambiguity.
10. Ask Your Client What They Want.
If you’re not sure where to begin, it might be helpful to get just a few sentences from your client in writing clarifying what they believe the deliverable is.
This will help you draft the terms of the contract in plain English.
11. Short Words Are Better.
Shoot for two- to three-syllable words. Any words over four syllables should probably be removed and replaced.
12. Spell Important Numbers Out And Include Their Numerals.
Example – The product will be delivered on the “tenth (10th)” day of the month.
This is another way of decreasing uncertainty because the likelihood that you wrote the wrong date in two different formats is less than if you only made the mistake once. It gives your client less of a chance to later complain that you made any mistake with the number.
13. Give the Contract a Strong Title.
Say what you are doing right up front at the top so there is no confusion.
- “Freelance Writing Contract”
- “Wedding Photography Agreement”
- “Roofing Subcontractor Agreement”
14. Be Consistent.
If you’ve used a special term or defined a certain word in a certain way, refer to it that same way repeatedly. This will again help eliminate confusion.
Example – If you will be using the assistance of a third-party with your work who happens to be named Jennifer Smith, and you first identify her as “Ms. Smith,” continue to refer to her this way throughout the rest of the contract.
15. Ask Your Clients if They Have Any Questions.
When you send the contract to your client, ask if they have any questions or concerns. If they don’t express any concerns, you may need to follow up to ensure they sign.
Always ask them to sign and return the agreement. Tell them you can’t begin your work until they do so.
Assuming they sign and return the contract, now you’re cooking with gas!
Having a strong written contract is an essential tool of any successful freelancer.
I hope you found this article helpful. Please feel free to call me at (646) 568-4280, email me, or comment below if you have any questions.