Keeping EVERYONE Happy: Get It in Writing

In my role as AWAI coach, several members have asked me if it’s necessary to use a contract with clients.

My personal experience has been almost 100% positive with clients. Even though I do use a written work agreement or a more formal contract, I’ve never found it necessary to invoke them legally.

However, there’s always the chance you might run into a client who demands more of you than you agreed to … or is really slow in paying you. While this is not a likely scenario, you should be prepared to deal with the occasional difficulty.

The best defense takes place at the beginning of your relationship with a client …


Unless you’re working with a much-trusted client, you should get a formal SIGNED contract before you begin work. If you’re dealing with a client you’ve had for a while – one whom you trust – you may want to use a less formal written agreement, one that you can transmit via email.

But whether you use a formal contract or a less-formal written work agreement, the agreement should include the following provisions:

  1. The names of the parties to the contract. This means your name and the name of the company that’s hiring you.
  2. ALL the work you’re expected to do, including preliminary work (e.g., research) and "extras" (e.g., formatting).
  3. The information or materials the client will supply (data cards, product samples, pictures, and the like).
  4. What you’re being paid, including "start" and "kill" fees. The start fee is what you’re paid before you begin. Novice writers don’t often get start fees. The kill fee is what you get paid if they decide not to use your work after you’ve given them a finished draft or if the project is cancelled mid-stream.
  5. Your deadlines for first and final drafts. This should also include interim deadlines, if necessary.

    For example, if you’re expected to deliver a first draft by May 30 and they want a final draft by June 13, you’ll want to specify that they will get copy comments and desired changes back to you in a reasonable amount of time so you can make the changes.

    If you specify a date for the return of commented copy, you may want to include a provision that if commented copy is late getting back to you, you have the option to negotiate a different final date of return.

  6. When you get paid. I usually specify "Payment due on acceptance of final draft." But I do so knowing that individual companies have pay cycles I have to accommodate.

    Many companies have two check-writing cycles a month; some have only one. When you discuss the agreement with your client, ask about this – and time your invoice so you’re not waiting a month or more to get paid.

    There’s a new payment option that one of my clients uses: PayPal. This is a very secure method, but it slows the process down as much as a week if you expect to have the money in your bank account and not in your PayPal account.

    The point here is to make sure YOU know when and how you’ll be paid so you can plan accordingly.


Bob Bly’s strategy is to fax a copy of the contract – with his signature on it – to the client. He clearly states that he will start work once he receives it back with the client’s signature.

It’s likely that you’ll develop a strong, trusting relationship with your clients. They need you and what you can provide. In this type of relationship, the contract or written agreement is mostly a formality. But it’s a formality that will keep everybody happy.

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Published: May 31, 2005

4 Responses to “Keeping EVERYONE Happy: Get It in Writing”

  1. Thank you for this article. I just used it as a guide to write out an agreement form.

    Mandy Marksteiner

  2. Hi Mandy,

    It's nice to know that someone is reading my posts 6 1/2 years later!

    Good luck.


    Guest (Will Newman)

  3. Hi Will!

    Try 11 years later! Still useful info.


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