All of the freelance writing contracts or letters of agreement I write include an escape clause. It generally reads like this, or something close:
It is recognized that this is a personal service contract and that although this represents our mutual intention on this date, things can change. Therefore, this Agreement can be modified by either party in writing with 14 days notice and is terminable by either party in writing with 14 days notice.
Why would you want to create a way for a writing client to change or cancel a contract with as little as two weeks notice? The truth is with even the best writing skills on your part and good intentions on the part of both you and your client, the wheels come off writing projects.
It happens I think because writing and editing is far from an exact science. If you want to buy a physical widget of some sort and I want to make it our deal is fairly straight forward. Think of the last pair of shoes you bought or even a cup of coffee. You see the shoes and unless you’re shopping online, get to try them on. The coffee is brewed for you and it’s either good, bad or indifferent. You pretty much know what you’re getting.
When a client chooses you to do a piece of writing, even if you’ve worked together before, exactly what the product will look like is unknown. In a very real way as a writer you’re both designing and making the product. Each piece of writing you do for a client is unique, even when it draws heavily on something else you or the company has written.
When you agree to do a piece of writing for a client you’re making some assumptions like the client knows what they want, can describe it to you and will recognize the finished product.
When you realize all of what’s going on, it’s easy to see there are lots of places this can all fall apart, including, but certainly not limited to:
- The client doesn’t know what she wants or needs.
- The client has some idea but fails in describing it to you in a way you understand.
- The needs of the client change mid-project.
- You discover you simply find the client’s demands unreasonable.
- You realize there’s been project creep and its crept into a place you don’t have the skills for.
- The client gets sick.
- You get sick.
Each and every one of these reasons and more are exactly why I include an escape clause. If the project falls apart I want to be able to exit gracefully, and I want to let my client exit the same way if they need to.
This is just another reason I believe that you should be paid in advance for your writing, or if it’s a big project, be paid in stages.
While many issues can be solved by complete descriptions of the scope of work, the milestones, the review process, etc. neither you nor you client can predict what will actually happen. Allowing a way to end the contract before it’s completed only makes sense to me.
What do you think about escape clauses?