On twitter @soundposted asked for a list of things to ask before accepting a (regular) freelance writing gig.
I don’t know what ‘regular’ means in this instance, but there are four things I want agreement on before I take on a freelance writing job.
If I can’t get mutual understanding on any of these I turn down the work – the hassle just isn’t worth it to me.
Description of the writing work
You need to know exactly what kind of writing you’re expected to produce – a clear description of the project. Some people call this the ‘scope of work.’ While there’s nothing really wrong with that term it feels a bit like jargon to me.
I want to know what I’m writing about, how long the piece is supposed to be, and the style. Within this description also comes any research I’m expected to do, from online to interviews.
It really helps to know why the client wants that particular piece of writing. Is it going on their website? If it is there are probably two or three key words or phrases they will want you to use. Of course, you may be writing a white paper, a sales letter, an ebook – just be sure you know exactly what they want and why.
Knowing why a client wants a particular piece of writing and how they plan to use it will help you get it exactly right. If they aren’t clear on why they want it and how they’ll use it, there’s no way you can get it they way they want it becasue they don’t know.
Delivery date(s) or deadline(s)
It’s important, even critical, to know exactly when the writing you do is to be delivered.
For short works there’s probably a single date or deadline; on larger ones there may be milestones or dates along the way when parts or chapters are due.
Implicit in this is knowing who you’re sending the work to – again, usually one person, but if you’re dealing with a corporation, it’s always worth asking for specific instructions.
You also need to be sure how they want the work delivered. Don’t assume a word document as an attachment is okay because in many cases it’s not. Some people prefer something like Dropbox; a few want hard copy mailed to them believe it or not. Ask.
Get clear on revisions
It’s not at all unusual for the client to ask for revisions. This can turn into a nightmare if you don’t spell out the number of revisions you’re willing to do before you start charging for the additional work. On anything that’s around 1,000 words or less I generally say I’ll do up to two revisions. I make it clear that after that they will be billed at my hourly rate.
I also make sure I state the revision policy in writing, even if it’s only an email; email can act like a contract.
Most clients are pretty reasonable about revisions, but the few that aren’t can make your life miserable if you’re not prepared.
The worst offenders are those who approve writing by some sort of committee or group. The problem with editing by many is everyone thinks they need to make a change which often leaves the writer writing in circles.
It’s up to you to put a stop to this nonsense, and limiting the number of revisions is one way to do it.
How much you’ll get paid is important, but it’s not the only aspect about payment you need to be clear about.
You need to know when the payment will be made. I like half up front and the balance on completion. If there’s going to be a delay, like net 30, I want to know that in advance and even, sometimes, negotiate earlier payment.
You also want to know how you’ll be paid – a check, by PayPal or what. I have one client who often gives me cash.
Often, in large organizations, the editor will hire you but it’s the accounting department that will pay you. You need to know how their system works so you can invoice the right person, and if pay doesn’t arrive when you expect it, who to followup with. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard a writer complain because they invoiced an editor who never got that invoice to accounting. Avoid problems by asking up front how it works there.
Many of the people who hire freelance writers have no idea how to go about it. You can make their life easier, and your own by insisting on getting clear on each one of these issues in advance.
Your take: What’s your thinking on what agreements you need in place before starting a writing gig? What did I leave out? Let’s talk about it in comments.
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