sign here

When you’re a professional freelancer, you need to wear many hats. You not only need to do your job, but you also need to be your own accountant, marketer, and human resources manager.

You also play the very important role of lawyer; any time you take on a new assignment, you’ll probably be asked to sign a contract. This may seem like an oddly formal step in an industry that prides itself on being fast-paced and flexible, but it is a crucial element of being an independent worker. Here are the basics of what a freelance community manager should know about contracts.

1. You Really Do Need One

signing paperwork

No matter the size or scope or duration of a freelance assignment, make sure that you have a written contract. Contracts are important for protecting both an independent community manager and his or her clients. As a freelancer, contracts confirm that you will in fact get paid for the work that you put in. On the client side, it lays out the specifics of the tasks at hand and ensures that the required work will be completed.

Think of a contract as a courtesy to both partners in a business arrangement. Even if your clients don’t offer you a contract, have a straightforward one that you can use and easily modify for any job. Asking for a written contract doesn’t make you pushy, it makes you professional.

2. Define the Business Relationship

business handshake

Contracts for independent workers should always lay out the nature of the arrangement between the freelancer and client. That means the contract should explicitly state that an independent contractor is not an employee or a representative of the client.

A contract will also frequently cover the ownership of whatever work is produced during the term of the agreement. It’s standard practice for anything created under an independent contractor arrangement to become the property of the client.

There will frequently be a section covering indemnification in your contract. Again, this is meant to protect both parties in the agreement.

3. Detail the Finances

money bills

Freelancers have to get paid. One way you can use your contract to protect you is to be very clear in your language about compensation for your community manager duties.

Make sure it states not just the amount of money you’ll earn, but how and when you’ll be paid. Lay out the full list of duties and expectations for your community manager position with the particular client, including the anticipated hours. It’s also worthwhile to include a clause about when your payments must be received. It’s standard for a contractor to receive compensation within 30 days of the client getting an invoice, but some companies may operate on a net 45 schedule. Ask ahead of time if you are uncertain about the timetable your client is working with.

As a standard practice, most independent contractor agreements also have a clause about taxes. A freelancer is responsible for paying taxes on his or her income, and your client payments should not include any withholdings.

4. Conflicts of Interest

top secret sign

As an independent worker, it’s standard to have multiple projects for multiple clients in the air at once. As you develop a specialty, however, be aware that your different clients will want to make sure that you can carefully protect their confidential material.

Some contracts phrase this differently. It might be stated as “no conflict of interest,” or as a “non-compete clause.” This section essentially confirms the freelancer will not be going behind enemy lines and working for a competitor at the same he or she is working for you. It is a protection for the company to ensure that independent contractors will not be using proprietary information or trade secrets for the benefit of a potential competitor.

This can create a legal gray area. An overly strict non-compete could limit you from plying your trade with any other clients. Also, some state laws limit the scope of a non-compete clause. Also, be alert to this concern as you take on new clients.

5. Don’t Fear the Legalese

confused look

Most contracts are written in very dense language that can be overwhelming. Especially when you’re putting your signature on a document, you should read and understand the entire contract before you sign.

If you have any concerns about the wording of the contract, then voice them. You have many resources available for support if you need help with the paperwork. One option is to start a conversation directly with your client to clarify any points you find confusing. Another choice is to reach out to friends, colleagues, and professional contacts to get advice for finding inexpensive legal counsel. Also, keep in mind that many organizations, such as the Freelancers Union, have resources to aid independent workers with their unique work challenges.

[Image credits: Lars Ploughmann, Dan Moyle, Victor1558. Philip Taylor, Marcin Wichary, David Goehring]