Do you really need a copywriting contract?

Hand holding a quill pen, representing a client signing a copywriting contractGreetings and welcome to yet another installment of Heather’s “how to start an SEO copywriting business” video series!

You’ll want to pay especially close attention to this one, because here Heather talks about the intimidating subject of copywriting contracts.

For new freelancers, getting a client to sign a contract can be a really scary thing. Here you are, so very close to getting the gig, and you’re asking the client for their signature. Thoughts race through your mind: are they going to sign the contract? Is something going to go wrong?

Tune in as Heather quells your fears and addresses the question of whether you really need to work with a copywriting contract…

Short answer: YES!

On the left side of the slide, I have a photo of Judge Marilyn Milian from The People’s Court. Judge Milian often makes the observation that many of the people who come to her courtroom are those who don’t have contracts – or don’t have good contracts. (She calls them “litigants”.)

- A contract spells out the terms and gets everyone on the same page.

- A good contract protects you and protects your client, too.

- If a client won’t sign one, consider it a huge red flag (and consider walking away.)

Even though a contract seems scary – and maybe even too formal, depending on your clients – they’re actually really good. They’re good for not just you, but they’re also good for the client because it protects both parties.

A good contract clearly defines what you’re going to be writing, when you’re going to turn it in, when you’re going to get paid, and what your policy is for revisions. All of that needs to be spelled out in a contract – and I’ll discuss more details on what needs to be included in a contract in a future video.

Sometimes a client doesn’t want to sign a contract. I have talked to prospects who say things like “Well I’ve been in business for thirty years and I’ve done everything on a handshake – and I’m not going to start signing contracts now.”

If you hear that from a client – and chances are you’re going to at least once in your freelance career – then consider that a big, huge red flag and consider walking away.  At that point, you don’t have much to protect you, and a lot of things can go wrong.

In fact, in the times that I’ve heard of something going majorly wrong with an account and the copywriter didn’t get paid are often when s/he didn’t have a good contract, or any contract at all…and that ended up coming back to bite them.

Should you sign your client’s contract?

This is another question I get that’s related to the first one. It is especially likely to come up when you’re working with larger brands: the client may have their own contract.

- Maybe – although it’s good to have your own contract.

- Don’t just blindly sign – no matter how excited you are about the gig.

- Always have your attorney review your client’s contract and make changes.

- See something you don’t like? Speak up!

Ideally, I would recommend that you have your own contract. Talk to an attorney and have him or her draw something up. I know it sounds expensive, but it’s really important and it doesn’t cost that much money.

So seriously consider having your own contract drawn up by an attorney – especially since you’re going to be attracting a lot of clients in your lifetime! You want to be working with a document that ensures both you and your client are covered.

That said, if the client presents his or her own contract, my advice to you would be: don’t just blindly sign it – no matter how excited you are about the gig!

I’ve seen instances where copywriters sign their client’s contract only to realize after the fact that it stipulated that they wouldn’t be paid for six months. True story.

Or, that they won’t get paid for something they’ve created if the client doesn’t use it. Another true story.

So really dig into the contract and read precisely what it is the client is saying. A lot of times these things can be negotiated, so if you spot language in the contract that you don’t like, speak up!

In a perfect world, you are sending client-drawn contracts to your attorney and having him or her review it and make any necessary changes. And again, while it may sound scary and expensive, it really isn’t. It typically takes an attorney maybe ten or fifteen minutes to go through and redline an agreement, and then you can be sure your interests are protected.

More often than not, when you send the amended contract back to the client, they sign off, everything is fine, and it’s a win-win for both parties.

So in moving forward with your freelance copywriting business, concentrate of finding an attorney you can work with and getting a solid client contract created. Or at least have an attorney review your current contracts to ensure you’re protected.

Thanks for joining me! As always, if you have any questions or comments about this video, or suggestions for a future topic, please let me know. You can reach me at, or find me on Twitter @heatherlloyd.

photo thanks to >WonderMike<  (Mike Wade)

Want to learn more about copywriting business contracts? Check into my Copywriting Business Boot Camp classes, where legal expert Bob Ellis discusses just that! The next Boot Camp begins in a week, on Monday, Feb. 11thregister now to reserve your place!