Contracts - A Copywriter's Lifeblood

Victoria Rosendahl

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It used to be that a four-line memorandum of agreement was all you needed to jump into a copywriting assignment.

Not so any more.

With lawsuits on the rise in America, copywriters – the true ghostwriter if ever there was one – have to be just as diligent in their written agreements as a contestant is on American Idol.

While it may be tempting to only review the paragraphs outlining compensation, you could walk into some major problems if you ignore the rest of it.

The best way to be proactive in your freelance business is to have a set of contracts you use regularly. There are short forms for flat fee compensation and for compensation with a bonus or royalty tied to it. There’s also a long form that goes into more detail. All three should be in your arsenal.

And, if you can swing it, you should be the one drafting the freelance copywriting contract for your next project.

The compensation structure is important to be sure but so are other paragraphs. Clauses like revision terms and change orders are equally critical. You’ll want to make sure to define how many revisions you’re willing to do for what you’re being paid. Are they major revisions or minor ones?

And what kind of additional compensation will you get if the direction of the project is changed after you’ve begun writing? Will you require a written change order – always a good idea to have every part of a project in writing and signed off on by you and your client – or will you permit the change order to be verbal?

The terms of the contract should also spell out just what is included in the project. It’s rare that a copywriting project involves just writing. What about phone calls, brainstorming with staff members, and gathering testimonials?

While a flat fee agreement is the way most clients want to go these days, you may encounter a situation where you’ll want to get a bonus or commission tied with your compensation. You’ll need to be specific and precise in the wording of the bonus or commission language and you’ll want to have some mention of a kill fee regarding that bonus or commission should the project never be mailed.

One of the trickiest paragraphs in a copywriter’s contract is the hold harmless and indemnification clause. If it’s written to benefit your client and the client is sued as a result of the copy you wrote, you could end up having to pay a good bit of green on behalf of your client if the suit is lost over changes in the copy you couldn’t control once the contract was fully paid. Who knows how the client changed your words before it went into design and publication? Certainly not you – but you could be caught holding the bag.

Make sure you read and understand every word in a contract before signing. Don’t be afraid to look like a wimp or that your client will see you as someone who doesn’t understand something. Chances are he never fully understood the contract he’s asking you to sign so you’re doing him a favor. Even if it’s one word that perplexes you, ask. That one word could change the entire context of a sentence or paragraph. You wouldn’t turn in an assignment you didn’t fully understand – don’t sign a contract out of desperation and then find yourself stuck in a situation you didn’t intend.

Put yourself in the driver’s seat by drafting your own contracts for your next copywriting project.

Grab three sample contracts for your own business! Victoria Rosendahl is a retired attorney and a partner in 3 Chix Seminars. She’ll be grilled by Beth Erickson and Donna Doyle on June 26, 2007 at 2:30 PM Eastern time where she’ll go into depth about all the critical clauses in Copywriting Contracts: The Good, The Bad, and What You Need to Know to Keep From Getting Hosed by Your Client. To sign up for this historic teleseminar, head to


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