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Why Freelancers Need Contracts

Freelancing Is The New Permanent Job

As the world evolves and changes daily with the many new innovations coming about, one thing is perfectly clear. For many of us, the ‘job for life’ is gone. I earned my bread as a secretary or ‘personal assistant’ in days gone by. With the advent of online work, secretarial jobs are outsourced nowadays to ‘virtual assistants’. Instead of being the ‘girl Friday’ who makes it all happen, your secretary is likely to be a businesswoman who is engaged to perform several tasks for you under contract. So the business person doesn’t have to take on a full-time employee and pay them a living wage or salary. They simply outsource tasks and pay accordingly. The Virtual Assistant (VA) is free to do the same work for other business people. She simply has to organise her time in order to accommodate tasks for various clients.

Learn How To Be A Good Self-Employee

So freelancing is the way to go, for writers, editors, secretaries and so many other types of work. It’s a good thing. You’re not tied to one source of income. You can set your rates. You can decide on your own holidays. But unless you’re organised and resourceful, you can get into a bit of trouble along the way. I know. I’ve learned the hard way.

The Biggest Lesson

The number one lesson I’ve learned? Never, ever work without a contract. Even if the person for whom you’re working is your best friend. Although working with your friends may sound ideal, business and pleasure do not mix. When it comes to the time of handing over money, that’s when you see how ‘friendly’ your friend really is.

My Personal Experience

I took up the task of editing some books for a writer who wanted to be Jane Austen. It was never going to happen, but I was doing my best to make it happen. She’d never set foot in England, and her Regency characters sounded like they watched American TV. This was not a writer who was writing for a quality audience. If you’re reading a Regency historical novel, you want an authentic trip back in time. Right? This writer’s readers obviously wanted the Regency rake to lay them down on the card table (having imbibed several bottles of claret) and have his wicked way with them. Preferably as soon as was decently (or rather indecently) possible. Every bump, grind and move described in torrid detail. Ugh. Yes, it was a bit revolting at times, I admit it. I should also mention that a mutual friend had brokered this deal. Because of the friendship, I’d kept my mouth shut, but the rate was, to be honest, the lowest possible. Half a cent per word. That really sucked. There was no way I could sacrifice higher paying copywriting assignments to prioritise editing these books, so I edited the books in my spare time.

Things Went Wrong

Things went bad when, having to honour my commitment to edit the fourth novel for this ditzy author, she decided she wanted it back super fast. A job that would take me about a month, doing it full-time, was to be returned in two weeks. I tried, I really did. But sadly, doing the job to my usual standards, I couldn’t honour that particular commitment as much as I’d wanted to do so. But I turned in the job as soon as I possibly could. And the ignorant woman threw it back in my face in the nastiest possible way, with the rudest message I’ve ever received by email. I’d worked like a slave over her manuscript and she treated me with contempt. I was obviously never going to get my payment for this job, having completed it to the last dot and comma.


I was naturally devastated. All that work for nothing! I couldn’t stop crying for about 24 hours. Then I reached out to the friend who had brokered the deal, hoping to work something out. The ‘friend’ (now ex, naturally) made a lot of sympathetic noises about it and said she’d speak to ‘Georgette Whoever’ and get back to me.

Friend Turns Rogue

If I thought I was going to get some form of redress, I was very much mistaken. ‘Georgette Whoever’ had a catalogue of faults and failings of mine which she told my ex friend, using them as justification for her vindictive, mean and unreasonable behaviour. First of all, she hadn’t wanted full editing, she said. She’d only wanted proofreading. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that message. I had edited three books for this author and now she decides she only wanted proofreading after all? She'd paid me for the first three books, dang it! I have never yet, in all my time freelancing, offered a proofreading service. I had taken her four manuscripts for editing and authentification as Regency novels. She hadn’t even bothered to get a proofreader to check the work after I’d returned it. Any author worth their salt knows that when the first round of edits is completed, a proofreader is required. The fact that she needed a proofreader was shown up as evidence of my so-called incompetence. After being the editor, I was now demoted to proofreader. I hadn’t even known. And this was after editing on the fourth book had completed. The so-called friend who had brokered the deal even had the nerve to demand that I offer a ‘heartfelt apology’ to Georgette Whoever for all the 'trouble' I'd put her through. It took me a couple of days to figure out the whole sorry mess. Who wouldn’t be confused? Like, I was the injured party who’d worked my tail off, to be thrown aside without payment and I owed the person who did this an apology? Please! Talk about twisting the truth around to make it fit your vision of things! It slowly dawned on me that I needed to dump this so-called friend. Not right away, but after some time.

Excuses, Excuses

‘Georgette Whoever’, pseudo-Regency writer, also had complaints about how late I’d returned her previous manuscripts. She was using this as an excuse not to pay me for my hard work on the last book I’d edited for her. Okay, she'd used another editor, but I'd still done the work. Like I said, she paid very low rates (half a cent per word) and I obviously had no reason refuse to take in other work while I was working on hers. When I heard this volume of excuses, I realised, sadly, that I’d totally lost this one. One of my friends checked out the published book for which my work had been rejected and another editor hired and found Georgette Whoever singing hymns of praise in the acknowledgments to her new editor/proofreader. But there’s one thing of which I’m certain. She’s paying Ms. Professional Proofreader much more for her proofreading than she paid me for my editing. Good luck to her. She won’t be able to pull the same stunt with that editor that she pulled with me. She’ll get back what she gave out one day.  The laws of karma are sure. I wish her the joy of her comeuppance. I won’t be there to see it, but it’s coming her way is all I know.

Legal Advice

I got a bit of legal advice and found out something which horrified me. As I had signed no contract, Georgette Whoever was under no obligation to pay me.  I’d taken this job on the advice of a friend, someone who was supposed to be mentoring me. What sort of mentor doesn’t teach a freelancer about contracts? I don’t think that question requires an answer.  I only know that I will never again work for anyone without a contract in place.

What Is A Freelance Contract & What Should It Contain?

A contract is an agreement between two parties, in this case the freelance worker and the client, in which the freelancer undertakes to do a certain type of work for a client within a specified time. The contract should state the work to be done and the time in which the work shall be done, as well as the rate which will be paid. There should be clear dates set out for the work to be returned. The client and the freelancer should be very clear about how long the work will take. In this case, it's imperative that the freelancer is paid a fair rate.

7 Reasons Why Freelancers Should Not Work Without Contracts

1.      As Carol Tice says in her blog Make A Living Writing, ‘when you don’t have a contract, you often get scewed’. She is 100% correct.
2.      As it says in the Hongkiat blog, 'a contract helps streamline your work around a schedule as well as all those clarified details of what was agreed between you (the provider) and the client from the beginning'.
3.      Everyone knows where they stand, so there are no doubts. If there are doubts, they can be cleared up before the contract is signed.
4.      The freelancer and the client should both have agreed to a fair payment for the work involved. No freelancer should ever agree to a job brokered by a third party when the freelancer didn’t even agree to a rate.
5.      If either party develops amnesia about any aspect of the agreement, it’s all there in black and white to jog their memory.
6.      It protects the freelancer from being abused.
7.      It also protects the client from being abused. It’s for the good of all parties. There are exploitative clients, but to be fair, there can be exploitative freelancers too.


There's a saying in the Irish language which, when translated, means 'Bought sense is the best sense'. In business, you have to recover quickly from the knocks and then move on, wishing everyone in your life as well as possible. I have no regrets about what has happened. I'm glad I learned what I did. To my erstwhile client and friend, I would simply say 'as a woman sows, so shall she reap'.


  1. So sorry about all these Maria. Hope your post teaches everyone else out there a lesson. This was a much needed post.

    1. Thanks Kelly. I hope I didn't come across as vindictive. The purpose is not to blame or shame, but to create some awareness.


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