Leadership

Resources for creating your own independent contracts (part III of III)

In the final installment of the series, Meredith Little presents some texts and links to resources to help you make sure your contract protects your financial interests when you do freelance work.

In the first two parts of this series on contracts for the self-employed, I’ve discussed the types of information you want to include in any contract. If you’d rather not write your own contract from scratch, in this last article I’ll point you toward resources where you can find complete contracts.

Of course, any generic contract will be broad in scope. With all the resources I’ll cover here, be sure to check any contract against the information presented in the earlier articles and adapt the contract as necessary to ensure that it meets your specific needs.
To read the first installment in this series, click here. Follow this link to read part II.
Book resources
Several books on the market address contracting for the self-employed. The two I’ll discuss here are excellent resources, and both have a disk containing several types of contracts that you can adapt to your specialty. You can find them at either online or well-stocked local bookstores.

Consultant & Independent Contractor Agreements
Stephen Fishman’s Consultant & Independent Contractor Agreements (ISBN 0873374576, $24.95) is part of the Nolo Press’ do-it-yourself law library. This easy-to-use book provides several contracts, each in two versions: one for use by the hirer and one for use by the contractor. Both flavors are similar and seem fair to both sides, but each is slightly weighted toward the interests of that party. The contracts are easy to understand and they avoid redundant legalese.

Although a few of the contracts are not relevant, several contracts are quite specific to the IT industry. You’ll find agreements tailored to the following:
  • General independent contractor
  • Consultant
  • Software consultant
  • Creative independent contractors

Most of the clauses in every contract present two or more options, allowing you to keep the one most suitable and delete the others. The text of the book offers guidance to help you decide which option is right for you.

The Complete Guide to Consulting Contracts
Herman Holtz’s The Complete Guide to Consulting Contracts (ISBN 0793106702, $29.95), published by Enterprise-Dearborn, provides an enormous and helpful amount of detail on contracts. Of all the books I reviewed, this one is undoubtedly the most comprehensive, and its well-organized index makes it easy to find the information you need. It isn’t as specific to the IT field as Fishman’s book, but you should easily be able to modify the contracts for your use.

If you run your own business, this book offers helpful advice over and above writing the contract with your client. Its information includes:
  • A discussion of standard legal terms you may encounter and what they mean
  • A guide to reading contracts that clients may present
  • Advice on avoiding potential hazards and disputes, such as examples of ambiguous wording that could cause misinterpretation of the contract

The forms and contracts included with this book cover the following and a whole lot more:
  • A short letter of agreement, for projects that don’t require a lengthy contract
  • A service contract with attachments for specifying term, payment, and expenses
  • A “task order” consulting agreement, to be used when contracting by task and setting out the terms of service as needed for smaller projects
  • A contract for temporary employment, which you can use either with an agency or with a client when the terms are such that you are a temporary employee (an agency will probably want to use its own contract, but this can help you know what clauses to negotiate)
  • Partnership and joint venture agreements
  • A form for notice of breach of contract

One last helpful form provided by this book is a request for credit references. Based on feedback I’ve seen from other articles I’ve written on contracting, several contractors have been burned by clients who don’t pay. Get two or three vendor or contractor names from your client and send them this form to find out whether this client pays on time. If your client doesn’t want to give you any names, think twice before doing any work for them. After all, you are essentially extending the client a loan by providing your services without being paid all the money up front. Under these circumstances, it’s reasonable to ask for credit references.

Web resources
If you don’t need the kind of detail and reference that a book provides, you can find contract resources online at the following links.

Nolo.com
You can find forms and helpful information from the Nolo Press Web site, Nolo.com. On the left of that page, click on the Working As An Independent Contractor link to go to a page where you can download an eFormKit for $10.80 immediately after online purchase. (You can also order via an 800 number.) Along with the contract, the kit contains an invoice form, a contract amendment form, and a couple of IRS forms. You can order the Nolo Press book mentioned above from this site as well.

A free contract
You can find a free online contract from the Business Owner’s Toolkit Web site. Here you’ll download an RTF document that you can customize as necessary. It also provides an appendix that allows you to further specify the duties, term, and compensation for a project.

If you use this contract, you’ll probably want to change the payment terms, currently specified at 30 days. I personally always try to have the client agree to pay sooner, within a week or two after receipt of invoice if possible.

Legaldocs.com
To print a customized contract, go to the Legaldocs Web site and click on the Employment link. To use their Independent Contractor Agreement, you answer a questionnaire and the site fills in the blanks of the contract based on the information you supply. After viewing the summary of your information, you order and print the contract (this one is $9.50) directly from your browser. The most useful thing here was viewing their sample completed contract; I use contracts enough that I’d rather have a contract on file that I can reuse, customize, and print as necessary.

A last word on contracts
Regardless of which of these contract resources you use, you should always feel free to customize the contracts for your needs on any particular project. If you have the potential to incur great liability, it may pay to have a lawyer look over whatever you use. You want to be sure you’re adequately protected and the provisions are enforceable.
To comment on this series of articles, please post a comment below or follow this link to write to Meredith.

Meredith Little has worn many hats under the broad term of freelance writer, including technical writer, documentation specialist, trainer, business analyst, photographer, and travel writer.

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