Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Signing Client Contracts: When Negotiation is Futile

This is part three in my series on signing client contracts. In the first two, I talked about terms to watch for when signing client contracts, as well as how to negotiate changes. In the third installment, I'm taking a look at two times when negotiating is probably not going to work.

Some freelancers refuse to change their terms at all for client projects. Personally, there are a few things I insist on, but I can also be flexible in certain situations. When you find a client like the two below, be warned: you will probably have to be flexible.

First, just to be clear: if there's something you really can't live with in the contract, bring it up. No matter what. Worst case, they'll say no and you'll have to turn the project down. If you don't say anything, you could find yourself stuck in a contract with unworkable terms.

When it's the usual in their industry. If you're doing magazine writing, you're going to get kill fees. It's that simple. If you're working with a middleman client like an ad agency or a web designer, you'll probably have a non-compete clause of some type. It's just what's done for those particular clients, and you are probably not going to get a good response if you try to take those clauses out entirely--although you can ask for minor changes. In these cases, it's still possible to ensure rights revert to you if the project is killed, or loosen the restrictions on the noncompete agreement if it's too tight.

When the client works with a lot of writers and has a routine. Some clients work with a ton of writers, and they've honed their contract to what works best for them and what receives the least complaints from writers. These clients often don't want to bother with a different contract for each writer they work with, and they'll tell you so if you try to make changes. You may or may not know you have a client like this until you ask. But if you do, you'll probably have to take the contract as-is.

If you get a client like this, it will probably come down to your instincts to decide whether you should stay or go. Read the contract carefully, and decide to negotiate only over clauses you really can't put up with. When it comes to unflexible contracts from clients whose business you want to keep, you have to be careful when choosing the hills you're willing to die on.

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