Freelancers warned to use contracts

The wonderfully named Don't Get Screwed Over website is running a video called 'What it feels like to be a freelancer'. In a social experiment, a woman offers to pay five dollars for a drawing, providing basic instructions regarding what she wants. Passers by happily comply and, well, you can probably guess what's coming next. "That isn't what I wanted … I can't pay you for this," followed by quite a lot of angry artists, arguing the woman should have explained what she wanted before engaging them.

Quite a few freelancers have probably just screamed "that's my life, every single day", but then the video isn't some kind of satire on that position; instead, it's a warning that creative types shouldn't start work with only the most basic of briefs, should communicate more with clients about what's actually needed – and should also investigate using contracts.

The video and site is the product of Docracy and co-founder Matt Hall confirmed to .net that the video was designed to "make sure freelancers are aware how important it is to have a contract for work they do, and that there are resources like Docracy that can take the fear and mystery out of the process". He said it's increasingly common that freelancers don't get paid for work they've done, starkly highlighted by projects like the World's Longest Invoice.

Hall recommended "upfront and clear communication with your client about what's expected, when it's expected and when you'll be paid", and then getting this all down in writing and signed. "Clear communication can go a long way to avoiding problems in the future," he added. And while Docracy can be a starting point, Hall said such sites are not a replacement for proper legal advice: "A good lawyer who understands your business will save you money over the long term, so get educated and then find a good lawyer you like working with. We have a bunch of great, tech-savvy lawyers on the site who have already shown their willingness to help freelancers, so they might be a good start."

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