What do you imagine goes wrong most for copywriters, in particular inexperienced copywriters?

Is it heinous misuse of syntax? Wreckless abandonment of punctuation style? Of course not.

For most people even starting out as copywriters, having a decent stab at the work isn’t too much of a problem. The problem seems to lie in their curious reluctance to pin down the terms on which they will be doing the work.

Don’t think it’s only novices who make this mistake, either. I get a couple of emails every month from people asking for advice on a project that’s gone awry, leaving them in dispute with their client over payment.

When you take on a copywriting project, a contract is formed. It may be verbal, but it’s a contract. You say that you will do ‘x, y and z to such and such a standard by such and such a date in return for so much compensation (payment)’. Your client agrees that he will pay that much compensation for that work done to that standard by that date.

If you end up in dispute, the details of what was agreed and how each party ‘performed’ in respect of that agreement will be all that the court is interested in. So pinning them down up-front is crucial.

Now I understand that when you’re getting started, or you don’t have enough work, every client looks attractive, and anything can seem like an opportunity. But you have the skill that the client needs, and you should have no qualms about acting cooly and professionally to define the terms.

Write out your Terms and Conditions in a Word document and keep it on your hard drive. Don’t couch them in legalese, but set out what you will do, when you’ll do it, how you’ll address client requests for changes, when payment is due, how much payment will be due if the client rejects the work (which may well be 100%), and anything else that seems to you to define what you’re going to do, how you’re going to do it and what and when you will be paid.

Once you have this document, email it over to anyone you are set to do work for. Ask them to sign it in hard copy and mail it back to you. (There are of course other ways to do this that you may feel happy with. I use a form on my website where people can read the terms, then type their name and click a button to agree them. It’s probably not as good, but it’s less hassle.) But if a client won’t sign your Terms, then decline the project and move on.

Why? Because you have set out the Terms under which you wish to work. If they are a decent and fair client they may take issue with the odd point, but they will recognise that to agree Terms is as much a protection for them as it is for you. If they refuse out of hand to sign an agreement (as they would with any supplier in any other area of their business) then they are deliberately leaving themselves room to mess you about. You may need the potential fee; but you don’t need the headache of trying to get them to pay it over.

If you’d like to look at my own Terms you’re welcome to. They’re not definitive, and they won’t fit your need so please don’t rip them off. But they might serve as a prompt from which you can write your own.