The idea of freelancing is a wonderful concept. The ability to work from anywhere with limited oversight and a schedule that suits the work-life balance that best suits you is almost idyllic. With the largest freelancing market in the world, a staggering 67.6 million people freelance in the US.
Work when you want, and pick a schedule and workload that suits your needs and desires—is it any surprise so many have chosen this as a career path? In fact, an MBO study found that 82% of freelancers found that they are happier working independently.
For those with writing or editing talent, making the switch to being a freelancer seems like an ideal choice. However, despite the many freedoms that freelance writing offers you, there are still legal considerations to take into account, and these can very much depend on where you live and work. Knowing the legal requirements needed to operate as a freelancer is a crucial first step to being a successful freelancer.
Given so many freelance writers and editors are based in the US, we look at five essential legal documents every US-based freelance writer and editor needs.
5 Essential Legal Documents For Freelancers
You may think that all you need to be a freelance writer or editor is some relevant skills, a computer, and an internet connection. However, there are a number of steps you should be looking at to ensure you are legally compliant.
1. Business registration
If you are domiciled in the US, then the first step in your freelancing career is to register as a business. In most cases, that will be as a sole proprietorship; an unincorporated business with a single owner. That means you, as sole owner, are responsible for any state and federal taxes on your income as well as all financial obligations the business (you) incurs in normal operations.
Your business registration is your most important legal document and forms the foundation of all the freelancing work you will do. There are some important aspects you need to consider before formally registering:
- Your business name
- Your head office address/location. This, of course, can be your home address.
- Business structure. In most cases, this will be a sole proprietorship as mentioned.
2. Licensing documents
Obtaining a business license is very much going to depend on your location. In many cases, freelance writers and editors will not require any form of business license but it’s worth checking on local requirements at the city and state levels. If there are any requirements to you legally starting your business, ensure you meet them all before commencing work.
There are other “licenses” you may want to consider. Both the writing and editing fields have various relevant professional bodies. Memberships of these bodies can help elevate the services you offer in the eyes of many clients.
You may consider membership to organizations such as:
- National Associations of Independent Writers and Editors
- American Society of Professional Copywriters
- American Society of Business Publication Editors
You could also look to gain qualifications in certain fields like:
- SEO Copywriting
- Advanced Resume Writing
- Business writing
As with any job, you want to develop your writing resume and qualifications to attract more clients. You may also want to consider if there are any insurance requirements for the business you plan to operate.
3. Client contracts
Image sourced from Pandadoc
Whether you offer services to individual clients or to an agency, you are going to legally require some form of contract. These will set out what services you are providing, the level of recompense you will receive for those services, and also any requirements from the client such as a deadline or timeframe as well as NDA/confidentiality clauses.
This is an area that worries many freelancers as they imagine putting together each contract is going to require legal input (not to mention accompanying costs). However, by using legal agreement templates, you can bypass those unnecessary costs while still fulfilling all your legal obligations to existing and potential clients.
4. Non-disclosure agreements
NDA requirements were briefly touched on before, but it is worth noting that many clients will ask for a standalone NDA before you commence work. If you think about it, many clients may be giving you very sensitive information and proprietary details for your research or for inclusion in any pieces you write or edit. For example, maybe you want to specialize in legal writing and will thus handle a lot of confidential info.
While some of it may be in the public domain or will be after your work is published, clients want to be sure that you do not disclose that information to competitors or on social media when it’s not the finished article. It doesn’t matter what your geographical location is, agreeing and signing an NDA is simple enough and you can consider services such as DocuSign vs HelloSign.
Here is a template for a standard NDA.
5. Operating agreement
Another thing you need to consider when starting a freelancing business is an operating agreement. This could be as simple as an outline of the different services you may provide. Additionally, it may help to use this guide to policy vs procedure to consider your whole business and what you offer. For example, are you offering only writing services or also including related services such as editing (line or copy) and proofreading?
Again, this is an area where there are numerous templates available online that can save you legal fees. You can include different aspects, such as production lead time, within your operating agreement or you can keep those details for individual client contracts. In some cases, you may want to stipulate that you reserve copyright on any original content you produce.
Play it safe and have your legal documents ready
You need to treat your freelance writing as a business. That means constantly striving to develop your skills and gain more recognition for your work. It’s far from a level playing field, and the better you get, and the more widely-known your work is, then the more likely that you get the more lucrative jobs.
Your starting point when entering the freelance writing and editing world should always be what your legal and/or regulatory requirements are. Knowing what documents you need to create or sign and what boxes absolutely have to be ticked, can allow you to focus on your actual writing or editing with far more confidence.
About the author
Yauhen is the Director of Demand Generation at PandaDoc, an all-in-one document management tool for almost all types of documents. He’s been a marketer for 10+ years, and for the last five years, he’s been entirely focused on the electronic signature, proposal, and document management markets. Yauhen has experience speaking at niche conferences where he enjoys sharing his expertise with other curious marketers. And in his spare time, he is an avid fisherman and takes nearly 20 fishing trips every year.