The life of a freelancer is a life of on-the-job-training. It will be (especially early on) a career of trial-and-error that will guarantee you moments of success, failure, and near-misses. But it's through those experiences that the freelancer gains valuable knowledge that will help to improve one's craft and one's business acumen.
I was a freelance video producer & director for over 10 years, and in that time I learned quite a bit about networking, developing business, maintaining client relationships, marketing, and so on. My biggest lessons were learned after I completed a project. I would look back and dissect it, analyzing what worked, what didn't, and what I needed to do to make sure the next project was even more efficient.
Here are the 3 things I learned to include in every contract before starting a project. These are by no means the only things I learned, but I think these items are essential to include in every video production contract.
- A Fixed Number of Revisions - I quickly learned the importance of specifying in the contract just how many rounds of revisions the budget would include. I learned this the hard way when I had a client early in my career who kept making change after change with no end in sight. Limit the rounds of revisions to three, so the client doesn't have you on the hook for multiple changes that cost you time and money. If the client needs more than three rounds, then draft a new contract and negotiate with your client the cost of revisions beyond the initial three rounds.
- Exclusive Rights to Footage - This is a clause similar to what many professional photographers use in their contracts. I usually negotiate with clients for either a two, or three-year exclusive right to the footage. After that period expires, the footage becomes non-exclusive. In short, this means that during the 2-3 year window, the footage captured for your client cannot be used anywhere else. After that expiration, you are free to use that footage again for any other projects or to sell as stock footage, should you choose. This is helpful, because many times throughout the course of a shoot you will capture generic footage that could be used as b-roll for a variety of other projects.
- Termination Clause - At some point, a client will decide to pull the plug on a particular project for whatever reason. It's important that you get paid for the time and effort you have invested up to the point of termination. That's why I suggest including an item in your contract indicating that a client must still reimburse you for any costs incurred up to the point of cancellation.
As a creative-minded individual, I entered the freelancing stage of my career without a lot of practical business knowledge. I had to rely on my accountant, my attorney, and my own experiences to learn those valuable lessons. There is certainly much more to discuss, so feel free to share your own experiences and advice in the Comments section.