Image of two women working on a statement of work
Image of two women working on a statement of work
Have all new clients sign a copywriting statement of work.

In my last post, I shared with you that when I started out on this journey to become a full-time copywriter and content writer, I made quite a few mistakes. And while those mistakes didn’t necessarily keep me from finding success, they certainly created some headaches. 

The first mistake I made was investing in a poor website. I’ll be frank—it was pretty awful. It was challenging to navigate, had poor graphics, and was super slow to load. However, I got what I paid for. I went with the lowest bidder. The result? A poorly designed website. And who knows how many clients that website cost me. Thankfully, my new website is live now, and I have turned a corner and am learning a lot from that mistake.

Yet, that wasn’t the only mistake I made. As I said above, I made a lot of them. And in this series, I’ll share with you what I have learned from the top ten mistakes I made. And in this blog, I will tell you about one that cost me thousands—three thousand dollars, to be more precise. 

The mistake? Not having clients sign a statement of work for my content writing services.

Do Copywriters Need a Statement of Work?

Before I get into the details of what happened and what made me realize that I needed a master services agreement and statement of work, I want to level set on a few things. First, as you probably know by now, I’m a huge advocate of Upwork. The Upwork platform helped me get my start as a revenue-making copywriter and content writer back in 2019. So, when I started my S-Corp in March 2023, I initially assumed I would just keep getting clients through the same freelancing platform I always had.

To be clear, if you are a new copywriter, blog writer, or any kind of content writer, if you plan to use Upwork exclusively, this post doesn’t necessarily apply to you. But I implore you to keep reading. If your business is anything like mine and starts to scale and grow, you may want ti expand beyond the Upwork revenue stream.

But for now, if you stick to Upwork, know that Upwork takes care of all of this for you. You have all the protections you need as long as you stick to the freelancer requirements. If clients engage freelancers, they agree to pay them for the work. If they fail to pay, Upwork will handle everything on your behalf. Plus, you get all the marketing, advertising, and payment processing benefits of using the tool.

If you plan to take on clients outside of Upwork, however, you need a statement of work and, more than likely, a master services agreement. What’s the difference between the two? Here’s the scoop.

What is a Master Services Agreement?

A Master Services Agreement (MSA) is a contract between you and your client that outlines your working relationship’s general terms and conditions. As a copywriter or content writer, this agreement covers important elements like payment terms, confidentiality, ownership of work, and how to handle any disputes that might arise. 

The MSA sets the groundwork for your entire business relationship, ensuring both parties understand their rights and responsibilities from the start. It’s a great way to protect yourself and ensure everyone is on the same page before any specific projects begin.

What is a Statement of Work?

A Statement of Work (SOW) outlines a project’s specific tasks, deliverables, and deadlines. For copywriters and content writers, the SOW includes the type of content you’ll create, the length, the format, and the timeline for delivery. It also specifies the cost and any milestones for payments. 

The SOW works alongside the MSA, detailing the nitty-gritty of each project, while the MSA covers the overall relationship. Having clients sign an SOW ensures there’s no confusion about what’s expected, preventing misunderstandings and protecting you from scope creep.

To answer that question at the beginning of this section—do copywriters need a statement of work? The answer is YES!

The Background Story: When I Realized I Needed a Legal Agreement in Place

Shortly after turning my side hustle into a full-time gig, I had some prospective clients reach out to me via email or introductions from colleagues and acquaintances. In some cases, those clients were willing to head to Upwork, sign up for accounts, and engage with me that way. But others wanted a more direct relationship. At the time, I thought I had adequately weighed the pros and cons and decided that going direct was the right thing to do. 

Here are the benefits I considered when considering going directly with some clients vs. working with clients exclusively in Upwork.

  • More flexibility in communications: Upwork requires freelancers to communicate almost exclusively within the platform, which can be restrictive. Direct communication allows for quicker responses and more personalized interactions.
  • Make more money: Upwork charges 10% of all freelancer revenues to help pay for the platform. By working directly with clients, I could avoid these fees and retain more of my earnings.
  • Build stronger client relationships: Direct interactions often lead to stronger, more personal relationships with clients, building trust and potentially leading to long-term collaborations.
  • Greater control over projects: Working outside of Upwork gives me more control over how I manage projects, set deadlines, and handle revisions, allowing me to tailor my approach to each client’s needs.

A Handshake is Not Good Enough

I was naive in all of this. I assumed that the old-school gentlemen’s agreement of yesteryear would suffice. We agree to a rate, I provide the work, you agree to the deliverables and approve the deliverables, you pay me, and we move on. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. And I allowed myself to get burned—like I said before, to the tune of about three thousand dollars.

The moral of the story? A legal agreement does far more for you than agreeing on your rates and when you’ll get paid. An SOW and the master agreement that it hangs on also outline the specific deliverables, how the work gets done, and what approval of a work product looks like. It allows you to outline specific details and your approach to the work. It gets both parties on the same page so that there are no surprises.

The Key Components of a Copywriter Master Services Agreement

If you write for a client outside of a platform like Upwork or Fiverr, take the time to prepare a contract template. You can hire an attorney directly or sign up for a membership with a program such as LegalShield. Having a base contract drawn up is worth the financial investment, regardless of your approach. This becomes a template you can send prospective clients before agreeing to move forward with work.

If the contract is prepared well, you’ll have to make very few edits to reach a final agreement. You can likely handle this without an attorney reviewing the proposed changes. Getting a base master services agreement and SOW template will likely cost you between $200 and $1,500. Mine came in just shy of $1,200 (though had I known about LegalShield sooner, I probably could have saved some money). 

If you’re doing the math, you’ve probably calculated that loss I mentioned earlier and realize that I wouldn’t have lost out on that much money had I done the due diligence up front. Then again, my mistake gave me another topic to share with you.

Before we get into the key components of the SOW, let’s talk about some of the unique things you will want to have in your master services agreement. 

The Legal-Ease 

Let’s start with the legal components that your attorney will add. Your Master Services Agreement should outline basic obligations for both parties, ensuring clarity on what is expected. Indemnification clauses protect you from legal claims about the client’s use of your work. 

Limitation on liability keeps your potential damages within a reasonable range. The contract term specifies the length of the agreement, while termination clauses detail how either party can end the contract. Force majeure covers unforeseen events like natural disasters that might prevent you from fulfilling the contract. Finally, a clear process for dispute resolution should be included to handle any issues that arise professionally and efficiently. 

Rates (How Much You Get Paid)

Contrary to what you might think, your rates are actually not listed in the Master Services Agreement (MSA). Instead, these are reserved for the schedule or Statement of Work (SOW). Why? Because your rates can change based on the type of project you do, and if you are like most content writers, your rates will increase annually (the cost of living does, so your rates should, too).

With all this said, the MSA needs to include an agreement for payment and payment terms. It should outline the process for invoicing, payment deadlines, and penalties for late payments. I typically invoice twice a month or every 14 days, with payment due within 14 days of the invoice date. However, be prepared for some larger clients who have standard net 30 terms. It’s essential to clearly state your terms in the MSA to avoid any confusion.

Your MSA should also address late payments. My agreement specifies that all current work will cease until outstanding invoices are paid. Additionally, I am entitled to an incremental fee for late invoices every two days. This clause helps clients take payment terms seriously and protects your business from cash flow issues. An estimated 82% of small businesses fail because of cash flow issues. Don’t let yours be one of them. 

Cooperation and Communication

This is a big one. Make sure your MSA discusses what you expect from your client, and not just what they should expect from you. One of the big things here is responsiveness and communication. Your client should be expected to respond to your questions and provide approval and feedback on your work in a reasonable period of time. My standard MSA requires two days. Let me tell you why.

About a year ago, I worked with an Upwork client on her resume, cover letter, and some LinkedIn optimization. I spent several hours perfecting her resume, drafting that initial cover letter, and updating her LinkedIn profile. At that point in time, I had a good handle on who she was as a professional. But, I had a few questions, and I needed her input to get the documents over the finish line. I sent her a list of questions through Upwork. And I heard nothing. Not for five months. Then, all of a sudden, I hear from her. She has some of the answers to my questions and new project requests.

You might think, okay, so make the changes. But the problem was, I barely remembered her at that point. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the work, but I work on dozens of resumes and write well over 10,000 words a day on most days. I was no longer in the zone on her work, and getting back in the zone would take more time and effort than what she was paying me for. 

Clarifying Response Times

Thankfully, I had clearly outlined in the Upwork contract that responses to questions were required within two days, and the entire project should take no more than five days. I politely explained this to her and shared that it would take me some time to go back through her initial input materials to gain context to those questions from so many months ago. Plus, she added scope that was not part of the initial request. Because I had that all in writing, she was willing to pay for my additional time and effort.

This long-winded story explains why it is so important to outline your expectations of your client. This can protect you in the long run. Here are some things to consider: 

  • Response times: Specify how quickly clients should respond to your questions or requests for information (e.g., within two days).
  • Approval process: Clearly state how and when clients should provide feedback and approval on your work.
  • Project scope: At a high level, indicate that additional scope will be billed for the incremental effort. You will specify more about the scope in your SOW. 
  • Communication channels: Agree on preferred communication methods (e.g., email, phone, or project management tools). I prefer email as it gives me a paper trail of my client communications.
  • Availability: Outline the client’s (and your) general availability for meetings or check-ins to ensure regular and productive communication.
  • Additional requests: Specify how new project requests or additional work will be handled and billed.
  • Review periods: Set timeframes for review and revisions to keep the project moving forward without unnecessary delays.
  • Escalation process: Define a process for handling any issues or disputes that may arise during the project.

Approval and Ownership

In the bullets above, I mentioned the importance of outlining the approval process. But this goes deeper than that. You must be clear on how you expect to receive approvals and what happens when you don’t. For example, you might want to indicate that a client has five days to provide project approval after delivery. If you do not receive that requested approval, the project is considered approved, and you can move on.

Also, talk about what approval implies, and have this conversation verbally with your client as well. If they approve a project, they agree to the work as-is and have done all the due checks they require on their end. For my clients, this means that they agree the work is 100% original (I use Copyscape to confirm this with each deliverable), and aligns with any allowance of artificial intelligence that they have agreed to.

Okay, I know the last part of that last sentence might have you thinking—what does artificial intelligence have to do with anything? Whether you use AI (ChatGPT, Jasper, etc.) or not, AI is a thing today, and many copywriters, myself included, use it. Though I try diligently to use it sparingly, I am more and more finding that work I have written with my own brain and my own hands, is flagged as “likely to be generated by ChatGPT content.” 

This can be exceedingly frustrating. But even more frustrating can be a client returning to you weeks or months after approving the work and posting it to their website, now upset that it is flagging as AI. And they want you to rewrite the work. Remember that three thousand dollar loss I talked about earlier in this article? Yep, that was related to AI. I’ll share more about that in a subsequent blog down the road.

The Artificial Intelligence Conundrum

This blog is intended to talk about the importance of a master services agreement and statement of work, not about whether or not you use AI. However, I would do you a disservice if I didn’t mention this here. Artificial intelligence is all around us. And in today’s world, it can help content writers do their jobs faster and better. 

Being upfront about your tool use is non-negotiable—and get it in writing. Don’t rely on verbal conversations to agree about how AI will be used—or will not be used—because I highly believe that as more and more time goes on, it will be harder to get content to get through a tool as 100% human, even if it was indeed written 100% by a human. 

My master services agreement says something similar to the following (feel free to borrow or steal): 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools may occasionally be used to aid in creating content plans and outlines. In certain situations, AI may augment written content. 

Ownership and Rights 

Lastly, your master services agreement needs to outline who owns the work after you deliver it. This might vary depending on the type of writing you do, but in my case, I give my clients full rights to the work I do for them—after I receive their payment. This means that the work is my intellectual property even after they approve it, even if it is on their website until I receive payment. Once it is paid, it’s theirs, and they can do with it however they wish. 

Here are some ways clients might use the work I write for them once they have full rights:

  • Blogs: Publishing articles and blog posts on their website.
  • Website Content: Using the content on various pages of their website.
  • Company Presentations: Including the content in internal or external company presentations.
  • Social Media: Sharing the content on their social media platforms such as Facebook, their LinkedIn company page, X (formerly known as Twitter), Instagram, Pinterest, etc.
  • Flyers and Brochures: Distributing the content through flyers, brochures, and other printed materials in the community.
  • Email Campaigns: Using the content in email marketing campaigns to reach their audience.
  • Press Releases: Including the content in press releases to announce company news or updates.
  • Advertising: Using the content in online or print advertisements to promote their services or products.

The Key Components of a Copywriter Statement of Work (aka Schedule)

With the right stuff in your master services agreement, your SOW is easy. And in case you have already forgotten, what is an SOW? It’s a document that outlines the specific tasks, deliverables, and timelines for a project. Here’s what you need to include:

  • Rates: Specify your rates for the project and note any anticipated rate increases as the partnership progresses. I increase my rates annually, usually in January.,
  • Turn Times: Outline the standard turn times for projects. For example, my standard turn time is seven days for small projects unless agreed otherwise.
  • Delivery Format: Detail how the work will be delivered, such as a Google Doc, in SurferSEO or a similar tool, Microsoft Word, etc.
  • Scope of Work: Clearly define the project’s tasks and deliverables to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Milestones and Deadlines: Set specific milestones and deadlines to keep the project on track.
  • Client Contact Information: Include the client’s contact details for easy communication.
  • Revisions: State the number of revisions included and the request process.
  • Payment Terms: Reiterate the payment terms and schedule from the MSA for clarity.
  • Project Timeline: Provide an overall timeline for the project, including key dates and deadlines.

A Statement of Work (and Master Services Agreement) Creates More Satisfied Clients

Today, all new clients that come to me outside of Upwork are asked to sign a contract. It’s a requirement to move forward. Having a master services agreement and statement of work in place is a must for protecting your business and establishing clear expectations with clients. These documents help prevent misunderstandings and ensure that both parties are on the same page regarding deliverables, payment terms, and communication protocols. 

Don’t make the same mistake I did. Invest the time and money to set up these agreements. This will allow you to avoid costly mistakes and focus on delivering high-quality work.

If you are a new writer and want to learn more about my journey and the mistakes I made, feel free to set up a one-hour paid consultation. I would love to help you get started in a content writing career. 

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