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Would you do a freelance job without a contract?

What's the minimum you look for when considering a freelance job in terms of security and some sort of payment guarantee?

What about a brief? How detailed do you expect the brief/specification to be?

Thanks! :)

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Last Post by Halbo
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no, you need to get a contract how else are you going to get paid?
You'd have no leg to stand on if your client refused to pay or starts making trouble about your work.

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I've been freelancing for 25 years and never had a contract. That being said though, there were quite a few problems in the beginning because I didn't have the experience to recognize disingenuous people. I have always though laid out a prospectus so there was never any confusion of the scope and purpose of the application or project. The only time I did insist on a contract was with a large medical institution where there were many departments and people were always being shuffled in an out of the project. Other than that, most of my work is with small businesses where I'm dealing directly with the person that's signing the cheque. That being said, one thing you can't deny is a contract is just an added measure of insurance if things go sideways.

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I've been freelancing for 25 years and never had a contract. That being said though, there were quite a few problems in the beginning because I didn't have the experience to recognize disingenuous people. I have always though laid out a prospectus so there was never any confusion of the scope and purpose of the application or project. The only time I did insist on a contract was with a large medical institution where there were many departments and people were always being shuffled in an out of the project. Other than that, most of my work is with small businesses where I'm dealing directly with the person that's signing the cheque. That being said, one thing you can't deny is a contract is just an added measure of insurance if things go sideways.

so do you just do jobs and hope the person you are working with pays you like they said they would? is that generally how freelance works?

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so do you just do jobs and hope the person you are working with pays you like they said they would? is that generally how freelance works?

I can't speak to generality, only that is the way I do it and I've had a 95% success rate. Yes I've taken a bath on a few projects and one major one, but ask anyone that's in business and that's not abnormal. I apply one principal and that is to give the customer a quality product and most times they will pay without problem.

What I did in the beginning was to take on small projects that took no more than 3 months just to get my feet wet and then when the 6 year one presented itself I was well prepared and it did in fact turn out to be a very successful experience.

My personal preference was to spend my time coding and analysis, not writing contracts. Bottom line though, you probably won't find to many people in business that would undertake any sort of job without a contract, so it basically boils down to what are comfortable with. I'm sure if you're able to crank out a quality product your customer wouldn't object to a contract. Establishing a reputation is probably the most daunting thing when your breaking out, that pretty well applies to everything though.

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thanks for your reply!

do you usually negotiate payment via email or in person? and what about stuff like source code? do you keep the source code or do they get it?

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Source code is MINE! Now that is entirely another situation, one that I approach quite differently. Twice in my career did I encounter such a situation, but in both cases they already owned the software and rights to code, all I was doing is porting to another platform or hardware environment.

Payments was usually in person because most work I did was local and implementation and training was part of the package so I had to be there physically anyway. I did have the opportunity to do one over the internet, but I just didn't like the situation so I bowed out.

I never put anymore into a project than I can afford to lose. I'm not advocating this is the best method, but there is an element of safety to it.

You may want to consider doing some small probono work. That's a really good way to get yourself known, after that's all an internship is in most cases

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If you're going to spend weeks or months working on a project for a company, why not take the extra five minutes to draw up something simple? What would be the reason not to?

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well in this case i asked if there was going to be a contract and i was told no because it was too time consuming

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If I heard that from someone who was going to pay me, I would run as fast as possible in the other direction. The only reason they wouldn't want a contract is because they think that they might not want to pay you for some reason.

If their business is very important to you, draw up something simple yourself ... even just a paragraph or two summarizing the main points of the project along with the amount you'll be paid. Ask them to sign it and fax it back to you, explaining that it won't take more than 5 minutes.

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well said. The only reason for a prospect to not want to sign a contract stating the terms and scope of the business you're entering into is that they don't intend to pay and/or intend to expand the scope of the work without increasing payment.

So you might end up spending months more there without pay because they claim you didn't do what was agreed and will get paid only when you do the work they tell you to do (and at the end say your work is below par and refuse to pay you at all).

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i work without contract on the terms that 30% is paid before work begins. further 60% on installation/transfer of said software and 10% following 2 weeks after has been fully implemented into system with no problems. DO NOT GIVE THEM ANY CODE!!! and do not send them the product without the money clearing first. also make sure theyre not asking for support as if they come back biting you in the ass for sumthing that isnt working then ur responsible. if they want support. charge them extra!

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Thanks for your advice people!

I went to see the guy today and we spoke about source code. He said he had assumed they would get the source code - because that's what they would be paying me for? He explained that in the future he would need to be able to get into the code to make further adjustments etc so a program that they cant get into is useless for them. what do i do in a case like this? you guys seem pretty adamant about not giving away the code.

i know this sounds really dodgy (understatement!) but i do trust the guy (to a certain extent) cos he is an academic at my uni. It's just that he knows nothing about software development whatsoever (he initially thought the job could be done with no code!)

oh and i got paid 15% today for the work i've produced so far.

so basically my question is - what happens if they ask for the source code?

thank you!

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I got hundreds of snippets that I've developed over the years. Now if I gave someone else the source and they copyrighted it, then I wouldn't be able to use work that I've taken so much time and effort to developed in other programs. The only way I would relinquish source if I copyrighted it and had exclusive rights, OR another way you can do it is to GPL. Long story short, nobody gets my source.

I've only done one job where the customer provided me with all the details, data layout, flow charts etc. All I had to do was code appropriately, therefore the code was thiers'

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Copyrights with code can be tricky. How many lines of code constitute something original enough to be copyrighted? Is the actual code copyrighted or the algorithm? If you write a small function that inputs X and outputs Y and you use it in a wide range of very different applications, can someone else own the rights to one entire program that includes just a small function of yours? What if that function is as simple as squaring a number? How could YOU claim rights to that?

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Excellent points cscgal, and you can be rest assured everyone in a court room would have the same questions. What does this equate too, $$$$ flying out of your wallet while lawyers argue the point. I didn't mean to suggest that I copyright snippets, but as they are a part of the whole, I belive it can lead to a gray area at best. Therefore I devulge nothing, especially as it applies to the application as a whole. In Canada we can replace snippets with puesdo code or black out up to 30% from the source and still copyright. In any case it is common practice to copyright entrie applications. Yet, the battles between M$, Apple & Sun in the past demonstarte how tenuous these situations can become.

Copyright laws internationally seem to have an element of universality and that is why "The Verve" lost all revenue to thier song "Bittersweet Symphony" because the first part of the song belonged to something Mik Jagger & Keith Richards had copyrighted. Jagger got 50% and Richards got 50% all because 4.7% of the song consisted of what belonged to them.

As far as I'm concerned GPL in lollerskates case is one of the more viable options as you can see how effectively it worked for LINUX.

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even if you did put ur code under GPL or copyrighted how would you even keep tabs on the use??? in short.dont give them source code. if its an application. there should be no requirement for a general user to have the source code. its like asking MS to give them the source code when u buy VISTA

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So you see lollerskates the can of worms you've opened. Everyone in my opion in this thread has presented perfectly valid points probably based on past experiences. It all comes down to you (lollerskates), what do you feel comfortable with. You know all the subtle neuances of your client, but I would suggest because you came to this forum maybe there is something you just are not to sure about. Bottom line, I don't beleive there is a succenct solution to your question

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Thanks again for the advice guys! It's interesting hearing different peoples views and I actually agree with both sides of the argument.

I agree that when you buy Vista you don't expect the source code so really what makes my application any different? But I can also see it from their point of view in terms of future development.

Another thing I'm wondering is - what would stop him selling my app to other similar companies once it is done so that he profits from it? I'm guessin there's nothing you can do about that... and I'm starting to see things from the anti-piracy point of view now ;-)

Truth is, if I didn't need the money and didn't care about getting something on my CV I would have ran from this a long time ago. :confused:

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Another idea is providing a limited use license. This basically means that you own the copyright to the source code, but you do give him the source code. He is free to edit / update it for the specific use as laid out between the two of you, but he doesn't have the right to resell it or transfer the license to use it to someone else.

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That would actually be ideal.

Is there any kind of official process for doing that kind of thing? And again, there wouldn't be any way to enforce this would there? I mean, limited use license or not, he could still resell it etc?

But the upside would be I could legally re-use my own code for other projects?

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I would recommend, after discussing with the client what he wants, writing up a specifications document, laying out in writing what the project will do. Then, both you and the client sign it and each gets a copy. It makes certain that you have a record of what was agreed upon. This is a standard practice in the industry and not only shows you to be a professional, but also to protect both you and the customer.

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