It is becoming more and more common to work as a freelance artist rather than work for a firm, whether as a photographer, videographer, graphic designer, web designer, or similar professional.

I often get questions such as “Do I need a contract?” “Contracts are too legal. Can I make a simple one?” “Oh, I trust [insert client name]. We don’t need a contract!” “I’m not dealing with much money, so I don’t need a contract anyway.” “Contracts scare people away. How do I deal with that?”

It is good practice to have written contracts with all of your clients. Contracts can help make sure you and your client understand exactly the terms of the deal. Here are five tips to keep in mind when you’re thinking about your contracts.

1. You should have a written contract.

It is highly recommended that you use a written contract. Oral contracts or “gentlemen’s agreements” are ineffective and are tough to prove exactly what the terms are if a dispute arises. If the terms are oral and/or unclear, you may actually have to go to court to prove the terms of the contract. Get the terms of the deal in writing and lay them out clearly. This could be a series of e-mail exchanges, a social media message exchange, etc. Writing terms down on napkins have even worked for people in the past. These can all form a legally binding contract. Contracts come in all shapes and sizes. You can tailor your contract to fit your purpose. It can be short, to the point, and lay out the basics.

2. “But why do I need a contract?”

Generally speaking, we all hope that people are “nice” and “honest” when we are entering into agreements. This doesn’t always work out for you though. Contracts protect you just as much as they protect your client. It is better to be proactive and prepare for the worst while hoping for the best. Significant preparation on the front end will pay off in the long term should you actually need to go to court and assert your rights. Contracts are efficient tools to lay out in writing what happens if one party breaches, what each party can do to fix a default, etc.

3. Are there certain things I need to include in my contract?

You are not obligated to put anything in particular in your contract. It is smart to include the basics of what your deal is: price, dates, payment, etc. You can also provide for what happens if either party defaults (doesn’t do what he/she was supposed to do), who will pay attorney’s fees if a lawsuit is filed, where a lawsuit must be filed, etc.

4. You can protect your work through your contract!

Intellectual property, copyright, and trademark law are separate areas of law from contract law, but your contract is where you can state who has the legal rights to the photographs/designs/logos/other creative medium. This protects you from others printing, uploading, distributing, or using your creations for money elsewhere without your consent. Seems pretty important, right?

5. Do I need a lawyer to draft a contract?

No, you do not; however, consulting with an attorney to go through a contract with you or draft one for you will help you navigate the nuances in the law and subject matter. Each state has different contract laws, so a lawyer can do the heavy lifting for you and draft a contract to adequately protect your work and your interests.

About the Author: Patrick Morrison is an attorney with Grant, Konvalinka & Harrison, P.C. (“GKH”). Patrick is a native to the Chattanooga area and a graduate from Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences. Patrick pursued his undergraduate studies at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee and continued to pursue his legal education at the University of Tennessee College of Law. While attending law school, Patrick actually worked as the law school’s photographer and videographer.

Patrick is an experienced lawyer relating to contracts and business law. To learn more about Patrick or GKH, contact Patrick at 423-756-8400 or by email at

This blog is not intended to create an attorney/client relationship or provide legal advice. Please contact the author if you have any questions or comments regarding the subject matter.