Download my plain English copywriting contract

Signing on the lineWhen I started out, I didn’t have any kind of copywriting contract for my clients to sign. But after a few months of relying on informal, emailed proposals, I felt I needed something more official.

Yes, contracts are boring, dull, tedious and generally unenjoyable. But they are important.

They explain exactly what each party in a business relationship should expect – and what they have to do. They can also be invaluable if things ever go wrong, because it’s harder to argue with something if it’s written down in black and white.

Here’s my copywriting contract for free

Most contracts I’ve encountered are written using lots of legalese and can be very confusing. I wanted mine to use plain language, so anyone could understand it. To get going, I needed some inspiration, so I hunted around and found Andy Clarke‘s excellent killer contract.

This seemed like a great starting point, so I grabbed it and made some pretty substantial changes. Andy offered his contract up to anyone who wanted to use it, and in the same spririt, I’m doing that too. So download my copywriting contract now. It’s available in several file formats:

I received a lot of really helpful feedback while working on this. So thanks to Simon Wicks, Matt Telfer, Matthew Stibbe, Jim Anning and Martin Grocock.

What you need to know about my copywriting agreement

Feel free to download my copywriting agreement and use it however you like. All I ask is that if you republish it, you mention me and link back here.

You can change it any way you want. At the very least, you’ll need to replace the bits in square brackets with your own details and decide how you want to handle cancellations.

Oh – and this is important: I’m not a legal professional, so get your legal eagles to examine it properly if you decide to use it.

More information about my copywriting agreement

I tailored this contract to address the following problems in particular, because they’re things I’ve been concerned about when working with clients:

  • Scope creep. I usually work to a fixed price on projects and try to be flexible. Clients seem to prefer this – but I’ve been worried they’ll see my flexibility as an invitation to change the brief midway through a project, creating lots of extra work for me.
  • Tardy payment. So far, I’ve been pretty lucky – most clients are super-speedy payers. But with no agreed payment schedule beyond the 30 days stated on my invoice, I’ve not been particularly well covered if I do hit problems.
  • Deadline drift. It’s a real pain when you turn a job round fast only for the client take forever to decide on revisions. It makes scheduling jobs trickier – and it takes longer to get back up to speed if I’ve not worked on a project for a while.

These may or may not be things that concern you – and so you might want to add or remove bits from the contract before you use it.

Bad clients are still bad clients

I don’t think even the best contract in the world can ever substitute for treating your clients properly, communicating with them effectively and doing each job to the best of your ability. And it would be a bit naïve to think a contract can protect you entirely from bad clients.

But what it can do is make your business relationships more official, provide a clear document to refer to in the event of any sort of disagreement – and give you a bit leverage if things go wrong. If you use mine, please, let me know how you get on.

71 responses to “Download my plain English copywriting contract”

  1. Alistair says:

    Gosh, thanks for the contract doc. Very welcome. Sorry about your netbook. My own powerbook G4 is teetering towards meltdown and the screen is a patchwork of glowing blobs. It’s probably not worth fixing it but I’m struggling to justify buying a new one – at three times the price of a Windows laptop.

  2. John, I think this is a very helpful contribution and it’s noble of you to share it. Agreeing contract terms up front like this could be a really good way of educating a client in how to use a writer properly. I’m blogging about it on Thursday.

  3. John says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    @Alistair- you’re welcome, let me know if you find it useful. I’ve stuck my netbook on eBay in an obvious ploy to let someone else have the hassle of fixing it. Replacement screens are about £70, so it’d be a bargain for anyone who can fix it themselves.

    @Matthew- likewise, thanks. Probably worth reiterating that I don’t see it as a substitute for maintaining communications and doing all the other stuff that ensures a good relationship, but I think it can be a useful tool. I’ve used it with a few clients now – no complaints so far!

  4. […] McGarvey has produced a really nice plain English contract for copywriting. I do things a bit differently but we share the same […]

  5. Ben Locker says:

    Brilliant idea, and so kind of you to share it. Something like this would have saved me a lot of hassle on a couple of occasions.

  6. […] are from Venus, so agreeing what is in scope is very important. I use a detailed project brief. John McGarvey prefers a more formal […]

  7. Lisa Martin says:

    Thanks John, your contract is really helpful! :)

  8. […] contract (and I HIGHLY recommend that you have one. If you haven’t got one yet, try amending this one for your own needs). Tell them that you’re looking forward to starting the project, but you […]

  9. Dawn Comber says:

    Hi John,

    (I know this is a really late comment but I just found you now!) Thank you very much for sharing the contract that you developed over years of experience. I have been using my quotes as the contract but I realise that some important items are not clearly spelled out in my quote. I will use your contract as a “template” but will customize it (and perhaps shorten it) for my clients. I’ll share my final version with you soon. Another business task.

    Cheers, Dawn

  10. I’ve only ever freelanced with the protection of a recruitment agency behind me, but will shortly be drawing up my own copywriting contract for freelance work before I start approaching businesses. I feel a bit intimidated and really want to start out on the right foot, so have been looking at copywriting pieces online – and came across yours.

    I just wanted to say a big thank you for being kind enough to share your excellent contract and insight. I looked at the one on Open Office just now, it strikes just the right balance between informality, clarity and professionalism. No mean feat. Thank you! x

  11. Karen says:

    Thank you very much for sharing this contract and pass the blessing forward. It has been an eye opener and I know it will be useful. I will start using it right away. Have a nice day.

  12. Christine Day says:

    I kindly thank you John for your generosity in sharing such a well written and easy-to-follow agreement. I am just getting started with my freelance business and this is so insightful and helpful.

  13. Abidemi Sanusi says:

    Hi John

    This is a great idea. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Rachel says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this – it’s exactly what I was looking for.

  15. Susie says:

    It would be wrong of me to download this without saying thank you (I was brought up proper) So, thank you!

  16. Thank you for supplying a contract example. This will definitely save me a lot of time and effort to customize my own contracts.

  17. This is perfect! Thank you so much. Like you, I’ve been doing things far too informally than I should, and I’ve been thinking I should probably get something more binding in place than a friend chat over coffee. This fits the bill.

    Many thanks again


  18. You’ve obviously put a lot of thought into this…. Thanks very much for sharing!

  19. Jodie says:

    Thank you for this very useful document. I added an additional note into my contract which may be useful for some copywriters:

    Unless otherwise noted in the Assignment Details, the scope of this project does not include special file formatting requests, indexing, design services, fact checking, technical writing or data entry.

  20. Milo says:

    This is a lifesaver – thanks so much for your generosity John.

  21. I don’t think I’ve said before but this document really has come in so handy – thank you! I’ve adapted it for my own needs in the past and recommended it to some very grateful “newbie” freelancers. Brilliant resource for any copywriter or content writer.

  22. Bethan says:

    Thank you for this!

  23. Thanks a lot for this download, it’s handy as I start my marketing campaign to attract new clients.

    All the best.

    Visiting you from Australia.

  24. Dena says:

    This is absolutely brilliant for those making the leap into freelance. Thank you so much for sharing – how generous of you.

  25. Oliver says:

    Dipping my toes back into copywriting after an eight-year absence. Your contract template is excellent. Thank you.

  26. Thank you very much for making this available. I’ll definitely be using it to make sure I have clear agreements with my clients going forward.

  27. Hana says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this document, John. A real help in putting all my energy back into the job I love to do, writing, rather than spending it trying to figure out complicated legal matters. Thanks a million!

  28. This is certainly the best version of a freelance contract I’ve seen. It has just the right tone and I wanted to thank you for sharing your ideas and knowledge so generously.


  29. Norma Rickman says:

    Thank you so much for this, John. This is extremely generous of you. I’ve been looking for a good copywriting contract I can modify and nothing I’ve seen is even half as good as this. Much appreciated!

  30. Christine says:

    John, thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve been staring at a blank screen trying to create my contract (not a good feeling for a writer) and this gives me a perfect jumping-off point.

  31. Rachel says:

    THANK YOU so much for this! After one too many bad experiences, I’m now going to be implementing a contract to be signed at the start of each project, and this is completely invaluable. Thanks again! :)

  32. Vicky says:

    This is awesome. I’m trying to make my way as a freelance copywriter and anything that helps me navigate the legal minefield of going it alone is very helpful. Thanks for sharing this with newbies like me.

  33. Robyn Petrik says:

    Thanks for sharing this, what a super valuable resource. It was refreshing to see a contract so well worded and readable but still clearly professional.

  34. […] means am I claiming that this is be-all and end-all advice. There are plenty of wonderful blogs out there with great advice. There are many resources at your disposal – use them. We writers are […]

  35. Jenifer says:

    Thank you for posting this! My first paid copywriting job just fell into my lap, after years of copyediting for my friends on a strictly volunteer basis. I needed a contract ASAP, and this was perfect. I have downloaded it and adapted it to my needs, but I have credited you in fine print on the bottom of each page. You are an angel, John!

  36. Ah! A timely find. As with some of the other commentators on here, I’ve so far got by with e-mails and so on but have recently come to the conclusion that that’s not perhaps professional enough and also too open to misinterpretation.

    Not wishing to re-invent the wheel a quick Google search for this type of document revealed your site. Thank you!

  37. Dave Harland says:

    John, this has been invaluable! I downloaded and tweaked your template when I started taking on more freelance clients a few months back and it was an ideal starting point. I loved the plain English approach and my clients have too. This was even before we met at the Copywriting conference, and only now have I put 2 and 2 together that it was you that I downloaded the original from. Thanks again.

  38. Priscilla says:

    Thank you very much, Getting my ducks in a row. So excited about the changes in this new year.

    Peace and Write On,

  39. Lauryn Doll says:

    I love this contract. It’s so perfect for small and simple copywriting jobs. I sincerely appreciate this. Thank you.

  40. Linda says:

    Thanks for sharing your contract template. Easy, clear, precise — thank you!

  41. Louise says:

    Thanks for sharing. Looks like people have been using this for years and long may it continue :) *raises glass of something fizzy*

  42. Alex J. Rhowuniong says:

    Hi John,

    I totally agree with Linda… this is so “easy, clear and precise”! Exactly what I need.

    Thank you much!

  43. […] searched online for freelance writing contracts. One of the first links I found was for a plain English copywriting contract, put together and declared free to use by the copywriter Jon […]

  44. A big thank you from me too. Been winging it with emails and crossed fingers … now putting things on a more professional level, and this has saved me loads of time – and provided peace of mind. Great example of paying it forward! Good on you …

  45. Ricky says:

    Nice template man. If you need a web based framework to embed your proposal in check out.

  46. Hi John

    Thank you so much for making this contract freely available. Like other people have said, I’ve been winging it for years on verbal agreements. This will help me to look and feel more professional. Many thanks. Really like your website by the way. Clean and simple. Cheers!

  47. James Burton says:

    Late to the party but just wanted to say thanks. I found this via the PCN and intend to lightly adapt it for my fledgling freelance business. For a copywriter it’s important that every bit of writing the client sees is appealing, contract included. This one makes a good impression. Much obliged!

  48. Maurice Elom says:

    Also late to the bus party. Sending my sincere appreciations for this invaluable piece of contract.

  49. Liz Villegas says:

    I’m late too, but I really wanted to say thanks! This is brilliant.

  50. Wesley Young says:

    I started freelance copywriting in Manchester a couple of years ago — and I wish I’d found your template sooner. Lovely plain English. Great peace of mind for both the client and myself. Couple of personal tweaks and it works a treat. Thank you, John.

  51. Amy Boylan says:

    Huge thanks, John. I downloaded the contract from the PCN site and really appreciate your generosity in sharing. Perfect tone for clarity without terrifying a client!

  52. Judith Ansty says:

    Very thankful for this. Thank you for sharing your contract John

  53. Abigail says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your contract with us.

  54. Rob Beadle says:

    Thanks John – I’m joining the happy band of copywriters who’ve made use of your excellent plain English contract. Thanks again.

  55. Thanks for helping out the community! This rocks!

  56. Kelly Griffin says:

    This is really useful – thank you for sharing!

  57. Ines says:

    Excellent website, love your content! Thank you for sharing this helpful freelance contract sample! Lifesaver!

  58. Kalann says:

    John, my guy, my dude, bro

    Thank you.

  59. pip fox says:

    your provision of this incredibly useful template – for free – exemplifies real generosity of spirit! Merci beaucoup from Adelaide, Australia (will let you know when the book comes out) ;)

  60. Sonia A Manconi says:

    I want to thank you for sharing your knowledge and contracts with all of us John. I needed something pretty quick with two other partners on some songs I will be using. You are an Angel John!!!

  61. Thank you so kindly for sharing this! It’s perfect for my beginnings as a heart-centered wordsmith for coaches. You’re really helping the world more than you may realize :)

    Have a beautiful day,

  62. khalid says:

    Thank you so much, it’s a very helpful document.

  63. Rin says:

    This is amazing. Thank you, John!

  64. Love this John. A contract that sounds human. Thank you for sharing.

  65. Thank you SO much for sharing this. I had just about turned my brain inside out reading a contract I found online prior to discovering yours. By the third sentence, I might as well have been reading Greek. So refreshing to have something that makes sense. Thanks again. I’ll be sure to pass on your details to my other Freelance Copywriting crew.

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