Freelance Contracts, Payment Terms, Request Forms and All the Details of Getting Paid (And Not Screwed Over)

There’s this great story about John Wooden — who won 10 NCAA basketball championships in 12 years with the UCLA Bruins and was also responsible for the quote that’s the subject line of this email.

Anyway, as the story goes…

Every year he coached, he’d start all his teams off the same way. The very first practice of the year, he’d take the freshmen aside and start by teaching them how to tie their shoes. 

Keep in mind… these were the nation’s top recruits and included guys like Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. 

He’d show them how to put on their socks, how to lace their shoes, how to tie them… every painstaking detail. Later came how to tuck in their shirts and tie the know in their shorts. How to shower and comb their hair.

It’s easy to laugh at or mock.

But, 10 championships in 12 years speaks for itself.

The point?

Yes, all those things were important for a basketball player, but it was really about attention to detail. Here’s Wooden’s full quote: “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

Those little details, he believed, are what made the championships happen.

Because if he could get a player to focus on the little details of putting on their shoes and socks and tying their shorts… he could get them to focus on the details of boxing out, rebounding, passing, and shooting.

The big things.

So, I’ll be honest with you…

Today’s topic might seem a bit mundane. It’s not the exciting flashy business of crafting an offer or killing it on social media — or any of the other fun-sounding, exciting things you might do as a freelancer.

It’s some of those little details…

But, critical ones. Details that set the tone for the rest of your interaction with a client and, frankly, the part of the process where the client is most nervous — where things can easily go awry.

And, that is them actually saying “yes” and hiring you.

In marketer-speak, today we’re “optimizing the order process”.

Said another way… making it easy for people to give you money. And, we’re going to look at the five “big rocks” of going from a quote request to a signed contract and deposit — and how to smooth that process so you have less “abandonment”.

And how to set context and expectations that lead to a successful project.

Those five big rocks are:

  1. Quote request form
  2. Negotiations
  3. Contract
  4. Payment terms
  5. Payment processing

1. Quote Request Form

Everything we did with the offer leads up to this. I’ve seen freelancers use ultra-complicated forms and things as simple as “DM me” or “email me at…”. Here’s what I’ve found…

When you’re starting out and/or you’re not currently overrun with people trying to hire you… keep the form simple. Name, email, and “describe your project a bit”. You’ll have to weed through more people that aren’t a good fit or are discount shopping and all that.

But, better to get those contacts than not early on.

As you start to get more clients and you’re able to be more picky, start to qualify in your quote request form. Include a “budget” option, for example, and then specify the budget ranges you’ll accept. These subtly communicate to potential clients the kinds of prices you charge.

Ultimately, as you work with more clients, you’ll start to figure out the kinds of questions to ask in order to get the kind of clients you want. It’ll be different for everyone, but the quote request form is a good way to qualify clients.

2. Negotiations

There’s always a negotiation. Someone will submit the quote request form, ask some questions probably, and you’ll haggle back and forth a bit. The thing I’ve learned here is to have “bright lines” around what you will and won’t do.

Think about this beforehand.

  • What’s the lowest you’ll accept for your service?
  • How far will you let the scope creep?
  • What are you willing to do communication-wise?

And, so on. It’s really easy to start saying yes to everything when someone’s waving cash in your face. So, set your boundaries beforehand and stick to them.

Again, early on, you probably should be willing to do a little more and take a little less. But, as you grow, you can afford to be more picky and stick to your guns. So, don’t be afraid to re-assess, adjust, and ultimately stand up for yourself a bit.

3. Contract

First off… yes, you should have a contract. If you’re not doing that now, you’re leaving yourself vulnerable. I actually did get sued by an unreasonable client one time in my career and my contract saved me.

So, put in clear, explicit terms everything you agree to verbally.

What should a freelance contract include?

There are lots of templates and services out there. Personally, I use “Contract Killer” (info here). It’s a nice plain-language contract used by thousands of designers and developers and it includes things like:

  • Scope of services
  • How written content will be handled
  • Who provides graphics and images
  • How changes and revisions are handled
  • How testing is done
  • How it’ll be delivered
  • Backups
  • Hosting
  • Intellectual property rights
  • Payment schedule

It’s nice because it includes provisions specifically for designers and developers and it’s written in plain language instead of legalese — which clients tend to appreciate.

Of course, I’m not a lawyer and you should contact a lawyer if you have any questions or are unsure about anything. Also, there are services like HelloSign that you can use to get your contracts signed.

I won’t go deep into that… there are a lot of options and info on that.

4. Payment Terms

Your contract should, of course, contain your payment terms. Again, lots of ways to handle payments. 100% upfront, 50/50, 100% at the end, etc. I use a 10/60/30 model.

  • 10% deposit due when the contract is signed.
  • 60% due when the project is complete on my side.
  • 30% due after installing on their side.

This works for me because I’m building websites. So, I can build the site on a local server and get that 60% payment before I install it on their servers. That protects me and I’ve never had a problem since I started using this model.

Of course, that may or may not work for your service.

But, as much as possible… keep honest people honest. Set up a payment structure that protects you, but also keeps them comfortable.

(By the way, Lesson 10 in my Beginner’s Guide to Freelance course covers this in even more depth. I show you my exact process for collecting payments, how to handle issues, and things you can do to make sure you don’t get hosed. That course is included in the extended free trial you get when you join Skillshare via my referral link here:

5. Payment Processing

Finally, you need to actually accept the payment. Again, lots of options, but I use QuickBooks. I love it because the client can pay with virtually anything (credit card, bank account, Google Pay, Apple Pay, PayPal, etc)… and it ties right into my bookkeeping… so, it’s slick.

But, you could use PayPal or Venmo or whatever you prefer.

And so, that takes you from the irresistible offer you created to a signed contract, deposit and now you’re ready to work.

Up next, we’ll get into delivering your service and tricks I’ve learned for delivering in a way that creates word of mouth — the key to success in any service business. Tomorrow, we’ll start with onboarding and the process I use for that.

And, again, if you want to jump, learn all this faster, and get even more tricks be sure to check out my Beginner’s Guide to Freelance course on Skillshare. You can get it via the extended free trial you get when you use my referral link which is here:



P.S. If you got value from this email, I’d appreciate it if you’d share it with anyone you know that you think could benefit. That helps me grow my audience and I’d be extremely grateful. 🙂

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John Morris


I’m a 15-year veteran of freelance web development. I’ve worked with bestselling authors and average Joe’s next door. These days, I focus on helping other freelancers build their freelance business and their lifestyles.

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