Joen's Rules of Paid Creative Work

These laws should apply to anyone working in the creative field, be it freelance or full-time.

  1. Always make a contract for the work to be done
    Scribble on a piece of paper, what should be made. By doing that, you’re also writing what shouldn’t be made. Get both parties to sign this piece of paper with a signature. Note: A confirmed email counts as a legal document!
  2. Always have a contract for the work to be done
    No exceptions.
  3. Never start work until there is a contract
    The opposite to this rule is called “working for free”.
  4. Do not take assignments that cannot be described on paper as contracts
    It’s bound to fail.
  5. A contract is not verbal
    See Rule #1.
  6. A contract cannot be changed
    A changed contract is a new project. A new project means a new price and a new deadline. In other words, see Rule #1.
  7. Obey Rule #2

This is the path to success.

The other direction means prolonged work, last minute surprises, blown budgets and impossible deadlines.

As Sun Tzu would have said: There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.

If you cannot have a contract: Just Say No™

17 thoughts on “Joen's Rules of Paid Creative Work”

  1. Rogier says:

    And you learned this the hard way? 😉

  2. Anders Rask says:

    I hear you! And I think it doesn’t just apply to creative work but to lots of fields.

    There is however one thing I would like to add which is just as important as these 7 rules you have already. Contracts can be broken, and you should ask yourself beforehand if you are willing to be litigating over any breaks in the contract. Therefore as a rule of thumb, don’t take up work for anyone where you wouldn’t trust them even on a verbal agreement. (Verbal agreements are in the eye of the law just as binding as written ones, it can just be more difficult to prove what the agreement actually was.)

  3. AkaXakA says:

    As Rogier said, I feel you might have something to share with us…

  4. steve says:

    Did someone recently get burned?

    We all learn this the hard way…

    If I might add an addendum in bold, Contracts are also a MUST with family members, especially the ones that say, this’ll be easy for you.

    I use the AIGA standard contract / proposal which I’ve modified a little with the guidance of an attorney. The wheel’s already been built, don’t rebuild it, IMHO.

  5. Joen says:

    Oh indeed I’ve learned it the hard way, and not just this time but several times before. It all boils down to contracts, in one way or the other. Currently it’s nothing I can talk about of course, but suffice to say this post is as much a “note to self” as it is a sincere warning to others.

  6. greymullet says:

    I learnt this one the hard way. I could have done with Steve’s addendum a few years back.

  7. brian says:

    A-friggin-men brother.

    I oughta print this up and hang it on my dang wall to remind my stupid self

  8. Joen says:

    These are actually no-brainers as you read them. The problem is, people (myself definitely included) are still having problems with them. One should think we’d learn after only one mistake.

    Oh, and steve, you’re definitely right about the family members one. Although I have a different rule for that sort of work: “Just Say No to all projects for friends and family”. It saves me most of the time.

  9. Joen says:


    Very insightful, I missed it the first time through.

    Indeed you’re right. As an extension, having NO contract means both parties could be suing eachother, which boils down to your same conclusion: work for people you’d trust.

    The essence of where it gets difficult is: everybody needs money.

  10. Jonas Rabbe says:


    I was just going to append to Steve’s addendum, never, under any circumstances perform payed work for friends or family. It will only end in tears. This is not personal experience, but I’ve seen it happen over and over again.

    The biggest problem with having rules such as these is to actually stick to them. Humans are often limited by how they think other people see them, and (almost) no one wants to be the prick.

  11. i find your rules are insightful and helpful – but you might also want to touch on having a contract.

  12. Joen says:


    Appearantly you do not realize just how important #1 and #2 are? They are the most important ones. That’s right.

  13. Levi says:

    So very, very, very true. And I must say I like the way you’ve said it all too.

    No matter how many times I tell myself ‘the rule’ I always seem to glide over it and end up in a bind.

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