Silly clauses in contracts for creatives and how to overcome them

Silly clauses in contracts for creatives and how to overcome them

Creatives fall in many categories it would be difficult to mention all of them. They broadly occupy spaces in music production, advertising, film and photography, book production, social media and mainstream media. These areas subtly integrate with all other industries that these industries cannot function properly – rather profitably – without the input of the creative world.

One would think because of this hallowed place creatives occupy they are treated as such. The irony is that this ‘hallowed’ profession has some of the worst challenges in the labour world, including poor pay, late payments, unhonoured contracts, crazy working conditions (mostly, creatives are required to have their own equipment to survive), and what have you. Surviving as a freelance creative in Kenya or any other part of the world should probably be added to the 1000 ways to die miserably.

So, how can creatives save themselves from this misery?

Always do this one thing before taking on a job, even if the employer is a close friend. SIGN A CONTRACT! In fact, close friends will literally screw you up – you lose the money and the friendship.

Again, do not just sign any contract. Read the details of the contract. The following are some of the important things to note when signing your contract for a freelance job:

Language of the contract

Do you understand the language in which the contract is written? The meaning of each word? If you do not understand the language, ask for something you can understand. This does not mean a contract written in foreign language, but one written with some unnecessary legal jargon with intention for you not to understand. Very UNNECESSARILY LONG contracts are culprits for this.


Is your contract clear enough? Do you understand the scope of the job and the deliverables? If the scope of the job is vague, politely ask for a clear contract. A good contract for freelancers should detail in point form:

  • the deliverables
  • the timelines for delivery
  • reference person when carrying out the job
  • compensation breakdown
  • timelines for payment

About the last point, do not shy from delving into it once you have discussed the first four. After all, you are not in it for the passion only but for the money. And this money should be paid on time. The drawer of the contract should put dates for each payment.

Many contracts are usually vague on this issue. You may find something like:

‘ …X will pay 10 percent of the total amount before start of the job. 15 percent of the remainder will be paid upon delivery of 70 percent of the job. The remaining amount will be paid upon satisfactory completion and delivery of the job. …’

What does that even mean? How do you measure 70 percent of a creative job? In most cases, it is the employer who determines whether your work is 50 percent or 70 percent completed. Isn’t that nearing nonsense, since you are the one doing the work and know exactly the portion done and the portion remaining? How do you handle that? CREATE A CHECKLIST together with the employer before you start the work!

There is that other problem of ‘ … The remaining amount will be paid upon satisfactory completion and delivery of the job.’

Creatives would agree satisfying an employer who is determined not to get satisfied is like playing chess with a little devil. The checklist should help you in this. Every deliverable that you sign against as completed should be deemed ‘satisfactory’ to the employer. Once you sign off the last item on the checklist, that MUST equal satisfaction!

You also notice there is no timeframe in that clause.

Always insist on having a timeframe for payments from the date you sign off the last item on the checklist.

For instance, the contract should clearly state that you will be paid the remaining monies within 30 days after you invoice! Any additional time should attract some interest (are you scared of being firm when the other party is crazy firm about delivery? Don’t be.)

Know who is paying

Your reference person (with whom you countersign a contract) is your go to person when settling invoices. Make that clear. It is their job to deal with the accounts office to make sure you are paid.

Almost every creative has heard of this phrase: “Our client has not yet paid, we are just waiting for them to pay then we will pay you.” Silly, isn’t it? You never signed a contract with THEIR client!

Again, companies don’t wait to make profit to pay their employees. If the company is relying on the client for your payment, they should make it clear in the contract, and you should agree to it or not. Otherwise, once they have made their budgets, your pay IS in that budget. The contract they have signed with THEIR client has nothing to do with you.

Ask around

Now, asking around is not a bad thing. People have histories, so do companies. Inquire in your network. Be clever with their employees, mostly they are honest to let you know their company really TAKES TIME to pay freelancers. You may discover there are some people who worked on a project there 12 months ago and they are yet to be paid.

A company that does not fairly treat freelancers – the same way as they would their employees – in terms of payment schedules is not worth working for.


Desperation should never cloud your judgement when reading contracts. Things like exposure payment, late payment, non-payment for delivered work, are recipe for mental instability. Hopefully, current and future employers are reading this too. The same pressure and energy they exert on creatives for ‘satisfactory’ delivery MUST BE exercised when it comes to compensating them.

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