If you are a freelance SEO writer or other type of freelancing professional, you are probably going to have to create a statement of work at some point along the way. So this post is going to look at these things a little bit: what statements of work are, why they are important, and how to create one.

Why On Earth Do You Need a Statement of Work?

A statement of work is like a contract. It is a written agreement between two parties regarding a project or deliverable – something along those lines. It is a document stating that one party agrees to perform services for another and it typically defines some of the parameters of the project and its scope. Importantly, it also often contains things that are NOT involved in the project.

You need a statement of work sometimes because it clearly states what you and the client are mutually agreeing to – what the project definitions are. By having a single outline document to which you both agree, it reduces the potential of scope creep, missed deliverables, or other potential misunderstandings along the way.  You might look at them like a contract – but they are typically lacking some of the starch and legalese that contracts imply. Plus, they’re probably not as binding…I can’t say to that, as I have never had to take either through a court battle. But it seems that the omission of the legally binding terms found in contracts makes it less enforceable.

But you’ll often need a statement of work if you don’t have a contract, or you don’t have relationship with the client (you don’t know if they will flake on you or not) or you feel the need to protect yourself as a project begins – you want to define your understanding of it, clearly, and define the responsibilities of all involved parties.

So if you freelance with any regularity, it is a good idea to get one together whenever you need it – and then keep it around as a template for any more that may come along. Less and less of my own clients ask for this kind of document to get something going these days, but knowing how they work and how to use them allows me to be attractive to those clients who are more used to this approach – like agencies, and larger corporate clients. Some folks ask for it in an initial consultation, so I can answer: “Sure – let me get that right over to you.”

What Should a Statement of Work  Template Include?

I am sure there are some formal guidelines to these documents out there somewhere, but I go with what works. So apologies if this is not the “correct” way – it has been correct enough for me. It likely varies a bit, depending on the nature of the project you are covering.

Typically, I would section it off, so you can include a brief look at all relevant aspects of the agreement. This generally includes an overview, a list of deliverables, a list of any tonal/branding considerations, a list of technical considerations – e.g. how each deliverable will be sent, a timeline or calendar of scheduled events, a list of other considerations or details, a list of projected delivery dates and payment milestones, and finally, a list of things defined as being “out of scope” for the effort.

  • Overview/Executive Summary: A generalized look at the intentions of the effort – such as “to build content bringing more visits to this site because of XYZ.” Usually about one to two paragraphs, explaining the overall effort – used to indicate a full understanding of scope.
  • Deliverables: This is the heart of this document really, which are the items you’ll be creating to answer to the needs outlined in the overview. Bullet out each deliverable, stating what it is and why it plays a part in the overall strategy.
  • Tonal Considerations: You want to spec out details of the tone that you identify as important to the voice of the project. This may be from info the client sends, research you perform independently or most often a mix of both.
  • Technical Considerations: These are details about the deliverable files – any specs on the way they need to be delivered. If you are writing, identifying in it is a word document or a coded html snippet would be something you clarify here. Again, this is a point where you clarify that you and the client are talking about the same thing, and share the same expectations.
  • Timeline: a calendar-related schedule for deliverables – this avoids issues later, and gives a nice foundation for everyone to rely on and trust. It also alerts all teams involved of expected due dates – this is crucial to better coordinate larger efforts.
  • Other: It is important for a workable template to have an “other” category as a catch-all for the details a project might carry with it. Each project is certainly unique, so in this section, you can add the oddball details and let them be what they are. You might add what the client’s expected role is, or anything required here to keep the project on schedule. A brief mention of dependencies can help to illustrate the need for ongoing communication throughout the project.
  • Out of Scope: This is a crucial part of the document, allowing you to define things that you will NOT be doing during this effort. Not so necessary on smaller things, it can certainly save your ass in bigger projects. I do like to address this – it is also a place to feed ideas to the client about future work…you mention cool ideas that you will not be doing here, but make sense.
  • Budget: I always like to ensure my budget for the details will be clearly written as a shared reference point -again, it helps to avoid confusion. Talk about exactly what their money is going to cover – and specify how you’ll calculate any overage (be it hourly, flat rate, etc.).
  • Signatures: The whole point of this document, is two parties agreeing on something – so you need both to sign-off on it. A signature page does not always require a physical signature (entering: sig on file and having the info elsewhere works) but it give you a place to stop the project – make sure you are both agreeing to its terms and conditions (signing off on the shared understanding of each here). Have offline contact info listed in the document, so you can correct anything that hinders the signing  and enactment of it.

So that’s it really: just start with a good template that points out milestones and understood specifics in direction and production, and fill in the blanks. It does not have to be too overly formal – but I do find a cross between formal writing and casual tends to hit it well for most things on these docs. When in doubt, lean toward the more formal approach than a casual one: it is always better to spell it out, clearly and deliberately. I also find that the section on “Out of Scope” items is essential to a lot of projects – stating clearly what you are not doing can be a great way to avoid issues. Let’s say you are assigned half of a marketing effort, for example, you’d want to define the items in the other half as being NOT your responsibility, even though they are required for the project to be successful…it shows you and the client agree that these are not your tasks.

Finding Statement of Work Templates

OK – you probably got a good handle on what they are, so now where can you find them? You might start here:

But really, if you uniquely brand a Word document (use a logo in the header and add footer contact information) you could literally copy the bullets above, and simply make them work for your project(s).

In case you are still struggling to see what I mean, I created a little template here from an old one I did back in 2001…Free Statement of Work Template. If you use this one, at a minimum replace all the CN references with your business name, and use it to create something specific to your efforts. Be careful to look it over really well, so any information in it is specific to you and not a holdover from this template.

A semi-formal statement of work shows you are considering the deeper details of an effort and are a professional, so even if they are not requested, most people are not going to mind if you want one used. They do serve as protection against misunderstandings that can get tense and costly for either side or both.

Use Them as You Need Them

The idea behind creating more paperwork here is, by having a single point of reference in a SOW document (as they are often called), you can stay focused on the project and avoid issues for both you and the client. You can deflect scope creep. You can stay on budget, or  know when it is OK to bill more and how much to charge (a good detail to add under the “Budget” section – “This project is budgeted for $X for [deliverables]; with any extra time being factored in at a discounted rate of $X/hr/day, etc.”). You know what they want their deliverables to be, in what format using the proper tone and on which calendar dates.

In a nutshell, it protects you both to honor the project by spelling it all out, and allowing you to sign-off on agreeing to it.

I personally, have not had to use them in a looooong time (most of my clients have been here with me for years) – but a conversation with a friend recently and a close shave on a project brought them to mind, so I thought I would share my experiences with them anyway.

One time, I had a fine SOW in place (as well as a contract), but the client jumped mid-stream anyway…and the amount was too small for me to justify pursuing in small claims (where I am sure I would’ve won)…I simply let it go. Not so sure I would let it go today, but I know more now, and am a bit more protective of my time than I have been in the past. Luckily, as I said, I hardly ever bust one of these out any longer – most of my work is arranged in an email or Skype call with people I trust a lot.

If you are trying to sort these out, and found this post but need more help – just shoot me an email or comment below, and I will do what I can to help you sort it out.

It may be a hassle-ly bit of paperwork, but ultimately, it can save you from heartache and can keep your work life much easier to deal with. It is definitely a document you need to be familiar with and comfortable producing quickly as needed – some clients do ask for them, so you want to take it in stride, and say “Sure: let me tweak one out, and I’ll have it to you this afternoon.”

If you have a decent template that has worked for you, you will find it only takes an hour or so to make sure something like this is complete and accurate to the new effort, with all the new client details (be sure to edit it well!). The difference in having it later on can be illustrated in something simple, like a date or tone expectation to be reiterated or re-established in some way – but many times, it is used as the basis to argue why you won’t do something – because it is clearly out of scope from the stated plans. A project likes to bubble all over the place sometimes, so this is one document that helps to protect both parties involved from the effort spinning out of control.