Jessica’s Client Email Helper

Negotiating incoming project terms over email is difficult for even the well-seasoned professional. I’ve created this handy tool to help you say “no” to free and low-budget work and to help ask for more favorable contract terms before the start of a project. I tried to make it as comprehensive and flexible as possible, but every creative industry is a bit different so feel free to adapt my words to best suit your personal situation.

Choose Your Own Email-venture Below!


  • Ad Agency
  • General Client
  • Nonprofit
  • Charity
  • Friend
  • Doesn’t Matter


  • None
  • Very Low
  • Good


  • Reasonable
  • Quick Turnaround
  • Far-Future Start Date
  • No Deadline

Contract Curveballs

  • Work-for-Hire
  • Brief/Contract Discrepency
  • No Kill Fee
  • Exceeds Project Scope
  • Non-Compete
  • Social Posting
Email updates with your selections

Dear __________,

Thanks for thinking of me for this project and for reaching out! It seems like a great opportunity — I love doing work for charitable organizations. I think it’s important that we outline a clear schedule with deliverable expectations and deadlines so that everyone is on the same page about how the project will progress and what the total scope of the project (including usage) entails. Ideally there will be a bit more creative freedom as I will be donating my time, but of course I will make sure to work within the brief constraints and ensure that in the end everyone is happy with the result. If you have a standard contract, feel free to send that over and I’ll let you know if I have any questions or edits. If not, I can put one together and have that to you shortly.

Really looking forward to working with you!

Hey! Good to hear from you! Thanks for thinking of me for this project and for reaching out. I’m happy to help out with your project! We can go about this a few different ways:

  1. 1. We work with a real (but reasonable) budget and I treat you like I would any other client (i.e. excellently) with the same quality/quantity of work delivered and plenty of room for feedback and collaboration.
  2. 2. I work for free, but I have total creative control and do as much work as I can manage in my schedule. I will respect any deadlines that you give me, but appreciate flexibility. In exchange, you can buy me coffee every now and then.
  3. 3. Something between “proper client relationship” and “friend favor” — we limit the rounds of work, I have complete creative control, and you treat me to a fancy dinner or buy me a very (very) nice bottle of whiskey.

Either way, we should write up a proper contract so we both know what we’re getting into — let me know what path you want to take and I can send one for you to sign over ASAP.

Thanks for thinking of me for this project and for reaching out! It seems like a great opportunity.

I can definitely work with a quick turnaround time, though I do charge a rush fee if the schedule is so aggressive that it requires weekend and late evening work. As your project doesn’t kick into gear for quite a while, I think it would be smart for us to set up an “opportunity cost” fee should the project go in a different direction before we begin working together. I’ll be turning down other work to block time on my calendar for your project — how about a provision that specifies a fee if it’s cancelled within 3 weeks of the start date (which should give me enough time to take on new work)? If you’re not comfortable with this, you can of course reach out again closer to the project start date to check my availability. I know it might seem like a positive thing to have a loose schedule and extreme flexibility on deadlines, but it’s much easier to budget my time if I can get some dates on my calendar. I’ve learned time and time again, that if it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t get done.

I noticed in the terms that this project is listed as “work-for-hire” — I prefer to not sign work-for-hire contracts unless the budget is high enough to justify a transfer of rights. Are you willing to renegotiate the budget? If not, I’m sure we can come up with a usage agreement that works within your budget constraints.

In the contract there are a lot of additional uses specified that either aren’t applicable to the project or are beyond what we initially talked about. I know when we spoke you assured me that these are just standard terms in all of your contracts, but a legal document is more powerful than your personal assurances, so I think it’s important that we revise the contract to reflect our exact agreed-upon terms.

Currently, there isn’t a defined kill fee — I’d like to more clearly outline deliverables and due dates so that I can be compensated should our time working together end prematurely. The hope is, of course, that a kill fee would never be necessary, but it’s important to have protections in place for both parties in case the project veers off in a very different direction than what we initially agreed upon.

Our contract clearly defines the scope of work, but I’d like to specify terms in case additional revisions (beyond those specified in the contract) are necessary. I generally charge an hourly rate of _____ when work extends beyond the original project scope. Consolidating feedback into clear and concise rounds will help ensure everyone’s time is respected and will limit the need for these hourly charges. If the project scope shifts dramatically (for instance, if the overall concept changes mid-project), we will likely need to renegotiate the contract terms and I will need advanced notice to free up time in my schedule.

While the contract specifies a general “non-compete”, I’d like to get a little more specific with the terms. First, let’s come up with a timeline for when the non-compete expires (which we can negotiate based on budget flexibility). Next, I’d like to limit the non-compete within the industry that this project is for, which is what you/the client are most likely concerned about. If it needs to be more broad than that, let’s talk.

I look forward to working with you and let me know when to expect a finalized contract. Thanks!

All the best,