Picture this: Your potential client sends you a document and asks you to sign it. That’s not out of the ordinary. Most of us sign without much resistance because we want the work, right? But there is one type of document that makes people pause (or stop in their tracks). Should you be signing an NDA as a freelancer?
First, let’s define the terms. An NDA is a “non-disclosure agreement.” Generally speaking, signing an NDA means you’re agreeing to keep your work with the client out of public view. That you won’t discuss or “disclose” details about what you’re working on.
An NDA may be limited to a specific project, or it might cover all the work you do with that client.
Why do clients want freelancers to sign NDAs?
Companies use NDAs for a variety of reasons.
- They don’t want the public to find out what they’re working on before they’re ready to release it. (Think blockbuster plotlines leaking out prior to the theatrical release.)
- They’re concerned about their competitors finding out what they’re working on. (Maybe an innovative cell phone feature.)
- Their work is sensitive in nature. (Law firms that deal with privileged information.)
In all of these cases, the end result is that the company does not want you to publicize the work you’re doing for them.
It’s certainly not a bad thing to sign an NDA as a freelancer. But before you do, make sure you are crystal clear about what it covers. Which projects? For how long? Ask as many questions as you need to feel comfortable and confident about what you’re agreeing to. Your potential client should be able—and willing!—to walk you through the requirements.
How does an NDA affect you?
Once you have a handle on the terms of the document, it’s time to make a decision. Often, you’ll find you have to make a choice between signing an NDA as a freelancer… and not accepting the work.
Since it’s completely up to you, there’s no right or wrong answer. Here are some things to consider as you make your decision:
- What are your options for sharing the work in your portfolio? It may be that you simply have to wait until a certain date has passed. But if it’s not allowed altogether, are you okay with that?
- Does the NDA prevent you from working for other companies in the same industry? Make sure you ask, and are comfortable with the answer.
- What other information do you need to help you feel secure in your decision?
You can work through all of these issues via a friendly conversation with your potential client. And in the end, the most important thing to remember is:
Signing an NDA as a freelancer is completely your decision!
Once you understand the consequences (both positive and negative) of signing and not signing, you have the information you need to make the right decision for you.
Your turn! Have you ever had to sign an NDA for a client? Were you able to use the work in your portfolio? Let us know in the comments below!