If you're doing real work for a person or a firm, you should get paid real money, under a real agreement. Seems simple, but too many freelancers and creatives don't require their clients to sign contracts. Here's why you should break the habit of being nice and agreeable.Mike Monteiro, design director at Mule Design, provides a few solid, unbendable rules about contracts — namely, don't start work without one. For even the greenest of freelancers, he recommends hiring an actual lawyer to do actual work for you, so you can do actual work for others:
Get a lawyer. By and large the first thing I hear when someone tells me they're having a problem getting paid and I tell them to hire a lawyer is, "That's too expensive." My lawyer makes me money. He makes sure my contracts are strong and helps me negotiate with confidence. Having him as an advisor makes me confident enough in what I'm doing that I ask for what I'm worth and don't negotiate my rights away. His job isn't to sue clients, it's to make sure we never land in a place where we HAVE to. I happily write two checks every month. His is the first, my therapist's is the second.
In other words, a good lawyer is something you should strive for, with as much vigor as a clean portfolio site design. Check out Monteiro's related talk, named after a key Goodfellas monologue about payment problems, at Vimeo.