When you agree to perform services for a client, you are entering into a legal contract -- you promise to do the work, and the client promises to pay you for it. Many independent contractors rely on handshake agreements with their clients. But if something goes awry with the deal, you may have trouble enforcing the agreement. To protect yourself, get the agreement in writing.
If a client refuses to pay, insists that you agreed to perform more or different work, says that you agreed to charge less than your usual rate, or otherwise won't live up to his or her end of the bargain, you're in a bind. You could try to convince a court that your version of the contract is correct but, without a written contract, it will be your word against the client's, and there's no telling whom a judge or jury will believe.
Fortunately, there's an easy way to avoid these problems: Always get your agreements in writing. Using written contracts will help you prevent misunderstandings, clearly define the expectations you and the client have about the job, and prove your case in court, should it come to that.
What's more, a written client agreement can help you establish that you are an independent contractor, not the client's employee -- which will be very useful if the IRS or another government agency questions your status.
A written client agreement should cover at least these topics:
There are also a few standard legal provisions you should include, such as a statement that you and the client are not partners in business and that you and the client have no outside agreements about the deal except what's been included in the contract.
To get language for all of these provisions (and many more) get Consultant and Independent Contractor Agreements and Working for Yourself: Law & Taxes for Independent Contractors, Freelancers & Consultants, both written by Stephen Fishman and published by Nolo.