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Wasting a day hoping for work to arrive if you have other work lined up is on you.

Don't start any work before you have a signed contract. If they sign a contract, the likelihood that they are serious is already much higher than before.

Ask for early payment for the first piece of work. Once they start paying you, the likelihood that they are serious is already quite high.

Edit to address Addendum of question:

If you don't want to have the overhead of a written contract that was prepared by a lawyer, you can simplify, although I won't generally recommend that. You can just write down the essentials in an email: The description of the work and the amount and form of compensation. If they confirm, that is a legally binding contract. If you cannot agree on the description of the work and the amount and form of compensation, then you are not ready to start the work. Compared to this minimal contract, the primary advantage of a proper contract with multiple pages is that it also has a clause that limits your liability so you don't suddenly need to hand over everything you own to your client.

Wasting a day hoping for work to arrive if you have other work lined up is on you.

Don't start any work before you have a signed contract. If they sign a contract, the likelihood that they are serious is already much higher than before.

Ask for early payment for the first piece of work. Once they start paying you, the likelihood that they are serious is already quite high.

Wasting a day hoping for work to arrive if you have other work lined up is on you.

Don't start any work before you have a signed contract. If they sign a contract, the likelihood that they are serious is already much higher than before.

Ask for early payment for the first piece of work. Once they start paying you, the likelihood that they are serious is already quite high.

Edit to address Addendum of question:

If you don't want to have the overhead of a written contract that was prepared by a lawyer, you can simplify, although I won't generally recommend that. You can just write down the essentials in an email: The description of the work and the amount and form of compensation. If they confirm, that is a legally binding contract. If you cannot agree on the description of the work and the amount and form of compensation, then you are not ready to start the work. Compared to this minimal contract, the primary advantage of a proper contract with multiple pages is that it also has a clause that limits your liability so you don't suddenly need to hand over everything you own to your client.

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Wasting a day hoping for work to arrive if you have other work lined up is on you.

Don't start any work before you have a signed contract. If they sign a contract, the likelihood that they are serious is already much higher than before.

Ask for early payment for the first piece of work. Once they start paying you, the likelihood that they are serious is already quite high.