Starting work without a contract
Is this jerky? I was offered a freelance project and insisted on getting a contract together. However, they said this process can take 2 weeks. And they want the work done in three weeks. I nicely pushed back saying the deadline would have to reflect when I receive something in writing. I've yet to hear back.
Am I being smart, or high-maintenance? Ugh. I don't NEED the money (it's a side job), but obviously extra cash would be nice. I don't want to screw myself out of money and lose the job to someone willing to begin work instantly, but I also want to protect my own interests.
Sorry, OP, but you've been replaced. Usually a letter of agreement on the scope of work is sufficient. I would never accept a job but then tell the client they have to change the deadline. They set it for a reason.
"I understand that paperwork can take time, and time is of the essence here -- so if you could just jot down a sentence or two summarizing the project, along with the terms and due date, and email it to me, we can get started right away."
If they won't do that, don't do the project.
If it's a large company, you're probably on relatively safe ground. They DO tend to be bureaucratic and slow, and are probably not intentionally jerking you around. On the other hand, if this is a small shop, the risk is much higher and they may very well want to keep their commitment unspecified.
r2 has good advice. Get an email from them explaining the terms of the agreement. It doesn't have to be a full blown out contract, but it should specificy what they want you to do, when, and for how much. If they are not willing to do that, you should walk away.