4 Freelance Writing Job Ads You Should Avoid Like the Plague

Freelance writing job boards get a bad rap for being a hive of low paying job ads, cheap clients, and underqualified writers, and it’s mostly true. I spent a large part of my early career on these boards, and I’ve taken many jobs that I’ve since regretted (“volume discounts” of $1 an article, anyone?).

But even in a flea market environment like that, there are still job ads that you should run away from the moment you encounter them. Not just coz they’re low paying, or difficult, or whatnot, but because they’re actually harmful for you.

1. Article Spinning

Article spinning

More like “100% unethical”

Sorry, what? They want me to plagiarize someone else’s work? Oh, they want me to hire a team of people to plagiarize someone else’s work? Do I need to explain why this isn’t a moral thing for writers to do?

Sure, they might claim that these articles are theirs and they have the right to do whatever they want with them, but I highly doubt they’re the one who wrote them. The author is pretty much the only person with the right to make that kind of request (and even then, I wouldn’t do it).

Ummm….. no.

2. Guest Blogging

Guest posting

Can you do a guest post about “butt monkeys”?

Guest blogging is awesome. It’s the equivalent of doing the graduation speech at a friend’s high school. Paid guest blogging is awkward. It’s the equivalent of someone handing you money and saying “get that high school to have you do their graduation speech. And do that for 10 other high schools. Oh, and make sure they’re top-tier high schools with lots and lots of rich students.”

There’s absolutely zero guarantees that this will work. And yet my pay depends on it. Do I still need to explain why this is a bad idea?

3. Profit Sharing

Revenue sharing

“Zero” divided in two is still “zero”

Tell me that job ad doesn’t make your skin crawl. Seriously? They want me to write a f***ing book for you, but they’re only going to pay me after they start selling it? What’s to stop them from claiming it doesn’t sell at all and leave me hanging? If I was going to write a book and wait for royalties, I’d write my own book, thank you very much.

4. Sample Collectors

Sample articles

Because ALL CAPS makes this job ad MORE LEGITIMATE.

This is a scam I’ve written about before, and I’m sad to see it still proliferating. Basically when guys like this float a job ad and want you to write a sample from scratch, chances are they aren’t interested in hiring you at all.

Let’s do the math: They plan to pay the winning writer $20 an article (itself a bad rate) and 50 people respond. 50 x $20 = $1,000. Why would they pay these writers, who just sent in free stuff, anything? Just claim “nobody’s good enough” and run!

If they want me to write a sample article, then pay me for it.

I’m sad to say that these aren’t the only examples of bad jobs out there. Maybe I’ll do a part 2 to this post sometime.

In the meantime, I hope that the next time you encounter these jobs on the Internet, you close the browser window and sprinkle your laptop with holy water. If you want to send the job poster a little piece of hate mail, too, then by all means!


Odesk and Elance are Merging, and I am Sad

At the end of 2013 I learned that Odesk and Elance are merging. For those that aren’t familiar with these two markets, here’s a brief background (those that already know can either skip the following two paragraphs or read and complain in the comments about how I got it wrong).

Elance.com is a job site where freelance writers like me get work (there’s work for other kinds of freelancers too, but we’re not talking about them). There’s good jobs to be found there, but the pay is usually lower than what you can get than if you went out and found clients yourself.

Odesk.com is the same thing, only the asking rate for these projects is much, much lower than Elance (if that were possible). How much lower? I’ve seen people post $1 blog post jobs on Odesk. One. Freaking. Dollar. At that rate, I would have to write 3 articles to afford one cup of McDonald’s coffee.

Soooo worth it.

Soooo worth it.

And now the two companies are merging. Not so good news for freelancers who still use the two sites as their main source of income. This detailed post from Carol Tice explains the many reasons why. To me, it means that two entirely separate and distinct markets—the borderline-reasonable-budget jobs on Elance and the bargain-bin/flea-market shoppers on Odesk—will be merging into one messy pile of job tickets.

Oh, Elance and Odesk deny this of course. They say they’re going to keep the two sites separate. And they probably will. At first. But as Carol pointed out in her post, one of the sites is probably going to get the axe. So where will the evicted freelancers go? The other site, crowding an already overpopulated marketplace. A good paying project on Elance usually gets dozens of bids, and it’s always a struggle to get noticed. Add in the Odesk people, and you’ll have a Black Friday crowd attacking every project.

This could be you, company owner.

This could be you, company owner.

The market is moving away from these types of bid sites, and they’re struggling. Businesses are starting to realize that junk content isn’t going to win the Google ranks anymore, and more freelancers are beginning to charge the rates they deserve.

Me? Well, there’s no way I can say “I’ve moved past these sites, and I’m earning better money” and not sound arrogant (at least none I can think of at 2 in the morning), so f*** it.

I’ve moved past these sites, and I’m earning better money.

I’m still grateful to Elance and Odesk. I might kick myself for not going straight to clients sooner, but the money from these sites helped me keep my family’s finances above water during some pretty tight times. I met one of my best clients on Elance. And the time I spent writing $5 blog posts helped me improve my writing for the better-paying clients I’d meet down the road.

But I look back at Elance and Odesk, where I first learned to price my own work, where I first learned to talk to clients, and where I earned my first dollars as a writer, and I am sad. It’s the sadness of seeing your first car sold or junked, even though it was a POS that you cussed at every day.

The world is moving on, and where you’ve been is no longer relevant to where you are now.

I need a beer.

The Mystery of the Mismatched Writing Speeds

I write nearly every day. On the business side, I write blogs, brochures, and websites. On the fiction side, I write short stories and novels (well… just the one right now). I’ve been doing this for years now—nearly a decade. And over the course of my writing career, I’ve noticed one very weird thing:

My writing speeds don’t match.

“Whuh?” you say? I say it too!

I used to think I had one consistent writing speed—you know, like how people have one top speed for running. But all that changed when I tried the Pomodoro method and put my writing to a timer.

I discovered that my business writing comes out at a much faster pace than my fiction. When I write blogs or articles, it takes me about 20-30 minutes to get to the 500 word mark. When I write my novel, on the other hand, it takes me nearly an hour (sometimes more).

This was a very annoying realization, because I’ve been trying to get my book out the door for ages. Here was Fiction Me, chugging away at 500 words an hour and trying console himself that he was doing his best effort, only for Business Me to speed by and leave Fiction Me floundering in his wake.

As frustrating as it is, it’s also kind of reassuring. I can increase my writing speed. I just have to figure out why Business Me works so fast and replicate the conditions.

Time to break out the metrics (Ugh. Metrics)!

What about you? Do you notice anything weird when you write two different things?

Numbers Are Fun When They’re About You: 2012 Freelancer Industry Survey

A few months ago I participated in an online survey of freelancers and their business, and they just released their results! They surveyed nearly 1,500 freelancers across 50 industries and multiple countries.

Here’s a cool little infographic summing up the data:

 2012 Freelancer Survey Infographic

Here are a few other stats that I found cool.

  • 18% of the freelancers surveyed are writers. We’re the second most common type of freelancer out there! And if you combine us with copywriters (10%), we’d be first!
  • 20% of freelancers say finding clients is their biggest challenge. On the other hand, most freelancers spend only 5 hours a month or less looking. What does that tell you? We complain a lot, that’s what!
  • Referrals are the number one method of finding clients, followed by word of mouth. Yes, students: networking is important.
  • Videographers/video editors have the most trouble getting paid on time. Really! And I thought I had it bad!
  • Photographers have the toughest time managing time and staying productive. Can any photographers out there chime in and verify this?

All in all, very interesting stuff. I would’ve liked to see more non-North American freelancers represented (that really would’ve screwed with the average income numbers, come to think of it), but the report is still pretty good overall.

So what’s my take-away from all this? Well, I probably need to review my rates. And call up a few old clients.

You can download the full report here:

After The Dream

It’s the modern-day dream. Being able to work for yourself without being tied down to an office, a boss, or a company. No dream comes free though, and all freelancers have to take the good with the bad. But who are you to complain. You’re living the dream, right?


That’s what I always thought until I spoke to Hollis Bartlett, a freelance web developer and designer I met a few days ago. He’s been building websites since 1996 and loves what he does. He’s built a very successful business for himself, and even hired an assistant developer to help him with the workload.

Unfortunately, the nature of the business just became too much for him, and he decided to hang up his mouse and keyboard and (partially) retire. Here’s an excerpt of his email to me:

I’ve grown to dislike the business. It’s a shame, because I still love creating designs in Photoshop, and oddly enough I love love love creating web design using css & html. I love putting together CMS templates with all of these components, and my favourite part is still helping people get their business online properly. The business part afterwards, however, sucks the big one. Waiting for invoices to get paid (usually late). People not paying attention to what you tell them, and constantly bugging you for shit you already told them 10 times. People don’t read emails. They assume they can call you at any time of the day, on any day of the week including Sundays.  I had one show up at my house unannounced on a Sunday afternoon.

You can read the rest of it here.

The reason I find this so poignant is that many people (myself included) dream of being able to support ourselves and our families by doing the thing we love. We work hard and put ourselves through hell to make it happen and, through luck and blood and sweat, some of us do. Hollis did.

What Hollis’ experience taught me is that there’s always an after. Always. Life doesn’t stop once you reach that dream. You don’t watch the sunset through your home office window and cue the credits to roll. Things still happen. Projects fail. Clients complain. Bills come in. Your motivation dies. The dream fades to gray.

By that same token, you don’t have to stay there. Things can turn sour, but there’s always a way to make it better. Hollis took the leap by retiring and moving to a new city. I’m sure other freelancers who got sick of the job adapted in their own way as well, whether by retiring or evolving into different services.

Will I ever be able to support my family with my freelancing? Am I ever going to be a published author? It might happen. Once I do, will I eventually get sick of it? It’s possible. What am I going to do when it actually happens? I have no idea.

Do you?