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!


Hiatus Highlights Ep 3: Freelancing

I’m happy to report that the business is growing. I am expanding my client base and stocking my portfolio, and things are looking up.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned over the past few months:

  • Craigslist is full of scammers, idiots, and charlatans…
  • …but it’s also full of great opportunities.
  • Regular, low-budget work can be a bigger source of comfort (and income) than large but rare windfall projects.
  • Clients DO appreciate good customer service.
  • Customer service is more than being polite. It’s being a client’s ally.
  • You CAN outgrow clients. And SHOULD.
  • … but never burn bridges. Who knows, the client might grow with you.

And stuff I have yet to learn:

  • Learn to say no. No. No. No.
  • Figure out a foolproof way to collect on invoices that doesn’t rely on people’s good will.
  • Working until 4 am doesn’t make you more effective. It just makes you sloppy.
  • I REALLY need to start making clients sign contracts.

Stuff I’ve discovered:

  • Freelance radio. One of the best freelancing podcasts out there. It’s a must-listen for any self-employed creative.
  • Grammar Girl. Well, it’s not a recent discovery. But she still gives great tips on how to use proper English.

Voila! End of recap. On to our regularly scheduled programming!

Freelance Writing: 3 Tips to Starting from Scratch

I was recently asked about my experiences as a freelance writer, how to get started, and where to go to get freelancing jobs. While there are plenty of web resources available for aspiring freelancers to learn from pros with plenty more experience than me–like here and here, and here too– I also want to share some of the things I’ve learned, in the hopes of helping those whose situation isn’t so different from how I used to be.

So without further ado:

1. It’s possible to start from nothing.

One of the biggest challenges for me when I started out was my portfolio. It wasn’t necessarily empty, but close enough to it. I always dreaded the question “can I see more of your work”, because I simply didn’t have anything else to show. This was also a problem in that I sometimes wouldn’t have anything relevant to the project for which I was bidding (only having magazine articles when the client wanted website copy, for example). This closed a lot of doors for me; it also became a psychological block that kept me from aggressively hunting projects.

But there are clients who are willing to take on new writers if they show a good command of the language (whether you’re writing in English or otherwise), and if the writers can show they understand the clients’ needs. You may have to work for free (or close to it), but at this point in your career you should be focusing on building your resume.

Think portfolio, not profit.

2. If you don’t have clients, be your own.

No need to cool your heels in front of the keyboard if nobody’s awarding you any work. If you don’t have any active projects, this is a good chance to work on your own. I recommend you spend time working on your writing skills by practicing the kind of writing you want to sell. Are you planning on writing websites? Practice writing for an imaginary client and see how your work stands up to similar, existing websites. If it’s good enough, you may even be able to show it as a part of your portfolio.

And just because you’re practicing it doesn’t mean you can’t get paid for it. You can submit articles to sites like Constant Content and get paid a (very) small commission for either page views or for sold articles (method of compensation depends on the site). Some sites only pay to U.S. or North American writers, though, so read their T&Cs carefully. Also, don’t be afraid to ask your friends and family if they need any writing/editing work done for their businesses. If you’re feeling brave, you can pitch your articles to magazines and ezines (MOTL).

Practice makes profit.

3. Grow slow.

Developing a creative freelancing business is very tricky. Here, you are the factory.

At first, you will have no idea how long it will take to create the product your client ordered. It’s all too easy to bite off more than you can chew and take on too many jobs or over-promise on a deadline. Job sites like eLance let clients review their contractors, so doing a bad job will mar your record and make it harder for you to get more work.

Until you have a better idea of your own work process, and how much time you need to finish a piece, play it safe. I suggest you do it one project at a time. Give yourself enough breathing room to finish the work properly. Only then should you move on to the next.

Work before you run.

Flooded and loving it!

One of the necessary evils of being a freelance writer is not knowing where your next gig is going to come from. You do get inquiries from your website, but it’s not something you can put down in a forecast report (and no, Flossie doesn’t ask me for those–though she probably should). So, if you’re like me, you bid on a lot of projects at once, playing the odds.

And then sometimes, the odds play you.

Just a couple of weeks ago, on the last half of NaNoWriMo, a bunch of projects that I bid on decided to get together and have a party on the same day. So there I was, juggling multiple projects while trying to keep my novel’s daily word count up by staying up til 3-4 am for two weeks. Those of you who read my last post know that I failed miserably on the novel front. On the other hand, I finished all of my projects by the skin of my teeth and satisfied every single client.

It was stressful, tiring, and gave me a hell of a headache. But I loved the fact that I was so busy, and that I was busy with writing.

The extra cash helped, too.