Common Freelance Writing Scams And How To Avoid Them

By Jamie McSloy / February 8, 2018
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Common Freelance Writing Scams And How To Avoid Them

Let’s say you’re getting started in the world of freelance writing. You want to build a portfolio of work and hopefully move outside the fly-by-night SEO copywriting gigs that you’ll find on freelance marketplaces.

So you start prospecting companies and checking out job boards and things.

You see an array of different job opportunities, and some look great. When you read some of the application blurbs, you’ll realise that a lot of them are small-time start-ups who don’t have much to pay you, but the long-term opportunity looks great.

Of course it does… because that’s the sales pitch.

The sales pitch is that if you work for a short time for no pay, eventually this will turn into paid work.

This almost never happens in real life, and even if it does… you’ve sunk time and money into something and you’re probably not going to make that back with the money you’ll earn in the future. More on that later.

The key thing – and I’ve repeated it before and I’ll do it again – is that you don’t get to pay your bills in exposure.

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Working For Exposure

I remember back a few years ago. I saw a job posting looking for freelance writers. So I signed out the application form, attached my samples and waited.

A couple of days later, I got an email.

“Hey… we’re willing to give you a trial. We’re testing out some budding writers and you’re on the short-list! If you write for us for a month, we’ll consider moving you to a paid member of the team!”

This is one of those examples where the stick-and-carrot effect is in play.

Some people will fall for that. It’s stupid. They get a month’s free work out of you on the promise that maybe they’ll pay you one day.

Go to your favourite restaurant, and say you’ll spend a month checking out the menu. If you like the meals they provide you for free, then you’ll make it your regular place and go every week from then on.

Do not fall for this.

Here’s a quick guide to “writing for exposure.”

Any business that has significant exposure potential can afford to pay you.

If a website has one million visitors to each article a month, then sure, do it for the exposure. But a website that big will be able to pay its writers and will likely want professional writers with specific abilities and knowledge… which they have to pay for and will expect to.

Most companies offering “pay through exposure” have blogs that get a thousand views a month or useless viral traffic that isn’t worth anything. You might get to put your website in the by-line only to find out it gains you two visitors, neither of whom are worth a penny to you.

Also… let’s talk about the value of a writer.

Jumping Through Hoops?

Another example from my personal business life.

“Hey, Jamie!

Thanks for getting in touch!

We’d love to work with you. But we want you to write a sales letter for our upcoming project and do a couple of blog posts to help make the thing go viral!

Also, we’ll need you to read our company guidelines on submitting!

We need you to save your sales letter in Word format, PDF format and make sure it’s all double-spaced!

We have high standards and it’s best to start on the right foot.

(or whatever.)”

Here’s the thing… when you write content, you provide a service. It’s a valuable service. Especially when you write high-converting sales letters.

Most writers – and anyone skilled at any job really – aren’t going to jump through a million hoops if they are good at what they do and have a lot of work on.

Ergo, any company that makes you jump through a million hoops isn’t a company that’s attracting a lot of good workers.

This all adds up to a key rule for the established freelancer.

Don’t Work With Anyone Who Doesn’t Want To Work With You

Too many writers get the short end of the stick because they’re willing to work for people who don’t want to work with them.

Now, don’t get me wrong, sometimes you’ll work with people and you won’t exactly be buddy-buddy with them. That’s just part and parcel of being in business.

But if you find a company that puts barriers to working with you or is difficult, then say no.

If a company isn’t willing to pay you, say no.

If you have a client who constantly ups their standards and makes things more difficult, then say “no more.”

Some clients are overwhelmingly pedantic. Some clients threaten you with terminating your contract for some trivial thing. These are people that add stress to your life and make business harder than it has to be.

You want business to be straightforward.

When your business isn’t straightforward, make it so. If that means getting newer, better clients, then that’s what it takes.

If you can’t get better clients, then up your skills until you can.

You will thank yourself for doing so.