Do “prospects” ask you to write for free or way below market rate?
If you’re a freelance writer, chances are good that you’ve been approached by a so-called “prospect” with an offer you must refuse.
You must refuse the offer if you want to stay in business, that is. After all, you can’t spend all your time working for nothing, or next-to-nothing, if you want to earn a living as a writer.
It always amazes how much effort some folks will go to in order to take advantage of writers through lousy freelance offers. Don’t just take my word for it. Check out the experiences of other freelance writers.
Lori Widmer does a good job of documenting some of these bad offers in her series on her Words on the Page blog, Writers Worth: This Job, Not That Job. Deb Ng lists some more bad writing opportunities on kommein blog in the post, Here’s What’s Wrong With Freelancing Today.
The worst thing about these opportunities is that some writers will fall for them.
In this post, I list five of the most common types of bad gigs freelancers face and examine what’s wrong with each of them. So, the next time you’re tempted to accept a bad offer, check here first. Then say “no.”
Gig 1: Writing for Exposure
You’ve probably gotten at least one of these offers. A prospect contacts you and asks you to write an article or post for their website.
Your first clue that this is a bad offer comes when you quote them a price and they come clean in their return email. They don’t intend to pay in cash, but they’re absolutely sure you will benefit from being published on their site.
Um, probably not.
If you’re thinking about writing for exposure, here’s a checklist of questions you should ask:
- Size of audience. How many page views does the site currently get? Can the prospect show you proof of the traffic they receive? Exposure doesn’t mean anything if no one is reading.
- Ranking of site. Page rank is dead, or is it? While you don’t hear as much about page rank as you used to, you can still use it to evaluate a site. If Google thinks the site is unimportant, there’s a reason.
- Reputation of site. Is the site well-known? Was it created by a recognized expert? Remember, if you write for a site and receive a byline from the site, the reputation of the site could be tied to your own reputation.
- Appearance of site. Online, appearance is important. Visitors won’t stick around a poorly designed site. Is the site clean and well-designed? Can readers find what they are looking for?
- Age of site. A new site probably hasn’t had time to attract its own audience. The site owner may be counting on you to build an audience for the site, but do you really have time to do that for free?
As you run through this checklist with the site you’ve been asked to write for, you’ll notice that the site probably doesn’t stack up very well. Don’t be surprised. Many offers to write for exposure are merely veiled attempts to get free content.
If you’re still unsure about whether to write for exposure, you can read my thoughts (and the thoughts of some commentators) in my earlier post on the topic.
Gig 2: Contests
As a writer, you may be tempted to enter a writing contest. But not all contests are created equal. Many are a waste of time.
If you’re thinking about writing for a contest, here’s a checklist you should consider:
- Cost. Does the contest cost you money to enter? If so, think twice before taking part.
- Reputation. Is this a highly reputable and respected contest? Or, have you never heard of it before?
- Intellectual property. Many contests require you to sign over your intellectual property rights when you enter. Avoid these.
- Effort. How much time will it take to come up with an entry? The time may be better spent marketing your writing services.
- Past history. Has this contest been run successfully before, or is it brand new? Be skeptical of new contests.
- Sponsoring organization. Is the sponsoring organization reputable? Have they paid prizes to previous winners?
There’s no doubt that some contests are legitimate and helpful to the winners. Others are little more than a scheme to collect entry fees and/or gain intellectual property rights for content. Still others are scams that never have a winner.
If you do decide to enter a contest, remember that not everyone wins. Ask yourself, would this contest still be worth entering if I lost?
Gig 3: Guest Blogging
Another bad deal for writers is guest blogging. While I’m not totally against it, most writers expect more results from guest blogging than they’ll ever receive.
As a professional blogger whose work has appeared on more than a dozen blogs, I can tell you not to expect much from a single guest post. Even though some of the blogs where my work appeared received thousands of daily visitors, the amount of traffic I receive from my blog posts published on other sites remains relatively small.
I get more traffic each day from search engines and social media than I do from published blog posts. And I’ve been published on most blogs where I write multiple times–something that’s not true for many guest bloggers.
Now, I know you’ll find many articles and posts citing the benefits of guest blogging. However, many of those articles and posts were written by individuals who stand to benefit if you write a free post or article for them. Often they own a website that publishes posts without pay or they work for someone who does. Or, they are running a guest blogging service of some type.
If you’re still interested in learning more about blogging and the importance of getting paid, take a look at my post, Why Bloggers Should Get Paid.
Gig 4: A Promise of Future Work
“I can’t afford to pay you to write, but when things pick up for my business I’ll have lots of paying work for you.”
Have you ever heard something like this from a prospective client? If you have, it’s a red flag.
Let’s take a closer look at what’s wrong with this phrase.
- “I can’t afford to pay you.“ This should be the end of things right here. Imagine going into the grocery store and telling the clerk “I can’t afford to pay you.” One thing’s for sure. You wouldn’t leave the store with any merchandise.
- “When things pick up.” Can they get any more vague that this? At what point will things have picked up so that they can pay you? After they break even? After they make a profit? After they make their first million? The statement doesn’t say.
- “I’ll have lots of paying work for you.“ Really? At what pay rate? If you’ve been writing for this “client” for free, you’re not in a very good position to negotiate a favorable rate for yourself. Besides, most of these future opportunities never materialize.
Gig 5: Lowballing Clients
You’ve probably gotten requests to write for ridiculously low rates from so-called prospects. I have too.
When you receive these ridiculous requests (which naturally you’ll turn down), it’s up to you to decide whether you want to educate the prospect or just ignore the request.
If my rates are questioned, I often refer the prospect to professional organizations that conduct rate surveys, such as the Editorial Rreelancer’s Association.
Sadly, not everyone who contacts you with writing work is a legitimate prospect. Many would-be clients are actually just trying to take get cheap content for their site. To do that, they’re willing to take a chance that you are a) uninformed or b) desperate enough or c) have such low self-confidence that you will agree to a bad gig.
As a writer, it’s up to you to make sure that you get paid what you are worth. No one else will do it for you.
Can you think of any bad gigs that I’ve left out? How do you handle would-be clients who aren’t willing to pay your rate?