Trials and Tribulations of Starting Out as A Freelance (Copy)Writer

How to Avoid Being Scammed by Dishonest Employers.

Trials and Tribulations of Starting Out as A Freelance (Copy)Writer

So, you are starting out as a freelance writer. The first thing you have to realize is that the ascent is on: "starting out". It really doesn’t matter whether you have the natural talent for writing, or if you have done some writing beforehand. You could have even been a journalist under a full-time contract or a PR person, or you could have done a lot of writing in your civil service job. Still, it was your dream that one day you could start out as a freelance writer. Fiction, non-fiction, ghostwriting, within a time frame and from a place of your choosing. To be a writer and your own boss at the same time, what more could you want?

Well, none of the things you did matter. When you start out as a freelancer, you are a beginner. Each and every writing job has its specifics, and you have to get to know them. Being a freelance writer has no differences in that respect. Your talent and even experience can only be an added bonus. You have to get some specific experience under your belt and a track record to even be taken into consideration for a more serious, better-paid writing job. You've written about fine arts and you want to try your hand in B2B copywriting? Sure, but you need to get into finer details of, for example, a specific marketing approach; of course, you need all the theoretic and practical courses you can get.

But, until you start typing those first letters of, say, a marketing e-mail, the one that will guarantee you some sort of a steady income and secure all those ‘freedoms’ you expect from being a freelancer, it is still only a dream. Well, maybe not just a dream, but a road full of stops and starts, and a lot of false starts at that. You need that secure line that can keep you holding on to that dream and make it turn into reality.

Starting Out With Bidding Sites:

But how do you get to that point? You have to start somewhere. You need experience. You need to fill your writing portfolio. If you can secure a job that will give you the opportunity to show the quality of your work and even write under your name, all the better. The main thing is starting out and getting paid at the same time.

Usually, the reasoning most aspiring freelancers start out with is the following: so what if the pay is low, you are writing and you are getting paid at the same time. It will accumulate. Although, the last premise is debatable, so let’s leave it aside for now. The first and main concern is getting that first paying job. Hopefully, the others will follow. Usually in those situations, there are two options that seem most readily available. One is the euphemistically named “academic writing site” and the other is the so-called "bidding site".

Why use the word euphemistic in connection with “academic writing” sites? The reason for that is that what usually goes under such a name is a site that offers writing assignments where the writer, in essence, does all the writing for a student. Those texts could be anything from the high schooler's homework, up to a Ph.D. level thesis. It is besides the point that if you, as a beginner, venture into this kind of job, you will be drastically underpaid for the type of writing that you will have to do, and that this is usually the kind of assignment that has to be finished "two days ago". There is a more important moral question you have to deal with here. As somebody else wrote on the subject, would you like to go for a check-up to a doctor for whom you wrote his medical thesis?

So, starting out, you seem to be left with only one real alternative, and that is the bidding sites. In essence, there is nothing wrong with these sites as such. Bidding sites can be a good starting point, and you could even get lucky. These sites offer a certain service, have their charges, rules, and regulations. They are the middlemen, and it is up to the potential employer and the potential writer to agree on the price of work and all the other terms of a contract. Sure, there are good jobs offered at bidding sites. Usually, unless you have some very specific qualifications, you have to have a respectable portfolio and reputation to have a better chance of getting that better job on offer.

But, there are all those other “freshers” as they are often called on those sites competing for the same job. Who usually gets the job? Of course, the writer who offers the lowest price combined with the fastest output. That then puts the employer in a situation to have extra leverage with the writer as far as the payment schedule and deadlines are concerned. Sure, the writer can withhold his work, but the employer can then probably offer the same job to another writer, possibly at an even lower rate. But then, if you as a writer think that these are the worst problems that you can encounter, unfortunately, you would be wrong.

The Good The Band and The Ugly:

Probably the most alarming tendency on the bidding sites is the appearance of scammers under the guise of employers. These are “skillful entrepreneurs”, quite often working as an organized group, that specifically preys on freelance beginners. These scammers have a very defined method of operation. They thrive on the inexperience and eagerness of novice writers to get some paying gigs. They evade the regulations of the sites and utilize the loopholes, usually succeeding in their scams.

Often, they concentrate on writers that are not located in their presumed vicinity. For example, if they represent themselves as located in Canada, they seek a freelancer from The Philippines or the one that is located, for example, somewhere in Scandinavia.

They mostly offer web content writing at a price that seems competitive, neither high nor too low. These scammers insist on keeping contact with the writer(s) outside of the site itself as much as possible. They try to make none or a very limited commitment using the site through which they first offered the job. Usually, they insist on communicating through Skype or a generic email address, quite often both. They are quite pressuring in their attitude, not only with their deadlines but in trying to suck out as much work out of a writer within a brief period of time as possible.

When the payment time comes, they come up with various explanations why there is still no money in your account. At that time, the pressure they apply on the writer becomes even greater. The reason for that is quite simple. The moment the writer will get too suspicious and stops delivering work until he gets paid is getting close. At some point, the writer will run out of patience. When that moment comes–it could be a few days, or even a week–the scammers simply disappear. There is no way you can reach them through the communication channels that were open to the writer, nor through the site. The information they gave there is probably bogus too.

If you think that their attempts to scam the same writer are over, “another” member of the group comes into play. It could also be the same person, under a different name, from a different location, but usually, it is one that is close by. Sometimes they don’t even bother to change all the information, but use, for example, the same or a similar birthdate. The same cycle starts over again. It might be shorter this time around, but it still has the same outcome – they get the writer’s work and the writer doesn’t get paid.

Then they move to another site, and if the writer they scammed earlier is there, even better. They quickly adapt to the new conditions, discovering all the loopholes of that site and use them to the limit.

So, what can the writers do? First, they can try to get some compensation from the sites. Unfortunately, whatever went on outside the site’s scope is then only up to the goodwill of the site itself to offer some kind of compensation to the writer. Usually, the sites do, after all, you are a paying customer too, but it never fully matches up with the work that has been done or with the effort, will, and eagerness that was engaged. Let alone the money.

Taking Precautions:

And what can you as the writer do? Well, you can look for the telling signs that are included within the information on the potential employer that the sites make available to potential writers. Like, do they have a verified method of payment, what is their employment track record, since when are they registered at the site and the like. Still, there are no guarantees. That is, even if the sites tighten their regulations and start to identify the intruders more stringently, they should definitely do both.

In the end, as a novice writer, you need and will have to take a risk and with all due diligence, hope that you have some luck, too.

Ljubinko Zivkovic
Ljubinko Zivkovic
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Ljubinko Zivkovic

A former, well, a lot of things: journalist, diplomat, translator and then journalist and writer again...

See all posts by Ljubinko Zivkovic