Craigslist and other job posting sites (including Anne’s great site, right here) are useful ways to track down clients for freelance writing. As I review the dozens of postings every day, though, I’ve noticed a pattern. Over and over, posters are using words and phrases that I know from experience mean the project is probably trouble.
I’m going to share 10 of these red flags with you. Of course, your results may vary, but it’s been my experience that once you see any job post with these words or phrases, you should move on. Quickly.
1. It’s a small project.
They’d like you to think it’s a small project. In fact, clients who mention the words ‘small project’ without giving details often will give you endless revisions, or suddenly come up with a bit more work that needs doing.
2. I don’t have time to do this myself.
Everyone’s a writer – or so these clients think. These postings are by clients who’d like to think they’re great writers. They’ll happily show you how poor your writing is compared to theirs, and how they could toss the project off in an hour or so, if they had the time.
3. My life story/memoirs.
Usually misguided souls, who believe their life stories would make interested reading for anyone outside their friends and family. Expect them to be shocked when you quote a reasonable price for editing or ghostwriting a book-length manuscript. Also, many of these life stories involve the police and lawsuits, so beware of red tape, delays, and complications.
The ad is barely 10 words long. All they’ll tell you is that a writer is wanted now. If you’re lucky the client will say what kind of business they have and the type of writing they want from you. If they can’t spend an extra 15 minutes outlining your responsibilities for the project, they either a) don’t know what the project will entail, and you’ll find yourself a victim of a expanding project; or b) can’t be bothered to target their search for a writer. Either way, avoid.
5. Writters wantd!
Spelling and grammar mistakes abound in these postings. Again, the potential client couldn’t be bothered to write the ad in Word and check the spelling. Some of these clients may have poor English for various reasons. This means that the time you spend polishing up your documents won’t be appreciated. They’ll wonder why you’re taking so long.
6. Seeking ‘excellent’ or ‘great’ writers.
I saw this today on a Craigslist post, and laughed at loud. Does anyone think they’re a poor or mediocre writer? The client here is worried about poor writing quality, but isn’t equating being a good writer with being an experienced writer. If they want ‘excellent’ instead of ‘experienced,’ they’re not going to want to pay for experience.
7. If things work out.
Never work on contingencies. “What ifs” rarely work out to your advantage. If you’re unconvinced, multiply the prospective revenue from the gig by the probability things will work out.
For example, you might stand to make $500 ‘if things work out,’ but the likelihood of that happening is 50%. $500 * .5 = $250. Uncertainty has cut your potential earnings (and project or hourly rate) in half.
8. Looking for writers to work from home.
Scam, scam, scam. Freelance clients and employers who are seeking remote workers will state ‘virtual,’ ‘telecommute,’ or ‘remote.’ Many unsavory types prey on stay-at-home workers because jobs for that demographic are few and far between, and stay-at-homers, who often have medical, financial, or family issues, are pressured to find work.
9. We’re not sure what we want.
If they’re not sure what they want, how will they know what you give them is what they want?
10. Equity share/unpaid/great exposure/revenue-sharing.
Don’t work for free. Don’t work for an uncertain income in the future (see also item #7). If you’re going to write for no pay or ‘great exposure,’ please do everyone a favor and support your local charity’s marketing efforts. Writing for a site based on how they’ll perform in the future means your future revenues depend on how well the client markets the site.
Applying to jobs online means sifting through a lot of chaff to get to the wheat, but you can find rewarding, well-paying jobs. I wish you the best of success, and if you take nothing else from the article, remember: Never work for free, or on speculation.
Jonathan Cohen os a freelance writer specializing in marketing. He’s got lots of experience and some darn fine testimonials.