When you’re a brand new freelance writer, you’ll probably want to jump at any job offer that comes your way. However, there are a lot of people looking to take advantage of freelancers in any field, so you need to be on the lookout for offers that scream trouble.
There are freelance writers that give up on trying to work on their own because they get burned out on terrible gigs. If you know how to spot those kinds of jobs, you can save yourself a lot of headaches. Plus, you’ll get to work with people that value your work.
In this article, I’m going to walk you through some red flags that will help you spot problematic clients and freelance writing jobs that aren’t worth your time. Let’s get to it!
Pay Attention to the Rate Per Word (And the Payment Terms)
How much to charge per word is a very heated topic among freelance writers. A lot of professionals won’t touch a gig that pays any less than $0.10 per word, and rates go much higher if you’re an in-demand expert.
In my experience, there’s a lot of room to make good money even below those rates. Starting from $0.06 per word, you can make a great living if you write about topics you know well, so you don’t have to spend that much time on research.
The problem comes when you start considering jobs below those rates. Let’s say you’re starting out and one of the only offers you get is from someone that wants to pay you $0.02 per word. Even if you can finish a 1,000-word article in an hour, that would only be $20, and that doesn’t factor in time spent on research and editing.
Usually, the people that offer the lowest rates tend to be the hardest clients to deal with. They know there’ll always be freelancers desperate for money, so they tend to think of you as replaceable.
Those are what I call ‘content mill’ clients. The best thing you can do as a freelance writer is avoiding them at all costs. To do this, you’ll want to determine what your base rate is and stick with it when looking for clients. You may feel tempted to apply for lower-paying positions because they’re much easier to find. However, excellent freelance writing jobs are out there if you know where to look for them. Freelance job boards (such as Paid to Blog Jobs) are usually my favorite place to look because they attract a higher quality of clients.
Before you go off to land yourself a whale, though, remember to spruce up your portfolio. You’ll have a much easier time getting clients if you have a few pieces you can show them, preferably focusing on a specific niche so that you can market yourself as a specialist.
Research Any Business You Want to Work With
One of the great things about freelancing is word gets around when it comes to bad and good clients. For example, a quick Google search will show you a lot of posts about publications that pay high rates to their writers.
If you know how to look for them, you can also find ‘reviews’ for a lot of companies and people that hire freelance writers. Usually, before I start working with anyone, I’ll look them up online to see if there are any red flags, such as:
- Negative accounts from other people that have worked with them.
- A complete lack of an online presence, mainly if I’m dealing with a business.
- An association with spun or low-quality content.
Some of the best places to find information about specific clients or businesses are freelance writing boards. There are plenty of online communities for freelancers and they can be a treasure trove when it comes to getting advice about what companies to stay away from.
Keep in mind – even if a company or a client has glowing reviews, you shouldn’t start work without a contract. If you do so, then you’re leaving yourself open to exploitation, and sooner or later you’ll run into trouble.
Take a Good Look at the Project Brief
Usually, spotting bad freelance writing jobs is pretty simple if you pay attention to the project details. Let’s say you run across a job posting like this one:
Looking for a freelance writer for ten or more articles per week for a product review site. Pay is $0.01 per word and we pay weekly via PayPal.
If your first instinct isn’t to run away as fast as possible, then you might need to get your eyes checked. Not only is the proposed rate per word laughable, but the description screams “We need filler articles and we don’t care much about quality.”
I’m ashamed to say I used to reply to job postings like that when I was starting out as a freelance writer. I needed the money, and I wasn’t that picky about the work I did, so I gravitated towards content mills. Some other red flags that I became used to seeing in project briefs were:
- Need to use these keywords X times per article, in these exact locations.
- Copy this article but change the wording around, so it doesn’t read the same.
- Please don’t reply unless you can turn this around in less than a day.
In most cases, you should trust your gut when it comes to job postings. If you run across a project brief that looks like you’re going to be doing something sketchy or working on spun content, then you should run away. I know turning down money is difficult, but once you get into the habit of working for clients like that, breaking out of it can be difficult.
Even if you’re an experienced freelance writer, you should always take a good look at the details of any project before you sign up to work on it. If you’ve been doing this for a while, you’ve probably run into clients that are late to pay, want you to plagiarize content, and other shady practices. Learning how to spot those kinds of jobs in advance will drastically improve your freelancing experience.
As for how to spot lousy freelance writing jobs, it all boils down to three things:
- Knowing if the rate per word is unreasonably low, then chances are your client doesn’t understand the value of your work.
- Researching any businesses or clients you deal with, so you know if they’ve had problems with other freelancers in the past.
- Analyzing the project brief, so you know if the workload is reasonable and there isn’t anything sketchy going on.
What’s been your worst job experience as a freelance writer? Share your stories with us in the comments section below!