Last week, I talked about what it takes to get started as a freelance writer. One of the ways many writers find work is through job ads. Unfortunately, this system is far from perfect and many ads are posted by clients who know nothing about the industry or the ads are downright scams.
Here is a list of red flags to look for and the reasons why. They apply whether you’re looking for a freelance gig or a telecommute job.
- The client asks for free work: Sometimes it is stated in the posting or the client will contact you after submitting a résumé. Generally, it will be worded like this: “To be considered for this position, you must write a 500-word article on (fill in the blank).”
Why it’s a red flag: This is not an industry standard. I once had a potential client try to convince me this is standard, but it is not. If clients wants sample work, they can read through your portfolio or pay for a sample article.
When the client asks for free samples, there is little chance you’ll be hired for the position, but it is possible the “client” will take the articles for use without your knowledge or consent.
- Pay is below industry standard: Use the Editorial Freelance Association’s pricing chart as a guide. If the pay is well below standard, run.
Why it’s a red flag: The client either has no idea what it takes to write an article or has no respect for the profession. Either way, you’re better than $5 for 500 words or $.001 per word. In addition, the low-paying gigs take away time you could spend on other, better projects.
Some people argue any job is better than no job. That might be true in some circumstances, but not when you make your living working project to project. If you break the project down into how much time it takes to research, write and edit an article, you’ll quickly discover you would make more money at a fast-food restaurant.
- The client has unrealistic expectations: The job ad states you need to be available within minutes of when the client contacts you, must work specific days/hours, much complete 50 articles a day or edit 50 pages in an hour.
Why it’s a red flag: Unless you are working as an on-staff writer, a client cannot require you to work specific hours. All he or she can request is that you meet deadlines. Stay clear of clients who treat you like an employee instead of respecting you are a fellow business owner.
As for those clients who request an unrealistic volume of work, they are ignorant about what it takes to write or edit an article. These clients will never be happy when it becomes clear you produce high-quality work, but you produce less of it in a longer time frame.
- Promises as much work as you can handle: These clients claim they have as much work as you and every other writer can handle.
Why it’s a red flag: This is a sign the company is a content mill and you’ll be paid per page view which means you’ll be doing a lot of work for free. Generally, you’ll be required to sign up for more information or create a profile that will match you with positions.
- The reply email address is a personal address: The job poster claims to be from a company, but uses an email with a generic domain like Yahoo or Gmail.
Why it’s a red flag: While this itself is not a reason to disregard a position completely, you do have to wonder why the person isn’t using a company domain email address.
- Company doesn’t have a website: The ad says something like “We are the premier marketing firm in San Francisco” yet when you look up the company online, you can’t find it.
Why it’s a red flag: Almost every business is online in today’s digital age. If the company doesn’t have a website, you should be able to find it on social media or find someone employed there on LinkedIn. If you can’t find any evidence the company exists, that’s probably because it doesn’t.
- Responds using a form letter: You receive a form letter response to your application that doesn’t even bother to call you by name.
Why it’s a red flag: It can be a red flag for any number of reasons including (a.) the client has no quality standards and hires anyone, (b.) the clients requests you register for a website, (c.) the client is requesting free work or (d.) the client has no idea how hiring a writer works.
- Bait and switch: The client posts a staff writer position, for example, but when he or she contracts you, offers a different position that would suit you better.
Why it’s a red flag: There might not be a job at all. Do your research. This could be someone trying to pull the wool over your eyes. If the company seems legitimate after conducting your research, don’t do any work until you’ve signed a contract.
Do you have any job ad red flags to add to the list?