What’s your most-hated freelance scam?

April 6th, 2009

I did a post this a.m. on Nine to Thrive (my NWjobs blog on work/life balance) about the nastiest work from home scams people have been reporting of late.

Of the many the FBI warns against, my personal favorite has to be those package forwarding or product reshipping jobs listed online. If you’re lucky, your so-called employer will merely neglect to reimburse you for the shipping fees on all those electronic goods you’re repacking and reshipping. But if you’re unlucky, you could get caught up in a criminal investigation, as many of the goods these employers are hiring home-based workers to ship are stolen.

You may think that having viable a freelance skill to sell over the web and in person makes you immune to such scams. “Only rebate processors and envelope stuffers get taken for a ride,” you may tell yourself. “Not writers, web designers, and software programmers.” But I beg to differ. (Seen Craigslist lately? Or those useless “paid in promotion” — aka, PIE — gigs?)

When it comes to listing my most-hated freelance scam, I’m torn between all those “Will pay $50 for a 2500-word article/five-page website/three-city PR campaign” project listings polluting the web and those heartless do-it-on-spec-and-then-see-if-anyone-will-deem-you-the-contest-winner-and-reward-you-ten-bucks-for-it sites. (Exhibit A. Exhibit B.)

Perhaps “scam” is too strong a word here, as these outsourcing practices aren’t illegal, only insulting, not to mentioning damaging to professional freelancers who need to earn a living wage. Still, part me wishes there were some regulatory labor body that required such sites and ads to prominently display a “Hobbyists, Apply Here — Pros Who Want to Eat, Steer Clear” graphic at the top. Then those hiring managers without a clue would more quickly come to the realization that you do indeed get what you pay for.

Entry Filed under: Overworked and underpaid,This freelance life

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rebecca  |  April 6th, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    I know. I have a “Freelance Writers Needed” email that goes directly into my spam box at my yahoo account every week. It’s so sad.

  • 2. Anlina  |  April 6th, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    The spec work “contest” sites rank pretty high on my disgust meter. The fact that they pass themselves off as doing a great service to the freelance community is particularly galling. Not only are they screwing freelancers, undermining professionals trying to making a living and horribly devaluing the services we provide, they’re doing it with a big smile on their faces, pretending that they’re providing a valuable service to the freelance community.

    Not only do they not give a damn about the freelance community beyond how much free work they can get out of us, they accuse anyone who resists their unsustainable business model as living in the past and being attached to the out of date status quo. Sorry, I’m totally open to changing business models, but not when it means working for pennies/free and providing a lower quality service to my clients.

    Spec work is particularly bad because it’s insidious and sucks in lots of beginner freelancers who are looking for work or tying to build their portfolio, and lots of potential clients who don’t understand the value in hiring a professional. People get tricked into thinking it’s a good way to do business and everyone but the people running the spec sites get screwed in the end.

  • 3. Michelle Goodman  |  April 6th, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    Sing. It. Sisters! Well put.

  • 4. Whitney  |  April 10th, 2009 at 7:01 am

    Where should people look to find legitimate freelance writing or editing jobs?

  • 5. Michelle Goodman  |  April 10th, 2009 at 8:31 am

    Whitney, two subscription services that are great are http://www.mediabistro.com (about $60/year; see the “How to Pitch” content) and http://www.freelancesuccess.com (about $90/year). And of course the own network you build. Most freelancers get referrals through other freelancers and satisfied clients. To meet other freelancers in person, see the meetups on http://www.freelancersunion.org, the events on http://www.mediabistro.com, and the events on http://www.biznik.com.

  • 6. Michelle Goodman  |  April 10th, 2009 at 8:41 am

    oops, above http://www.freelancesuccess.com is actually about $100/year. or you could just buy my new book (www.anti9to5guide.com/book) for a few bucks and learn how to make your own luck as a freelancer. just saying…

  • 7. Judy  |  May 11th, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    I saw an ad on media bistro this morning for travel writers—and they had all these requirements . . . no amateurs, published writers only, had to supply eight unique images per story. . .

    The story rate: $25

    Maybe it’s because I’ve been having a rough time lately, but I wanted to reach through my computer screen and throttle the person who posted it. And what is media bistro doing posting all these scammy ripoffs. There are so many no money job listings on there lately. Grrr.

  • 8. Kathryn Lang  |  May 24th, 2009 at 4:22 am

    Many of these managers know exactly what they are getting and don’t care. They aren’t looking for top of the line writing but more often just words to fill space.

    As for the story rate of $25, many print magazines pay that. Depending on the length of the story and the speed of the writer, this could be a respectable rate.

    What – per word – rate do you consider fair?

  • 9. Michelle Goodman  |  May 24th, 2009 at 9:23 am

    I won’t do anything for less than $.50/word (unless I’m donating my time to a labor-of-love project and or the exposure is crazy-amazing and pays me in other ways, like book sales), though at least $1/word is my preference. And if I am doing $.50/word, it better be a quick and easy article to write. That said, new writers trying to build up their clips will find a lot of regional publications paying just $.25-.30/word. I certainly did this for a short while to pay my dues. I’ve never written an article for $25.00, though, I’ll tell you that. It’s never been worth my time to take such piecemeal gigs.

  • 10. Eve Lopez  |  May 27th, 2009 at 12:39 am

    I recently jumped into the freelance waters, and have been so far HORRIFIED at what I’ve found on elance.com and odesk.com. I actually saw a job posting today for a client paying TEN CENTS PER ARTICLE. Not per word, per article. The going rate on elance.com actually seems to be two or three dollars per article.

    I don’t understand what is going on here. Why oh why are writers accepting such low wages?

  • 11. Michelle Goodman  |  May 27th, 2009 at 8:36 am

    Eve, I know, insane. I’m guessing those people (a) are independently wealthy, (b) are terrible writers who can’t get hired anywhere else (not even if they donated their services to a needy non-profit), and/or (c) are the world’s biggest idiots. They’re also bringing down the rest of us trying to earn a fair, honest living.

  • 12. almostgotit  |  June 2nd, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    Recently met a writer who moved here from NYC. Half the big papers there are now paying NOTHING for a number of their articles, and getting away with it because writers are so desperate. Yuck yuck yuck. We must RESIST!!! We must RESIST!!

  • 13. Jack  |  June 9th, 2009 at 7:34 am

    I hear you, & I’ve experienced this before. Unfortunately, I don’t have any marvelous solutions: I simply decided to find a smaller niche.

    I can’t, however, agree with “..you get what you pay for.”
    Charging more money doesn’t make you better. (My lawyer comes to mind…) As a hungry college student, I’ve done work that clients were thrilled with, & yes, I did it for $25, the kind of thing that should have netted at least a few hundred if not one grand.

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Hi, my name's Michelle Goodman and I've been freelancing since 1992. I'm author of My So-Called Freelance Life and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide. Read my full bio here.

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