If you’re new to the world of freelance writing, you might not know what to look for when applying for writing jobs. You want to start making money as soon as possible because, presumably, you have bills to pay.
I understand; I was here. But be careful, your financial nervousness could lead you to work with the wrong clients.
I recently sat down with freelance expert, writer, and entrepreneur Abdullahi Muhammed and asked him about the warning signs that freelance writers should always be aware of.
When Muhammed started writing in 2009, he was living in a rural community in Nigeria, lacking basic resources. He was in dire financial straits and was typing articles on his phone. He admits to being naïve and having been scammed twice. He was persistent, however.
Soon he took his freelance business to six figures and started an agency because he had more projects than he could handle on his own. Today, he contributes to Forbes, Entrepreneur, and USA Today, and provides education and inspiration to freelancers around the world. Recently, Muhammed was named to Forbes list of Top 17 Online Marketing Influencers for 2017.
Here are the common warning signs that Muhammed recommends freelance writers always watch out for. If you see one of them, it is better to refuse the mission.
1. The company asks you to fill in a complete message.
This is a common tactic used on Craigslist, Muhammed said. A company will advertise for freelance writers with all the usual promises of good pay, lots of work, etc. Then, to apply, you will be asked to choose a topic from a list and send the full post with your application. Unscrupulous companies do this to trick people into writing free content for them. There is never a real job waiting for you.
“If you see this, don’t fall for it,” Muhammed added. “In fact, do all the other freelancers a favor and report the ad or mark it as inappropriate.”
2. You will be paid after a customer chooses your item.
You write, then wait to get paid until the company gets paid. Don’t buy it. No legitimate business asks for content they can’t immediately pay for. Muhammed’s agency, Oxygenmat, hires dozens of freelance writers, and he says it pays writers immediately for each assignment.
If a business doesn’t have a specific customer who wants this content, that business usually asks for trending content that they know can sell. Either way, no legitimate business or customer will ask for content they can’t afford.
3. The salary is too low or too high.
Here’s a sad fact: Many companies pay their writers sweatshop rates, sometimes as low as three or five cents per word. On the other hand, it’s not uncommon for these same companies to charge as much as 40 cents a word.
“Working cheap drives down the rates for all freelancers and also lowers the value of your writing. It’s a loser’s game, and you don’t want to go that route,” advises Muhammed.
On the other hand, says Muhammed, beware if you are offered a surprisingly high salary. Research the company thoroughly and ask for a contract. If it sounds too good to be true, it might be.
4. You are asked to do something fishy.
Sometimes an ad may start by asking for a freelance writer. Over time, you’ll realize that’s not what’s happening. Instead, you may be asked to copy the content and then rewrite it just enough so that it isn’t plagiarism. You may be asked to read articles and then spam the comment section with promotional links. In other situations, you may be asked to claim to use products you have never used, or to make false claims for or against a company.
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“Chances are if you do these things you will get paid,” Muhammed says. “You need to decide if the money is worth it to you. You also need to consider whether this is the kind of work you want to put on your resume or add to your portfolio. If not, it’s time to move on.”
5. You are offered an exhibit or experience.
Job ad: “We can’t pay you, but writing for our blog is a great way to gain exposure and, although you’ve never heard of us, we’re the next big thing coming soon to Internet. Enter on the ground floor!”
Don’t engage, says Muhammed. You shouldn’t be expected to work for free.
6. The company fails the sniff test.
Does the person or company offering you work have a legitimate email address? Can you search for it and find an actual geographical address? Is there a website or social media presence? Are there any reviews? If a company doesn’t pass Google’s sniff test, Muhammed says move on.
Jordan Kasteler is Vice President of Marketing at Hennessey Consulting and a speaker and columnist.