Whether you’re looking to earn some freelance writing cash on the side or just ready to switch gears from more creative endeavors, make the most of your opportunities by ensuring the jobs you take really will pay. Here are a few tips from the freelance writing pros who have been there and been scammed. Here is what we’ve learned:
Don’t pay to find work.
The more reputable freelance hub sites might take a percentage of your paycheck, charge the companies looking for reputable freelancers or both, but generally a monthly subscription fee to have access to the opportunity to find work is a red flag that you’re opening yourself up to a potential floodgate of scams. If you’re paying so your potential clients don’t have to, it generally means more of them will be, shall we say, underfunded. Many of these purported “databases” are actually pulling from other free sites you should be checking out yourself, including Craigslist. Upwork, Toptal, Freelancer, Fiverr, Guru, and Freelance Writing Gigs all have methods for attempting to screen out scammers, but some will still inevitably get through. Keep a wary eye out for potential clients who prefer to communicate through private email or Google Hangouts rather than the platform you’re using
Never agree to work for free.
NEVER complete the entire writing job before you have a contract. “Submit your best work and we might hire you” actually means, “Thank you for the free article, sucker!” NEVER accept “experience” or prestige points or whatever they’re selling as a substitute. NEVER accept terms that essentially say, “work now, we’ll pay when we get the money.” Be sure there is at least a solid contract in place you could use to take legal action before completing the work and expecting to be paid. And READ that contract. Some will substitute a far smaller amount in the contract for the one verbally agreed upon and hope you won’t notice.
Don’t undersell your talent.
Check the terms of your contract and ensure that you will wind up with a reasonable hourly wage. Don’t get caught up in the bidding war that is Fiverr by offering the most work for the least pay. You aren’t winning there, friend. Strategically offering a minimal bargain offer with the aim of enticing bigger job offers once they’ve had a taste of your phenomenal talent is one thing. Consistently underselling yourself undercuts not just yourself but the market as a whole. You have a skill many others lack. That is why they’re willing to pay someone else to write for them! Just because they’re hoping to pay the least amount for the best writing they can get does not obligate you to lower your standards to accommodate. You deserve to make a living with your skills. There is work out there for you. Name your price and stand firm.
Make sure the company is legit.
Can the representative clearly explain what the company is and does? Do they have a functioning email address? A working phone contact? Can you locate a physical address on Googlemaps? Is there some kind of web presence? Do they have reviews for their company online? Be aware: some companies are becoming more savvy and will put up a website to keep up appearances. Poke around and click through to be sure it’s functional and makes sense. If anything “feels” off, it probably is. There are so many real clients out there waiting for you to apply; don’t waste your time with anything sketchy.
Poor grammar is a red flag.
If there are repeated, glaring errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar, you are probably not dealing with a professional. There are certainly exceptions, such as when you’re being asked to edit or write for a non-native English speaker, and that is clear in the job description. But by and large, if you are being approached by a “hiring manager” who seems to have abysmally poor communication skills, think twice and take a closer look at the company they claim to represent.
Be wary of the unsolicited job offer.
There may be the odd headhunter looking for a contractor or a freelance hit on LinkedIn that is linked to a very real potential client. For the most part, however, an email from XYZ Corporation looking for someone with your exact writing talents really is too good to be true. When something like this comes through your inbox, at least do your due diligence in checking out all the above before responding. Scammers like to hit newbies, so if you’ve recently signed up with a freelance job hub, you will likely be a target for the first few weeks.
Don’t cash an overpaid check.
One of the oldest scams out there is another of those “too good to be true” scenarios. All seems to go well with Joe Client, contract looks good, communication is clear, all seems to be in order. Work is completed and they send you a check for $2,000 more than agreed upon. Do NOT attempt to cash that check believing it’s some kind of bonus for your stellar prose. Typically you’ll get an email noting the error and asking you to go ahead and cash the check, then write them a new check for the overage amount. In reality, the check is no good and will bounce and you will have paid them the two grand for your work. Instead, offer to tear up the check and wait for them to send a new one for the correct amount. Then take it to the bank to verify. If you’ve connected with them through Upwork or a similar site, just stick with the program and have them pay electronically so this can’t happen. You should also report them to the higher ups so they can help you handle the situation if the payment is still no good. If you came by the client on your own, you can threaten legal action, contract in hand. Worst case scenario, you will have lost your work, not the money.
These are just some of the methods to help avoid being scammed. There are always more, so be on the lookout for anything that doesn’t seem right. Remember to trust your instincts. Not everyone out there is a bad guy, and once you get a few true and honest jobs under your belt, the incidences of dealing with these scam artists will minimize. As you gain confidence in your reputation, you will flourish. If you do happen to fall prey to a scam, don’t feel bad; it happens to the best of us. Try to learn from it and move forward. Better days are ahead if you just keep trying. Good luck and happy writing!