The Trials and Tribulations of Finding Writing Work in the Freelance Work Marketplace
There are many ways to find freelance writing work on the net. The most popular method is by signing up to one or more of the many freelance work sites available. There are a ton of them to choose from. Take Elance.com for instance, it is the site that I am known as a “service provider” and it's where I get most of my writing projects. While I do also have offline clients, mostly corporations, Elance is a good supplement to my writing business.
However, there are some things that you should be aware of before you go rushing off to sign up to one of these sites. Take a look! (I will use Elance as an example because it is the one I am most familiar with).
Costs: Many of these sites don't charge a signup fee, however, many charge either a monthly fee (can be quite steep like Elance, writing category, $75 per month for select provider status), or they charge a transaction fee for each project you accept. Many charge both (again Elance does this, 8.5% of total project amount).
Categories: Many of these sites break out their projects into levels such as basic level, where basic providers can bid on basic projects and select providers, where select providers can bid on any job, basic, or select. They also have a category in writing called professional for $40 per month where you can bid only on basic projects as well. Of course, as you may have guessed, you pay a higher price for select as you are looked at as an expert in the field, whether you are or not. Elance doesn’t check, so if you are willing to shell out the $75 per month, you too can be a select provider.
Bidding: Now this is where it really gets competitive, the real dog-eat-dog stuff. The reason is that, say for instance that you are paying $75 per month to bid on projects plus an 8.5% transaction fee for each project you bid on, then along comes a provider that underbids you and gets the project, regardless of your skill level, portfolio or client references. It is disheartening and frustrating. You’ve just been passed over for what is known as a “low-baller.”
Low-balling is a frequent practice on these sites, especially from foreign providers whose cost of living is a lot lest than the US. Also, you will find “newbies who have no experience, portfolio or references stoop to this to get the project to build these things.
You may be thinking that this may be understandable in some cases because everyone has to start somewhere, right? Wrong! Actions like this devalues our skills as a writer and says to prospective clients I work cheap, use me like slave labor!
Additionally, you will always find providers who will underbid you simply because they outsource the work and get a percentage. So they can make money without ever doing the work themselves. They can afford to bid less because a piece of the pie, which is better than none at all.
This also undermines the skills of writers trying to make a living off writing. They are basically deceiving the client by not disclosing that they have a "team" or writers that the work will be outsourced to. Again, this prevents you from getting work. My personal belief is that if you have a team of writers and you are a legitimate business, then you owe it to the client to disclose it. It will also help the other providers bidding against you to swallow it better. It becomes more of a way of doing business and less of a sneaky tactic.
To top it all off, a lot has to do with the way the contracted work site markets itself. Elance, one of the largest freelance work marketplaces on the net, markets themselves as basically a place where customers can get "cheap labor." This prevents providers from being able to place a bid based on what they are worth in terms of skills, experience and expertise. They basically have to bid what the Elance marketplace will bear, which in most cases is peanuts in comparison to what writers in the real world make. Providers on Elance are literally at the mercy of customers because they flock to Elance to get a 500-word article written for $5 or a 100 page ebook for $300. Both absurd prices by the way and a fraction of what writers in the real world get. This type of marketing makes it so hard for more seasoned writers to bid higher, because so many providers on Elance are willing to offer these ridiculous prices.
There are times when you will come across a potential client that is willing to meet your price, but it doesn’t happen as often as you think. It would be great if this continued and clients would wake up to the fact that they “get what they pay for.” Many have found the cheap labor source to be unreliable in terms of content and delivery. I have been contacted many times by Elance customers who paid one provider their low fee to write something, only to ask me to rewrite it at a higher price (I won't bend on my prices, work or no work) because the provider either:
- Took a down payment for the work, did half of it and disappeared, or
- Plagiarized entire work, word for word, or
- Just did shoddy work.
It appears on these sites that customers have to learn the hard way sometimes. So when they contact me for a rewrite, I charge my going fee, and you know what? They pay it without blinking an eye and you can bet they learned a valuable lesson the hard way.
Unfortunately these kinds of actions on the part of the providers give good quality writers a "black eye." It causes customers to be skeptical and leery of what we say we can provide them in terms of our skills and expertise. So it makes the bidding and negotiation process that much more difficult.
Unfortunately I am only familiar with Elance, however, I do believe that the actions that I have described here, do exist on other sites as well. You can visit any one of them and see how low the bids are for various writing jobs. It appears to be the norm out there.
Signing up? Take a look for yourself, visit these sites and learn all you can about them before making a decision to fork over your hard-earned money on a subscription. It may be quite awhile before you will even see a small return on your investment!
Now, luckily I have been with Elance since 2001 and have built up a portfolio, a long list of client references and even made some decent money. But it hasn't been easy and I would hate to see anyone else jump in thinking that their troubles are over and the money will start rolling in. I have branched out and obtained corporate clients that have become long-term clients.
You may not be so lucky or it may take you just as long if not longer to get to that stage. So keep in mind before you shell out high monthly fees coupled with a percentage of the project amount that trying to eke out a living as a freelance writer on these contracted work sites is rocky going at best. It may take months before you are awarded your first project from a client. Don’t quit your day job just yet! Good luck in your writing endeavors!
Copyright 2005 Lorraine Cote
This article may be freely reprinted as long as the author’s information and copyright notice remain intact.