Job ads aren’t the best way to find a freelance writing job (we know that already) but nevertheless one of the most common questions I get from freelancers is what to watch out for with a job ad. It’s a good question, because when you’re new, you don’t have the experience to navigate the BS from the truth when it comes to job offerings.
While I recommend other ways to get jobs, I’d like to give you a few hints if you are searching the job boards. Here are some things to watch out for.
You Can Make Up To…
If someone is giving you a figure you can possibly make per day, more than likely they are looking for volume writing. Volume over quality. Usually these types of jobs require some ridiculous amount of articles per day, and if you meet this ridiculous number you can make X. Except that if you actually divide your time into X, your pay is peanuts.
Don’t work for peanuts.
Good for Stay at Home Moms or College Students
These words are code for “we don’t pay very much, but it might be something for people with nothing better to do.” The ironic part of course is that stay at home moms and college students have a lot better to do than waste their time on jobs that don’t pay! No one that wants a skilled writer is putting this stipulation in their job ad.
Only Experienced Writers Need Apply
A genuine outfit that pay writers well doesn’t have to put this in their job ad. They post their ads and skilled writers apply. They search through the applications so that they can hire the most skilled in their opinion. That’s it.
Someone that actually asks for “experienced writers only” is the online dating equivalent of someone saying “If you’re into games, don’t contact me.” The point is, if someone IS into game playing, they either don’t know it or don’t care. They will contact that person anyway.
To bring that back to writers, someone applies for a job they obviously feel they are skilled at. If the people doing the hiring don’t agree, they won’t hire the person. There are some jobs that are going to attract newer writers, because the job ads are written too vaguely, or the person hiring wants the moon and won’t pay for it. These are the types of clients that put this verbiage into their ad.
Compensation: You Tell Me
I’ve actually seen quite a few ads that ask writers to tell them what a project is worth. It’s fine to give a client your rate, but it is irresponsible for them to ask this from a job ad. In order to accurately quote a rate, you need to know all the specifics, and job ads rarely provide them. You need to know things like:
- The tone and approach of the writing required (press release versus conversational blog post versus sales copy versus web writing)
- How much research time you need to do
- Whether you need additionals like photos or sources
- The end-goal of the writing project
- Feedback or approval time
- Social networking requirements
- and on and on.
You can give a client a range when asked this in an ad, but chances are they are looking for the cheapest rate. The old adage that “the one that talks about money first loses” applies here. If you talk money, you probably won’t win the rate you require and deserve.
If an ad is promising, what I do instead is tell them I’d be happy to give them my rate after I talk to them about the true scope of the job.
Ads That Are Placed On Every Job Board Imaginable
Sometimes a client just wants writers. Period. Any old writers. Can you type? We’ll hire you. If they are advertising on every job board you see, it’s a signal that they may be looking for quantity of writers. (Which usually translates to low pay.) Use caution if you see this.
Job Ads That Continually Pop Up
Another red flag is a job ad that continually pops up occasionally. This means that they are either expanding (which is good), or they can’t keep writers on their staff (which is not good.) My advice with these types of ads is to apply if you feel like it could lead to something, but feel free to ask them at some point what happened to the other writer. I usually say, “I noticed this job ad was up a few months ago. Can you tell me why it is open again so soon? I’d like to establish a long-term relationship with you.”
Listen to what they say. Good things you want to hear are: we promoted that writer, they are writing for another segment of ours, or we are growing and need more talent.
Things you don’t want to hear include: our former writer had no work ethic, that person just didn’t work out, or that person went on to greener pastures. These are all code for some type of problem. Was the problem the writer or the client? You need to dig deeper.
Job Ads That Continually Run
Perhaps a client only advertises on one or two job boards, but they advertise constantly for the same job. What does that mean? It may again mean they are only concerned with growth (more writers more writers more writers!) or that they go through writers so fast they never bother taking the ad down.
When I worked heavily in the print world, I saw an ad for writers that ran continually in one magazine. I applied and after a few months I got hired to write a few pieces. Then, I got a call that “a writer of theirs flaked” and they needed a piece turned in by the next day in order to meet their print deadline! I immediately wondered what happened because saying a writer “flakes” could mean a number of things. But I needed the work, so I took the assignment.
These people paid a month after publication (which was already a month out.) That means if I wrote a piece in January, it would run in February and I’d get paid in March. So when my payments should have started coming in, I noticed my little old mailbox was quiet. When I called to find out, I was told I hadn’t submitted my invoice to them. (I had.) I submitted another one, and was told they were having “cash flow problems” and that my payments would arrive “when they could get them.” I waited. My payments still didn’t come.
When I called again, they stressed that they were a “small outfit” and only had one person that could cut checks and that person didn’t come in very often!
See the problem? They advertised to new writers continually so they could use their two-month “float” time to get a few more articles from someone new before they had to start paying. I wonder how many writers were not as persistent as I was in getting their payment. Perhaps the writer who “flaked” really just got tired of doing work and not getting paid for it.
In the end, I told them that I would happily come and sit in their office until they could find the time to cut the series of checks I was owed. (This advice was from my husband, who was fully prepared to sit there for me! Dontcha love that? I would have never been so bold. However, it worked. I got my checks then, and made sure I turned down any future assignments.)
Bottom line, navigating the job board waters is not easy, but you can get the occasional gig that does pay. Do some sleuthing to find them.