This is something that has been bugging me for a long time and I need to get it off my chest. When you’re just getting started out and have no clients or contacts it can be tempting to turn to one of the many online outlets because they allow the freshman freelancer a way of landing assignments without going through the painstaking process of cold calling clients, or pitching editors who never respond. These online markets, however, are not the markets you want to get into. I’ll tell you why.
It’s a Race to the Bottom
To be clear, I’m referring to sites like Elance, oDesk, Guru, Constant Content, and all others of their ilk. There are loads of assignments on there for sure, but you are competing for the work on an international scale. If you live in North America or Europe your cost of living is much higher than that of someone living in India or the Philippines, so those contractors can easily underbid you on assignments. For them it might be all right to work for $2 an hour, but for the professional writer in North America or Europe, this will not suffice.
Since you’re competing on a worldwide scale, you will find that there will always be people bidding lower than you. You will always find that there is an enormous amount of competition driving the rates down to practically nothing. These assignments are most often a race to the bottom where the one who bids lowest is the one who gets the job.
It Undervalues Our Work
Because these sites drive down rates to subterranean levels, these outlets end up undervaluing the work we do as writers. If you look up the standard rates in The Writers Market or the PWAC you will find what would appear to be some very handsome rates. Try charging those standardized rates on a site like Elance, however, and clients will balk and decline your offer. You will not get decent rates doing work for clients on these sites.
I mentioned in a previous post about one encounter I had with a client on Elance who wanted 30 articles for $200. When you factor in how many hours it would take me to write each one I would have been making something like $3/hour—way below minimum wage. For the time you spend working on these slave wage assignments, you’d be better off trying to land real clients via targeting companies you want to write for and going direct with emails and cold calls. At least then you can set your own rates much of the time.
It’s Not Where the Real Pros Go
Real professional writers do not resort to using these online markets. They don’t use them because they know it’s an exploitative system that benefits the proprietors of the site, and does little for your career as a freelancer. There are some people who can make these sites work, but there is a whole system involved. What I have also found is that there are a lot of weak writers on these sites doing substandard work.
The real pros have their own clients, and they know how to market themselves in the real world to get results. Being a writer isn’t just about writing, it’s about networking and selling yourself. Good work should speak for itself, and when you’re good, and word gets around that you’re good, eventually the clients will come to you.
Clients Will Try to Screw You Over
This is not to say that all of them will, but it isn’t uncommon for clients on these sites to try to pull the wool over your eyes with various tricks. For example, they might ask you to write a free sample for them so they can “see if you can do the work.” Don’t ever fall for this. If they can get enough writers to give them free samples they have effectively gotten their assignment done for free, and they have also abused the system and your services. Rotten bastards. Always be on the lookout for clients trying to get something for nothing. The problem with doing business strictly online with sites like these is that it’s too easy for clients to get away with this kind of BS.
Your Time is Better Spent Elsewhere
Really, with all the time you spend raking in these lowball assignments you’re better off getting real clients who pay proper rates. A lot of the time with these online markets the work you’re doing isn’t really giving you any kind of notoriety in the writing world either. Without some credibility you’re going nowhere. Don’t use these online outlets as a crutch. Get out there, contact some clients, and sell yourself!