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In this issue:
How to Spot a Risky Freelance Job
In the last newsletter, we presented Mark Wright's concerns when he was approached by a company seeking samples of work for review based on material provided by the client.
"[I am] a little bit suspicious. I think we have seen this sort of thing before. Someone wants something written so they get a whole lot of writers to do "sample copy" of different sections of the job. That way they get it done without having to pay anybody. Do you think I am being overly suspicious?."
We then asked for comments from other subscribers:" Do you think there is good reason for suspicion here? Have you yourself been approached by companies seeking samples of work for review, only to find that this is a tactic to get free services? Feedback would be appreciated, and will be posted in the next newsletter."
According to the majority of replies to Mark Wright's concerns, asking the writer to undertake a test based on material provided tends to engender suspicion. A better approach, especially with more experienced writers, would probably be to base judgement of suitability for an assignment on examples the writer's past work.
Here is what some of you had to say about this:
"A number of firms/websites that have posted ads for writers on Craig's List are using that approach. As far as I'm concerned, it's simply a way to get articles or other writing work
done without having to shell out a dime for it. I ALWAYS refuse to participate. I have plenty of samples of my published work they can review as examples of my writing style(s) and skill. They shouldn't need me to give them new writing for free.
I've only seen this approach surface in the past year or two. Before that in my experience, if hiring firms wanted you to screen candidates by having them write something original for them, they would pay you for your time.
Judy Semas, Subscriber
San Jose, CA"
"Are they Genuine?
I too saw the job advertised by [the company concerned] who wanted parts of their company brochure rewritten. I wondered about it. The following continuing story may be of help to others.
I don't even bother with adverts of this nature when the contact is just a personal email address but this advert had a company name. I checked their website and found that they do exist and appear to be a well established company. The person who wrote the advert was also listed on the company website as the Marketing Manager, so I decided to venture forth.
The next problem was they wanted sample of my work. I find this difficult. How could a potential client make a judgement about a piece of my writing unless they knew the target audience for whom it was written, and the specific parameters that may have been assigned to the writing?
I wrote to the advertiser and asked for details of his target audience and what he was trying to achieve. I received back a long email answering my questions and also a scan of the document that was to be rewritten.
I decided to take a risk. I would compete a rewrite on the document and send it to them. The worst case scenario would be that I lost two or three hours work, but on the other hand I might be able to establish a new client.
Three days ago I sent them a rewritten document and an email explaining why I had made certain radical changes.
So far there has been no reply. If any one is interested Ill tell you want happens next
Shrapnell Communications '
27 Hanover Street, Wellington, New Zealand
Phone/Fax +64 (04) 473-7128
Mobile +64 (021) 403-003
Last week I received the exact email that Mark Wright received. I, too, was suspicious for the same reasons. I responded that I would not provide samples, particularly for such a small job. I pointed out that I had writing samples on my website that should be sufficient to prove my abilities as a writer. I also provided information on my rates in case it was a genuine job. Needless to say, I have not heard anything back from this company/person.
Dear friends, yes, our suspicious are correct. I also had the representative ...of an American book publisher contact me to write the concept of a book on Sri Lanka with suggested images. I was asked to give one chapter and the complete content list as a sample with no payment. When done, these people, very secretive, said the job was being done by an American writer. I think all freelancers should be careful because this kind of exercise is very time consuming ....
Best wishes Vimla Patil, India.
I don't think the request for a sample writing project is suspicious. First of all, how would the writer know the details about the company's departments to write in this case? Besides, the email didn't direct him to a specific section, so I doubt they are systematically taking advantage of writers to have the document written. I often offer to potential clients to complete a custom writing sample, and it has gotten me the assignment every time.
Re: Mark Wright's quandary. The answer is simple: Never do work on spec! Your suspicions are on target -- they want something for nothing. There's a small chance that they just don't know how to work with freelancers, but it sounds as if they are the sort of client that is not likely to regard you as the professional that you are, even if they do offer to engage you for a
Plumbers, accountants and surgeons don't do speculative work. Neither should
Re Mark Wright's "suspicions aroused"
I would say absolutely Mark. If this crowd who contacted you cold are above board, surely a sample of previous work supplied by you would be sufficient for them to judge whether they like how you write?
I wouldn't write a sample unless I was pretty sure I already had the job. I would point them to examples of my work on the web, or else send them something similar that I'd written, or give them a referee to call and ask about my work.
But I don't think they would get a very satisfactory result by getting lots of different free samples - it would probably be pretty mixed and inaccurate.
Helen Varley Jamieson
Feedback on 'suspicions aroused'.
I have also had lots of requests like this and I agree, they seem very dodgy. After some bad experiences (see below!), I now tell them, "sorry, no"...
Basically I think that unless there is a very precise reason for someone to evaluate our ability for a particular job, then I think we should simply say no to such requests. For example, they might need to check that we are able to adapt our syle of writing to fit their brand image, or perhaps we don't have samples of our writing in the style they need, so they need reassurance we can deliver this. But honestly, do we ask a plumber to come and unblock a toilet for free, or walk out without paying after a haircut, just so we can see if we like a person's work and want to use his/her services again in the future? I don't think so!!
Another dodgy thing I have encountered with a few potential clients is that they'll call, or email extensively, make out there could be a lot of great, ongoing work for you, pick your brains, and disappear into the ether, after only giving you a small amount of work (or none). One shocker of a client of mine took me through a laborious 3-step interview process (including one of those dodgy 'tests') then told me I'd got the job. He claimed he had a big budget, and endless writing work to commission, and he wanted me to write a whole lot of corporate literature, corporate video scripts, and web copy for him. He even asked me to attend two seminars and claimed he'd pay me for that time (he never did).
I did a lot of copywriting for him, and spent many hours of my time in emails and on the phone with him, but he only ever actually paid me for a fraction of what I did - and most of it was incredibly late, too. I had to harangue him for months for most of what he owed me (although he was quite clever, and paid up fast on the first few projects I did for him, so I would keep on going). He also had a convincingly chaotic persona, so he could cover up things by pretending he was just well-meaning but disorganised, when in fact I am certain with hindsight, it was all very deliberate). I'm generally an excellent judge of character, and the vast majority of my clients are great, but there you go. There's no real answer to this - contracts are not really going to work in this type of situation, but it's important to realise there are unscrupulous people out there.
Perhaps Writerfind could set some tough guidelines for people wanting writers' services, to clearly lay out the rules? Also perhaps it might be an idea to say that anybody breaching the rules or operating unscrupulously in relation to hiring the services of a Writerfind writer is liable to be blacklisted from the site? I'm a member of the Writers Guild and this is the practice there. Anyway, just some thoughts.
Mark Wright has reason to be suspicious. If I were in his place, I would send samples of work I've done for other clients that would approximate what they want, but no more than that without pay.
I haven't exactly had this experience, but a former client of mine is now a consultant and wanted me to write a strategy for free as an audition, to prove to his new client how valuable I'd be. We agreed, after some discussion, that I would give him a project price for a small bit of work, since they wouldn't understand why they should bring me on board full-time. (Even that didn't go anywhere, but at least I didn't waste my time on something that wouldn't help pay the bills -- but that's a whole 'nother story.)
My point: The requestor may simply be naive, so I wouldn't assume the worst in my reply. But I would make it clear that we don't do work for free. If I were a mechanic, would you expect that I'd reline your brake pads so you could see if I can do work well? Hardly. You'd talk to me about my skills and rates, talk to some references, and then decide how to go forward. For some reason, though, people still think writers might do things for free.
Hope this helps....
HOW TO SPOT A RISKY FREELANCE JOB
This article, written by David H. Levin and Angela Hoy, lists some of the warning signs associated with risky freelance work..
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Last updated 19 May 2005 NZST