As a new freelance writer, trying to score your first gig can be tough. Unfortunately, as we get more desperate for work, we can sometimes leave ourselves vulnerable to scams.
If you’ve fallen foul to this before don’t be too hard on yourself, even the most experience of freelancers get caught out from time to time.
So, I’ve put together a list of red flags to watch out for. I recommend using these as a guide to deducing whether the gig you’re considering is legitimate.
So with that in mind, let’s dive on in!
Is this job a scam? How to tell if a job listing is legit
1. Was It a Random Email?
Receiving a random email inquiring about your services may seem like a dream come true. However, there are a few things you should look out for:
Do you know the sender? By this we mean, have they found you via your online portfolio or through a mutual contact in your network? If it seems utterly random DON’T click on any links in the email. Instead, you need to do some further investigating (more on that later).
Was it sent outside of working hours? If the email’s sent late at night, be wary. Occasionally, this can be explained by business owners ‘burning the midnight oil,’ or being in a different time-zone. However, if the email looks like it’s typed on a cell phone, late at night, with numerous spelling errors- something might be amiss!
Typically, shady emails don’t include an email footer with a company name and contact details.
However, just because an email presents one or two red flags, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s a scam. Nevertheless, you should proceed with caution. As such, we suggest using this email template for your reply:
‘Hi [insert name],
Thanks for reaching out to me. This job sounds perfect! [insert what your schedule looks like].Are you available for a Skype call tomorrow to discuss the project?
Also, please send me the following information, so I can better understand your needs:
Any social media handles you have
On a separate note, would you mind letting me know how you found me? This will help to improve my marketing methods. Thanks!
I look forward to hearing from you soon,
[insert your name]’
As you can probably already gather, the response you’ll get from this email will give you a better idea of the sender’s legitimacy.
2. Are they Offering Unrealistically High Pay?
If they promise you crazy money, then the chances are the job’s too good to be true. Of course, some gigs pay megabucks, but they don’t usually surface as anonymous ads or through random emails.
3. Is the Client Shady About Their Rates?
There’s nothing crass or rude about asking a potential client how much they’re willing to pay for the work. Your rates and responsibilities should be discussed frankly and be pivotal to all contract negotiations.
So, if they’re cagey about payment, run for the hills! This attitude’s often disguised via the following comments: ‘let’s discuss that later,’ or ‘we’ll set a rate after you’ve finished your first assignment.’
I can almost guarantee you, you’ll never see any money from them, and if you do, it’ll be a pittance.
Other common suggestions include ‘we’ll increase your pay when the site/blog/magazine takes off’ or; we’ll pay you more when you reach a certain amount of page views. If you hear these cliches, do yourself a favor and drop them like a stone!
4. What Does Their Website Look Like?
As a general rule, any customer willing to pay for writing work will have a fully functioning website. So, check it out, and ask yourself the following questions.
- What do they do?
- What’s their reputation like?
- Do they have any testimonials?
You get the idea! Just try to find out whether the client’s the real deal.
5. Do They Require You to Send Custom Samples?
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s entirely reasonable for clients to ask for samples of your previously published work. However, NEVER send them a free custom sample.
So, many writers do this on the off chance they’ll hire you, but please don’t be tempted to fall into this trap. Often, this is a ruse to get free content off of vulnerable writers.
Occasionally, some recruiters will ask for a paid sample, and, that’s usually okay. Again, we recommend doing a bit of snooping around before letting your guard down. They should always offer to pay you via PayPal, and typically they’ll provide you with a style guide.
It goes without saying, that you should NEVER give away your bank information, or any other personal details that could leave your vulnerable to cybercrime. Which leads us perfectly to my next point.
6. Are They Phishing for Personal Information?
If the client’s asking for tons of personal information early on, then that might be a sign something isn’t right. Plus, remember, there’s some info your clients will never need to know. If in doubt, politely refuse to send over the information, or subtly dodge the request.
7. Most Importantly, are they Asking YOU to Pay?
A legitimate writing gig will NEVER ask you to pay them. You should never have to wire money to receive ‘software,’ a ‘laptop,’ or to ‘pursue your application.’ If you get any requests that sound like this, avoid them like the plague!
Extra Precautions You Should Take
Research. Research. Research.
If a potential client’s showing any of the above warning signs, I strongly suggest doing your homework. Here are a few things you can do to delve deeper into the matter.
- Plug the name of the company/advertiser/ sender into LinkedIn and Twitter– does what they’re saying match up to their social media handles?
- Do a Google search, do they have a physical business address? Have they got an offline publication? Do they have an excellent online reputation with a proven track record?
- In addition to a standard Google search try searching for the following: [company name]+ scam. As well as [company name]+ lawsuit. This will undoubtedly highlight their legitimacy. You should also type their name into the Google news tab and see what kind of stuff comes up.
- Head to writers forums on LinkedIn and Facebook and see if anyone’s heard of them. If so, what’s their opinion? If it’s a common scam, there’s a good chance other writers will of heard of it!
Where’s the Safest Place to Find Work?
If in doubt, or, if you want to remain uber vigilant (which is something I thoroughly recommend). Always apply for jobs via secure job boards like LinkedIn, AngelList, and Contena.
What I love about Contena is that they scan through all the potential jobs first before advertising them on their listings, and only include legitimate job opportunities with fair pay. This rapidly reduces the likelihood of writers coming into contact with any underhand ‘customers.’
I hope this advice helps as you endeavor to find legitimate online writing jobs. Best of luck to you all, and if in doubt, refer back to this article, and you shouldn’t go too far wrong!