Dodgy Upwork Clients and The Tricks They Try

Though a lot of fellow Freelance writers are disparaging of content site such as Upwork, I am a firm advocate of these types of site for those of us wanting to break into freelance writing as a first or a second job. While it is true that a lot of the work is of abysmally low pay for first timers, it is often the first and only place inexperienced and eager new freelancers (such as myself) can find the sort of work they are looking for and build a portfolio and client base quickly.

Advice for new upworkers

It is not true that all the work is of ridiculously low pay, certainly you will find those not willing to pay more than $1 per hours but you are not obliged to apply and if you are offered it, as insulted as you might feel, you are not obliged to accept.

So you’ve found a niche and you’ve seen the sort of jobs you want to apply for. All is well and good… until you get ripped off. Either somebody doesn’t pay you or is demanding a free sample. Do you send it to them on the promise of payment? How do you tell the good from the bad jobs? I’ve trawled the internet and made a list of my own experiences to help you navigate this minefield.

The Free Sample

Inevitably, you will be asked to compile one. In most cases it will be just 100-200 words just so they can see your style of writing. I don’t mind doing these because I can easily knock up a 100 word introduction to a subject in about 5 minutes – written, proofread, edited and sent. Thank you.

Sometimes though, a client might request an entire article. It is against their rules to do. If you are convinced that the job is genuine and you have a potentially good contract out of it, then you may give it serious consideration especially if they are looking for written work on a niche subject, but I would advise against it. I mentioned before to cover yourself against requests for freebies. There is another dimension to this to consider which I will cover in the next section.

Remember that if they do not pay you, they have no legal right to use it – but always cover your back to ensure that you do not expect to see it on the web. Assert your copyright; it is yours and you then at least have another piece to put in your portfolio. Try not to make a habit of it. If they do pay you, then great. That said, I have been offered more paid trials than unpaid trials – usually a flat fee of $10 but in a couple of cases, they have been happy to pay the hourly rate.

Unverified Payment System / No Work History

Upwork specific, if you are more than happy to write a free sample then I would advise against going for the contracts where the client has no work history, no star ratings and an unverified payment system. If you think the job is genuine, insist on an hourly pay rate because payment is guaranteed and they will have to verify their payment system before asking you to commence work. If it is a flat fee, you have no guarantee to receive any pay and you are not covered by the site. I have my search filter to eliminate all of these jobs now.

eLance covers you a little better in this regard because once a contract has been allocated, the Escrow payment system must be funded before you are obliged to start work. eLance goes to pains to remind you of this: DO NOT START WORK UNTIL ESCROW HAS BEEN FUNDED. This means that they must prove their ability to pay you before you are ever obliged to put digital ink to digital paper.

The Bait and Switch

You’ve applied to a job and they want you to write a sample. They might pay you, or they might not. They like your work and the test article comes with a low to average pay rate – perhaps $10 for a 500 word article. But when it comes to offering you work they feel that your rates are too high. Will you accept $6 per hour instead of the $20 you applied at? Will you take a flat rate contract at $10 per article instead of the $22 you said you’d be prepared to do it for?

A second bait and switch is to offer attractive hourly rate contracts. There are three levels of pay guidance to the hourly rate:

    • Entry level (which I consider up to $15ph)
    • Intermediate (which I consider between $15-30ph)
    • Expert (which I consider to be $30ph+)

And the bait-and-switcher will put one of the top two tiers but once you’ve done negotiating and they say they want to hire you, magically they are no longer authorised to pay an hourly rate at all. Will you accept a flat fee of $15 per article?

In these circumstances you are unlikely to get the rate you applied at and watch out for all sorts of sob stories “my regular writer is sick / on holiday / has too much from other contractors etc” and how “he/she was always happy to work for those rates!” I have asked several contractors rather curtly why they ignored the rate I applied at. It is likely that they had no intention of ever paying your reasonable rate and have probably thought that with enough rapport and sweet talk they could knock you down to the pittance they pay their regular copywriter(s).

Oh, And…

This hasn’t happened to me yet but some of the messageboards I have visited state that some contractors will “remember” that this job (once it has already been allocated) is for three articles and not two. Would you do three for the same price? Your bid price was based on the two articles advertised and now they are wanting a third done out of goodwill.

As I said, this hasn’t happened to me and a couple of contractors when they have come up with extra work have either set up a new contract, put in an extra bonus amount or have sent an additional payment into the Escrow system. Genuine contractors will always be happy to do this.

If the above does happen to you, you are not obliged to do a free article and it wouldn’t be an issue for the hourly rate jobs anyway.

Continue to protect yourself and remember Caveat Emptor! If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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