So this was what happened.
In an attempt to get myself started as a freelance writer when I have no experience and no portfolio, I signed up for an account at Freelancer.com and started to bid for a few projects which I have confidence in undertaking.
As you can imagine, being a global portal like that, the competition is intense. But what really makes it worse, from my observations, is companies coming in to fight with real individual freelancers for the same project. And they usually put up a very competitive bid price with a deadline that is impossible for a single person to beat.
So after they won a bid, they would then outsource the same project to the existing pool of freelancers that they have, or they would just go back to Freelancer.com but as an “employer” this time, and search for more freelancers who would end up getting the lousier end of the stick.
The companies would naturally make sure they have a nice fat piece of the pie and their freelancers will do the job for a pittance.
And that was what, I suspect, happened to me.
So this person posted a job on the portal for writers. In his description he said that “they” run a huge firm with many US/UK clients and they need quality writers to join their team. Writers must be able to produce 1000 to 1500 words daily and deliver with a tight deadline. His project budget was USD$2 – 4 per hour.
The compensation was bad. Yes I realised. However I thought that for a start, anything goes. As long as someone was willing to give me a chance to get started, then I could have a portfolio to work with – those were my thoughts. So I went ahead to submit a bid for USD$3 per hour and I received a reply within the day.
To be hired, I had to give him a sample article of 500 words in the topic that he gave, and so I did. Of course, now I realised that I’d practically given him an article for free. He said he liked my writing and then he confirmed me.
He then sent me my first writing assignment on email. I was supposed to write a 700 word article on a city in the United States. He also said that I could get information from wikipedia. It was my first assignment and I wanted to leave a good impression. I completed it within the same day and then sent it back.
It took me about 1.5 to 2 hours to finish the article because I had to research. When I was done sending the article, it suddenly occurred to me that I’d forgotten to activate the timer that would track my minutes clocked. Almost panicking, I quickly messaged the job lister to let him know, and I asked him if I should just activate the timer and let it run for the next hour. He told me that there was no need.
The budget and the timer were just for admin purposes only. The actual payment is based on the number of words written. And the rate that he was offering was USD$1.25/500 words. My heart sank. I wondered what I had just gotten myself into.
I decided to press on. That was because the minimum payout has to be at least USD$30 before Freelancer.com will allow users to cash out. Just let me hit $30, I thought, and then I’d quit. In the meantime, I will continue to amass articles for my portfolio.
I got the second assignment the following day. This time round it was a product review.I had to give an introduction, explain product features and give the pros and cons within 500 words. A link to the product listed on Amazon was also given to me.
I completed the article in 1 hr and 10 mins and submitted.
And then I got an email reply. I was told to rewrite and give the pros and cons in point form.
I got mad. The next email I sent to this guy was to tell him that I will not be continuing with the project.
What set me off was that the guy’s instructions sucked. If he knew he needed the pros and cons to be in point form then he should have stated it from the beginning. There are many ways of writing product reviews and not everyone will automatically assume the pros and cons need to be in point form!
His exact instructions were, quoted verbatim – introduction, features, with pros and cons. That was it!
If I had to rewrite that, let’s say I take 30 mins to do so. I’d have spent 1 hr and 40 mins in total to make USD$1.25. I would have to be nuts to allow myself to be exploited like that. I’d be many times better off cleaning tables at MacDonald’s.
But well, looking on the bright side, all is not lost. For one, now I have got 3 different articles (including the sample one) that I could add to my portfolio. Two, I now have a better idea how this whole Freelancer.com platform works. Enough to make me decide that I am unlikely to use it as a main source of obtaining freelance projects from now on.
I have also formed some thoughts about this whole saga. It is very important for freelancers to know their own value and to protect this value. There are too many companies and individuals out there who will be ever too ready to exploit freelancers if they allow it. For this particular project that I just discussed, there were 22 bidders. Some of them even submitted USD$2/hour for the bid, not that it would have mattered anyway.
Everybody’s got to start somewhere, and most of the time the start will not exactly be a smooth one. So I do think that this is a very precious learning experience for me, and by sharing this hopefully I can help prevent other freelancers from getting exploited. On a positive note, I heard back from a travel website that I’d applied to this morning! I’d be writing a sample article for them in the next day or so and I hope they will like what I have to offer.
Stay tuned to this page for updates on how it will pan out! 🙂 And wish me luck everybody!
The start to self-employment is an exciting yet extremely gratifying one!