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Thursday, June 6, 2013
Freelance Toolbox

Be diligent with online gigs

By Anna Pratt

A handful of years ago, I lost out on wages when several publications folded amid the recession. In fact, I’m still receiving bankruptcy filings from one rag that went out of business. I wrote a longish piece for another magazine that turned out to be a revolving door for editors. Not surprisingly, the story, which got passed from one editor to the next, never ran. I spent a year trying to collect a “kill fee,” a pittance for the amount of legwork I’d done.

As a freelancer, it can be challenging to find the right gigs. I’ve had to learn to live with a certain degree of uncertainty, but I sure wish I could have avoided the hullabaloo in the economic downturn. It’s telling that in recent years, a number of Web-based writing services have sprung up, offering to help match-make between freelancers and paying employers. (Think Freelancer.com, oDesk and Thumbtack.)

On the surface, such websites offer lots of writing gigs to choose from, and they’re adding more listings all the time. Landing an assignment is merely a click away. Never mind the usual networking, brainstorming and pitching, all of which are time-consuming. It makes me think of Monopoly: Advance to Go and collect $200!

Although I’m sure some of these writing services work for certain people, especially for those just starting out, too often they bring a whole new set of challenges. Some services take a cut from an already low paycheck, while others require that freelancers pay a fee to bid on a job. It’s a system that tends to award the lowest bidder, which doesn’t exactly do much for one’s pocketbook.

Also, it can be hard to tell whether an employer is legitimate or good for the money. Arguably, a newbie might be able to get some clips or exposure out of the deal, but I’m not so sure. If you’re exploring some of these writing services and you don’t want to avoid these websites altogether, here are a few tips for making the most of your time:

APPROACH THESE SERVICES WITH THE SAME MINDSET THAT YOU WOULD ANY OTHER PROFESSIONAL OPPORTUNITY

Do your homework to make sure someone or something is a good fit. Read the reviews about a service or an employer before entering into a work agreement. Some of these Web services even rate employers (and freelancers), which can help you make informed decisions about jobs to pursue. Talk to other freelancers who’ve used a service before, maybe even someone you haven’t met but whose work you respect.

DON’T PAY TO BID ON A JOB

Already, these gigs are a bit of a gamble. You’re putting in time to create a profile or a member account; scouring countless job listings; researching the website and the employer; and monitoring jobs you’re interested in. Shelling out cash to bid on a job that you know little about is a big risk when so many other services are willing to connect you with jobs for free.

SET LIMITS FOR HOW MUCH TIME YOU’LL SPEND SEARCHING, PURSUING AND COMPLETING GIGS ON THESE TYPES OF WEBSITES

If you find that you’re going overtime, consider whether you’re seeing a good return on your investment in terms of time and money. Your time is valuable, and if you’re getting the feeling that another endeavor might be more profitable, you’re probably right.

REMEMBER THAT NETWORKING IS STILL IMPORTANT

Keep looking for ways to spend quality time with other freelancers and editors. Whether you’re trying to brainstorm story ideas or land a writing gig, there’s still no replacement for meeting people in real life.

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