Using “Yes, and” to Drum Up Freelance Writing Gigs

While I’m fairly terrible at improvisational comedy (shoutout to the Improv Jam troupe in Red Bank NJ, who know firsthand), there’s a rule of thumb that has done me immeasurable good throughout my professional life – the “Yes, and…” concept.

Essentially, when you are improvising, you want to initially agree to what the other party / parties in your scene state as fact in order to establish the scene. For example:

rave_grandma

WITHOUT “Yes, and…”

Person A: It’s so good to see you, “Grandma” – I’m glad you could come to the rave!
Person B: What are you talking about? I’m not Grandma, I’m your coworker and we’re at the office!

(The scene gets confusing and awkward as the parties try to recover and agree.)

WITH “Yes, and…”

Person A: It’s so good to see you, “Grandma” – I’m glad you could come to the rave!

Person B: You’re darn tootin’ little bobby! Now hand me my glowstick knitting needles and let’s get krunked!

(The scene progresses organically.)

In the second scenario, the “Grandma” agreed that they were, in fact, grandma and that the setting was a rave party. The “and” came as Person B assigned Person A a logical identity (“little bobby”) and made supporting references both to the rave and “Grandmas” age with a knitting needle joke and slang. This was the “and” part of “Yes, and…” – Person B helped the scene move forward and empowered their scene partner with information.

Okay, But What About Freelancing?

Your client(s) hire you to do a specific job the majority of the time – and, as any freelancer can tell you, a great deal of mill site gigs are one-offs. We accept, we write, we submit, get paid and then we never see that client again. It doesn’t have to be that way. The “Yes, and…” concept encourages freelancers to suggest additional topics, discuss future potential needs that align with their writing capabilities, and in general to treat the client as an open conversation, rather than a “delivered letter.”

Are there Drawbacks to “Yes, and…” ?

Freelancing itself is a gamble, and yes, you will run the risk that they’ll take your ideas and make off with them. However, a few ideas off the top of your head shouldn’t be half a novel, nor take more than a handful of minutes to conceptualize and present. If you get one job out of 4, it’s still one more job than you had before! And unlike certain *ahem* writing sites that demand you work for free, it’s entirely up to you whether or not to pursue “Yes, and…” with a given client. Listen to your gut, here. If a client seems pushy or unrealistic and doesn’t pay well, or if they try to lowball you on a bid, that’s not a professional relationship, they’re just waiting for the right moment to take advantage of you. Good clients – the ones worth pursuing and building on – pay you a fair wage and have realistic expectations for project facets like turnaround time and work volume. Save your “Yes, and…” effort for them.

One of my best “Yes, and…” nudges turned into a client I’ve been working with steadily for two years. She pays what amounts to half of my rent each month, and it all happened because I made a few suggestions and offered to deliver content on a regular basis. Remember, there is value in a cohesive tone for a corporate blog or regular social media posts – use that as a bargaining chip when making your “Yes, and…” proposition. They might be able to get similar work elsewhere, and maybe even cheaper, but if you’ve honed your writing correctly, no new writer can ever match your tone exactly.

Good luck out there, fellow writers! Improvise your way to greatness and a bank account that eats your bills, rather than the other way around. 😉

 

 

The Ethics of Freelancing

Part of the reason I love freelancing so much is that I never know what the day’s work is going to bring to my desk. Constantly researching topics, looking for new angles, and pitching ideas keeps my mind active and curious, and makes interesting party conversation infinitely easier. There are some writing topics that I’m just not interested in, but there are also writing topics that I think freelance writers should be honor-bound not to touch.

I won’t be a hypocrite here – there has been a time or two in my career that I’ve written a Shakespeare essay or a similar piece of literary analysis that I was pretty darn sure was destined to carry a lazy or overworked student’s name. I made a rule for myself early on, however – never touch the life-or-death stuff. I won’t write false reviews or unsubstantiated claims about medications or supplements, and I won’t give medical or legal advice in my writing that isn’t fairly common knowledge, and vetted.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the work isn’t out there. Take a peek below at a job I recently spotted on a board.

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This looks to be a pretty basic walkthrough for a nurse-in-training, and it’s part of an established curriculum, if this Chegg “homework help” page is any indication. This is not the kind of education that someone responsible for medical care should be shrugging off.

While it’s up to each individual freelancer to make judgment calls on what he or she will work on, this is the kind of “opportunity” I condemn and caution against with the strongest terms possible. Keep an eye out, and always consider the deeper ramifications of your actions – our words have the power to inspire, create, sell and comfort, and, as the web-slinger himself once put it…

with-great-power-comes-great-responsibility-spider-man

The Latest (Bad) News on Zerys

I know that some of my readers may wonder why I’m devoting so many blog posts to a site that banned and blocked me for my opinion. I would point to my unusually high number of new blog followers, comments and likes on my Zerys posts as proof that there’s clearly a large audience that wants to talk about their frustrations there, but can’t due to forum censorship.

As I mentioned on a previous blog post about Zerys practices, I have an ex that I’m still friendly with that keeps me updated on some of the craziness going on over there. He was researching approval times recently and came across this admin forum post from last month:

zerys_post

“We understand the desire to know where you stand with every job off the New Clients Job Board. Writers have a right to know one way or the other whether a buyer will add him/her to their writing team, and also whether they have chosen to purchase the initial piece or not.

For all other regular assignments to Favorite Writers, if the client doesn’t review the piece in time, we can auto-approve the piece because the client has already added that writer to their team, and there is some likelihood that the client would approve the content anyways since its from one of their favorite writers.

For initial New Client jobs, however, there is a unique challenge when it comes to auto-approval. We cannot force the client to like a writer, and we cannot force them to purchase a piece that was primarily designed to review a writer’s ability. The reason clients don’t have a review deadline on New Client Jobs is because these are not final, publishable pieces of content, but rather, these are jobs designed to help them identify writers they like, and want to add to their team.

All this being said, the great majority of New Client Jobs are reviewed within the 7-day window, so we are not finding this to be a major issue at thie point. We will, however, continue to watch it closely.”

There are several problems here – notably that “great majority” isn’t qualified – and even then, numbers don’t always work favorably in Zerys’ PR history, as we learned after the announcement that 60% of Zerys clients are not paying for their “samples.” Secondly, and admittedly this is anecdotal, but several writers I know have admitted that their samples sit for weeks, with some still languishing in queue from back during the initial shift to writing for free – excuse me, providing “custom” writing samples –  on the platform, months ago.

So, to recap, in order to get jobs from any new client on Zerys, you’ll need to:

1.) Write a 250 word article for free, knowing that 60% of these samples, by Zerys own admission, will never earn a penny.

2.) Wait for an indeterminate period of time, which is entirely up to the client, in the hopes that you’re one of the “lucky” 40% that actually gets paid for your work.

3.) Keep your work in limbo indefinitely, unable to repackage or sell it, because you’ve essentially created Schrodinger’s Article, which the client can buy at any point in time and lock down a copyright for.

This is what #FreelanceIsntFree is pushing for, my writing readers. These expectations and edicts are a slippery slope that devalues our hard-earned craft and makes new writers feel as if they’re not legitimate until they work for free.

You are worth more than that. Never forget that your work is worth paying for!

 

Debunking a Craigslist Writing Scam

Red warning triangle with the word scam in red on the left sloped side, and the word Alert! in black on the right sloped side. In the center of the triangle is a red police-like bubble light with the word scam in black beneath it.

WritingLeads.Info is a Craigslist Scammer!

When you’re trying to become or living as a full time freelancer, hustling is always on your to-do list. Hunting for new work, marketing yourself and following up on leads is as important as writing itself, if you want to keep a steady flow of work coming in. Craigslist, a popular nationwide classified ads-style website, has job listings for those brave enough to look. Their typical 9-to-5 job listings are often scams for non-existent postions, designed to pull in resumes to cull for nefarious purposes like identity theft. But, you may be asking, are Craigslist writing ads a scam too?

Mostly, yes. There are a few exceptions, such as local ad agencies listing a position with a local number, but by and large they’re out to get your money or your info. Here’s an example, including my extremely thorough debunking of the supposed writing site, a writingleads.info scam:


From Tom Wilson ( WritingLeads@gmail.com ):

Good morning Delany! This is a great opportunity. How this works is you sign up and complete the application process, look over what types of writings that different companies want, write them, submit them and get paid. It’s a great way to make some extra cash.  You get what you put into it. If you are a decent writer there is really good money to be made. You probably won’t become rich but if you like to write, you might like this!  Good luck! (link)
Tom


My Response:

Tom;

Ten years in the business means I know a thing or two about legitimacy. No real job makes you pay – either now or later – for the privilege of working for them, and that’s precisely why a “7 day trial” is a massive red flag. I actually own and operate a popular how-to-freelance blog that tells people where to go to earn money writing, and I do it for the good of the community because I don’t charge a dime.
Let me guess, you probably set a bot to scrape writing listings off of free, public-facing sites and stick it in your haphazard framework, right? With no filter for which jobs will take beginners and which require actual experience in the industry? No floor to how little the listings are charging, and no filter to keep the scam jobs that are even worse than yours off the site? No methodology to find and remove jobs that have been filled?

We both know what your site is. Shame on you for wasting people’s time with a scam. You’ve been flagged and your site is being added to my scam page on the FreelanceWriterGuide. Go find some legitimate work and stop trying to make a living charging people for free information.


From Tom Wilson ( WritingLeads@gmail.com ):

Hi Delany, I do online marketing for them. I have had people who signed up and tell me they really like it. I don’t work for them. I realize it’s not for everyone, but some people do like it. It saves a ton of time for looking for the paying gigs. Thanks for flagging it, appreciate it, especially when you have no idea what it is. A true hero to the people looking for paying gigs.
Good for you.
Tom


My Response:
Okay, Tom. Let’s chat about your super legitimate site, shall we? I know exactly “what it is” – and the fact that you fall back so readily on sarcasm tells me that I’m definitely not the first professional to call you out on the carpet.

What are the odds that all of the “writers” featured in your success stories would ALL join the same shady-looking fat loss program?

It’s interesting that literally the only. place. these. “writers“. use their professional headshots. is in your network of websites. Oh, wait…I’m sorry, I spoke too soon! Apparently, “Mabel Curtis of Australia” is incognito as Jennifer Bergman, American Wedding Photographer – I guess she didn’t want people to know about her salacious life writing articles for money. Oh, and this isn’t Anton Diaz – this is the husband of actual food blogger Susan Thye – this is the Anton Diaz your site likely trying to impersonate and commit fraud with. Oops, I mean “quote.” Don’t worry, I’ve taken the liberty of contacting both of them to let them know about this little mixup.

Apparently I’m not the only one to see through the obnoxious auto-play marketing audio and landing pages full of unsubstantiated fluff – this guy looked into it, as did this one, among others. “Glen Anderson” doesn’t exist anywhere that he should, including LinkedIn, for purportedly running a company that boasts I could pull a $14,000 A MONTH payday if I only fork over $47. Eight million alleged dollars in payouts to freelancers and yet no one’s ever heard of him? His signature is a font, for gods’ sakes. The Freelancers Union has no idea who he is, what your company is, and actively cautions freelancers not to ever pay money for access to jobs.

And actually, I am a hero to people looking for paying gigs. People have told me that, verbatim, because I have integrity and don’t need to trick people into auto-pay scams to keep my lights on.

Do what you want to do with your life man, but at least be honest with yourself about what you’re doing.


From Tom Wilson ( WritingLeads@gmail.com ):

Sorry, but this is news to me. I should look more carefully into the companies I do online marketing for.
Tom


Now, dear readers, it’s anyone’s guess if “Tom” was being sincere in his last message, but you can see how easily I picked apart his scam website with a little “search Google for this image” magic.
Was I snarkier than I needed to be here? Sure, I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m just sick and tired of people like this giving my industry – and my peers – a bad name to make a few bucks on a scam. Rest assured I will continue to call out this garbage everywhere I see it, but you need to do your part too: make sure you report or turn in everyone attempting to usher people to a site like this. This came from an innocent-looking Craigslist ad that claimed the poster just needed a writer for a few articles. If your response gets an auto-reply or a scammy ad push like mine did, flag that post without a second thought!

Who I Am vs. What I Write

Freelance writing is a career with a staggering range of subjects to tackle, especially before you build a consistent roster of repeat clients. For some writers, this mish-mash is an obstacle to be waded through on their way to steady work in comfortable subjects. For others – yours truly among them – it’s the same mish-mash that makes freelancing so darn attractive in the first place.

In the past week, I’ve written about fat-burning cold laser therapy, landing pages for a pizza restaurant in Ohio, specialty Vietnamese sauces, air conditioner seasonal preparation, local business SEO listings, warehousing strategy, the fast food industry, an organic body oil direct sales company, truck cranes and workshop sessions that I attended at the Content Marketing Conference in Las Vegas last month. I love it, because it keeps my mind active and engaged at all times – I’m always learning something new!

However. Sometimes a job will cross my path that makes my stomach sink a little. Either the viewpoint is staunchly in opposition to my own, or the very content would be unethical  (by my own standards) to write – e.g. a review for a product I never tried. A friendWe all need the money, but I’m here to tell you, as a muddled mentor-of-sorts to freelance fledglings…

…just. don’t. do. it.

Question_Mark

Insincerity comes through in something as subtle as your word choice, and trust me – the readers are going to pick up on it. In a career path that’s highlighted as being one of personal freedom and choice, you are absolutely free to pass up on these types of articles. Yes, even if you need the money. If you need someone to tell you it’s okay, and not to feel guilty for passing on projects that make your skin crawl, consider this my blanket forgiveness: it’s cool. 

I’m a bleeding heart liberal and a lifelong pagan (yes, believe it or not, I’m a witch! And I vote! And pay taxes!), so believe me when I tell you there’s never been a shortage of jobs that don’t quite mesh with my worldview.

It took me years to make my peace with not gritting my teeth through uncomfortable subjects, but I came to realize that for every church bulletin I passed up, a religious scholar was shooing off an adult toy description I could pick up. We need to treat this crazy freelancing journey as a group effort, if only academically – stick to what you feel comfortable writing, or researching-to-write, and success won’t be far behind.

Dealing With Problem Clients

Whole libraries have been written on the subject of speaking to a member of the opposite (or same, or other – it is 2016, after all) sex, but precious little covers how we, as freelancers, should chat up our source of income if things start to go sideways. Realistically, we’re also all competing with one another for work, so cards are held pretty close to the vest. It’s not easy to peek at what others are doing in real time to mimic, as you might in other industries.

So what now? Wing it? That’s what most fledgling freelancers are forced to do, in the absence of clear instruction. More established writers have uncovered the trip wires and learned to see the red flags on a problem client from miles away, but those skills were probably dearly learned. I feel that the “new blood” in freelancing needs guidance on this, even if it’s at the cost of a smaller work pool. Why? Well, because it isn’t just about educating them – it’s about empowering them and bringing them into the fold to stand firm against industry-wide issues like scope creep, which affects every writer regardless of skill level.

redflag

Here are my “three truths,” to dealing with potential “red flag” clients, fledgling writers:

1.) Clients will test you. This means that they will often try to get something for nothing, more for little, or everything for a fair amount. The trick here is to master being a willow tree in a sea of oak trees – that is, firmly rooted but willing to bend a bit when it suits your needs. Don’t agree to take on non-writing tasks like backlinking, image-gathering or distributing press releases unless you’re being paid accordingly – these are not typically part and parcel of a writing job, and they certainly shouldn’t be free. If client-requested “edits” are sounding more like “additions” that are going to take you beyond your maximum paid-for word counts, ask politely if they’d like to increase the word count (and pay!) or have you remove some previously-written work from the piece instead. Now, they don’t want to lose work of course, they wanted the new stuff for free, but this is a polite way of acknowledging that you know what they might be up to and stopping it before it has a chance to manifest.

2.) Set the rules of engagement before they do it for you. Unless you’re being paid a staggering amount of money, you are not on call 24/7, so don’t be afraid to set time and communication boundaries. It’s reasonable to expect that you are available 9-5 Monday through Friday in your home time zone, it is not reasonable to expect you’re available at 11:30 pm on a Saturday unless it was previously discussed and agreed upon. Never give a new client your home phone or cell phone, because rest assured they will use it – and use it, and use it. Keeping things confined to email or Skype gives you some measure of control over when and where your client contacts you, and that is important for setting boundaries. If a call is absolutely necessary, offer to call them and frame it as a service benefit – “I would be happy to call you to save you the trouble, what time and number is best to reach you?”

3.) Don’t let them use price or volume as a dangling carrot. Remember that, in freelancing, promises of “more work,” “ongoing higher pay work” or “bonuses” aren’t worth the digital non-paper they’re printed on. A lot of clients will use this tactic on newbie writers to get really great work out of them….once. You work hard, turn in a great article, and wait. And wait. No bonuses, the client is MIA, and there’s no work in sight. All of a sudden, that above-and-beyond effort for that “carrot” was actually for a run-of-the-mill one-off article with average pay, or worse, lower pay. As I’ve mentioned in the Freelance Writer Guide, even new writers should not agree to less than .01 / word – $1 for 100 words needs to be the floor when it comes to fluent English writing. Don’t accept less…a reputable client that actually has fairly-priced work for you will not ask you to work for less than a penny a word, even on a “trial” basis.

Let me be clear: most of the clients you’re working for will be agencies and middlemen, and any promise of “exposure” is hollow or a flat-out lie. If they are an agency or a middleman, they aren’t authorized to allow you to stick the end client’s name or the work you’ve done for them in your portfolio.

If you enter into every project with an (polite!) attitude of self-worth, clear boundaries and a firm price in mind for your efforts, you’ll be able to avoid a lot of problem clients – the most egregious/abusive individuals in the bad client roster are looking for an easy, too-eager pushover they can exploit, not someone that knows what their work is worth.

 

Freelance Writer Guide Chapter 7 – The Ego

A digitally rendered clay figure of a faceless grey man with a red tie on. He is holding a blue vanity mirror in front of his face and checking his reflection as he adjusts his tie.

The critic has to educate the public; the artist has to educate the critic.” – Oscar Wilde

Writing isn’t like working a traditional 9-to-5 type of job; the schedule can be crazy, there are no real co-workers to commiserate with face to face, and feedback can be vague and elusive if you manage to get it at all. In a work-at-home (or Starbucks, or Barnes and Noble, or anywhere with wifi) environment, the theoretical silence can be deafening.

You will get pieces returned to you and rejected at some point, with a good chance of it happening early on. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a bad writer, or even that your piece was sub-par – these returns are at the whim of the client or editor, both of whom are not the writer! Try your best to take criticism constructively and apply frustration as motivation to work harder and turn out better pieces. Even with the businesslike airs it puts on, freelance writing is an art form that falls squarely in the realm of creativity. One man’s masterpiece is another man’s doodle – outside of agreed-upon constants like spelling and grammar, the beauty of writing is largely in the eye of the beholder.

No matter what sites you end up joining, at some point a set of instructions will be poorly worded, clients will be unreasonable and you will very likely get burned out at some point. Hopefully the occasional pitfalls won’t put you off the track to success, but don’t be afraid to take a breather now and then if it gets to be too much. Writing is an intense vocation, requiring complete focus 100% of the time that it is being done, by its very nature.

As a new writer, be prepared to explain that copywriting is the writing of copy, not the application of patents. You’ll also find yourself frequently explaining that no, you do not also do graphic design – a surprisingly common mixup when the term “freelancer” pops up at a party. In a similar vein, friends and family may have to have the nature of marketing writing explained to them, in particular the difference between sales-oriented writing work and the “Great American Novel” that every stereotypical writer seems to be indelibly attached to.

Be proud of what you do and all that you accomplish – you are effectively your own boss at this point, so periodical self reviews will likely be the only official pat on the back you’ll enjoy. Work hard, enjoy crafting each piece, and take some time to remind yourself each day that every word keeps you further and further away from a lackluster cubicle in a customer service department somewhere.

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