In the comments section of one of my previous articles, I alluded to the fact that I have developed a sort of filtering process to help me select which projects would be a good match for my skills. When most freelance writers start their careers, be it part-time or full-time, they tend to focus almost exclusively on the bottom line – that is to say, how much compensation they will receive for a given project. I myself was guilty of this during my early freelancing as well, and it was quite a while before I was able to develop the instincts I needed to help me sort through the opportunities I came across.
While the amount earned per project is obviously important, it’s also crucial to understand how much of your time will be devoted to a particular client, article set or white paper when factoring in whether a specific job will work out for you. You probably don’t want to end up working 40 hours on a $400 project, for example. At the same time, you have your mental health to consider. Unfortunately, not every client is going to behave as you expect them to. While I have been blessed with a client past that I would say has been almost completely trouble free, I still occasionally come across those who would not be a good match for my working and communications style, regardless of the price they are offering.
The key is to spot potential problem projects before you become committed to them. How can you do this? My preliminary method involves scanning a project description for certain keywords or phrases. If anywhere in the work order I see the words “this is an easy project for anyone who knows what they are doing,” I immediately move on. To me, this phrase has become one of the brightest red flags on my freelancing radar.
The sentiment expressed by that commonly found expression to me indicates that the person looking for the writing work doesn’t necessarily have a healthy respect for the skills of whoever ends up with the contract. If the job is easy, then theoretically anyone could do it, which occasionally can lead to situations where the client is unwilling to acknowledge that you as a writer deserve fair compensation or treatment during the project. This particular phrase is often found in projects where writers are essentially cogs in a content machine, easily replaceable and on the same skill level as pigeons trained to pluck out defective ball bearings on a conveyor belt.
Another indicator that you might end up dealing with unrealistic expectations or hassles during a project are those clients who provide extremely strict and verbose instructions for what truly are simple jobs. Note that I did not say “in-depth” – it is never a bad thing when clients are able to communicate their writing needs at a high level. However, a rigid process that contains 50 steps that must be adhered to for a simple 500 word web article can mean that the client is difficult to please. It might also mean that they have had negative experiences with other writers in the past and are now over-compensating in terms of control in an effort to get the work done to their expected standard.
If you are someone who often interacts with freelancers and has used this type of phrasing or strict project description in the past, please do not feel singled out. I fully realize that there are many clients out there who have no ill intentions when communicating to freelancers in this way. However, keep in mind that you might end up excluding some qualified writers who are confronted with hundreds of projects in any given week, and who are forced to use a process of elimination in order to choose which ones to pursue. With a little fine-tuning, and more open communication and description, you can go a long way towards attracting more top end talent to satisfy your writing needs.
My next post will examine some other ways that I filter through potential projects. Does anyone have any methods that they use when sounding out possible clients?