Monday, September 10, 2007

Want to Keep Good Writers Away? Say This.

Looking around Kathy Kehrli’s Irreverent Freelancer site (which I highly recommend), I came across a link to a press release from this joker. His press release gives advice for hiring writers on Elance, a bidding site where I sometimes pick up extra work. The advice he offers makes me laugh—because he tells people to say exactly the type of things in their bid descriptions that will drive the high-quality writers away.

It’s inspired me to give some advice of my own to people looking for experienced, qualified, fluent-English-speaking professional writers to craft their website content. So, anyone out there thinking of hiring a freelancer: If you want us to stay away from your job posting, here are a few things you should say.

This is an easy job for someone who knows what they’re doing. This is the first one I look for. It tells me the client either underestimates the job, or doesn’t respect the work that goes into it. It also tells me that if I get hired, investigate further, and find out the job is more work than the client’s letting on, he’ll tell me I don’t know what I’m doing—and possibly, since this is Elance, broadcast that on my feedback. It’s an indication of drama I don’t need.

Heck, you get a free education just listening to us. This is another thing the press release suggests clients say. It comes off as arrogant, for one thing. I've learned plenty of interesting things from client projects, but I'm working for a living, not a free education.

I also had a bad experience with a client once who wanted me to write a lot of very high-level content for a technical audience. He resisted paying me a wage that would cover the research time. His claim was that I was getting a “free education.”

Payment only upon completion. This tells me the client has unreasonable expectations or hasn't worked with freelancers before. 50% deposits are the norm in the freelancing world. Most pros are leery of working with those who don't do deposits, especially first-time clients.

Will be willing to pay up to $5 per article. This isn’t the type of wage that will attract a decent writer. This is a slave-labor-in-India wage. If you want to attract professionals, you have to be willing to pay professionals. An experienced and skilled freelance writer generally has plenty of well-paying clients. What incentive does she have to take on a project offering a third-world rate?

We can’t pay you, but you’ll get lots of exposure. I do sometimes write for free, if I think the exposure I get is worth the time. But in general if a business doesn’t have enough money to pay freelancers, chances are it can’t offer much in the way of exposure, either.

There are plenty of excellent writers out there who can do a lot for your business. But most pros tend to be at least a little selective. And these phrases are guaranteed to drive the good writers away. You may get third-world labor, moonlighters who don’t make a living at it, or even brand-new writers trying to break in and build a resume. But you won’t get high-quality expertise. To do that, you have to respect the writer as a businessperson and pay a reasonable fee.


Kathy@TheFlawlessWord said...

Awesome advice! This press release irked me so much that I actually sent out a rebuttal press release from the writer's perspective. It's posted in my business blog.

Jennifer Williamson said...

Yeah, it cracked me up that you discovered this was an actual client of yours. Makes me wonder if this guy wrote the press release this way on purpose just to stir up controversy. "Free education" indeed--sheesh!

Coach Kyril said...

Are you kidding me? In this post you refer to someone as "this joker". Well, I actually got this advice first-hand, that EXACT phrase, from two extremely successful individuals named Matt Bacak and Arman Morin, and let me tell you what - the information that someone gets from EITHER of these two is worth doing the job for a CUT rate, much less your standard rate. Matt alone charges 5k an hour for personal marketing advice, and 20k a day, cash, UPFRONT. Do you think these two might have something of value to share? I actually had the privilege of spending three days with Matt Bacak back in 2006, and he walked his talk for 3 days straight, staying up past midnight answering every question I had. Here's an old phrase that may be of use when you don't quite know who to take advice from: "Follow the piles", as in piles of cash. Matt and Armand have it, in the multi-multi-millions, and got it by selling their goods and services, and teaching others how to do it. The technique of saying that "This is a simple and easy task for anyone that knows what they're doing. Heck, you get a free education just listening to us." is a marketing technique used to appeal to a prospect's ego, weed out non-hackers who don't know how to write but just want a paying assignment, and offers the prospect something of value, which is the actual information the writer wants transcribed/ghostwritten, etc. You can learn techniques like these from the folks at the American Writer's & Artist's Institute (AWAI). No one's looking down on you by using these techniques. The raw information that people like Matt and Armand are seeking bids from writers for is sold for thousands upon thousands of dollars in it's edited form. It would behoove any person to perhaps let go of their own self importance and learn something from them before you call them a 'clown'. There's really no need to get derogatory; once you put that stuff on the internet, you can't just take it back. BTW, I'm just a regular guy, and nobody's 'hack'. This is me at http://www/ See? No one special; but from someone who's been through the AWAI course, I can tell you that it is good old fashioned marketing, plain and simple. The only reason I even bothered responding to this post is because I've read your blog for awhile, respect your advice, and enjoy reading your posts. Anyhoo, just my 2 cents. (If u wanna delete this I'll understand.) Anyway, Make It A Great Day!

Jennifer Williamson said...


Wow--what a long, impassioned speech! I'm not deleting this because I'm actually interested in responding. Here are my thoughts:

1. You say that these people are worth listening to because they earn a lot of money for what they say. But the phrases they use are phrases characteristically used by people looking for very cut-rate work. If these people have so much money, you'd think they could afford to pay for the services of a decent copywriter--somebody like Bob Bly, who has a proven track record of success in sales writing and could doubtless increase their earnings a great deal, instead of a bunch of cheap writing from inexperienced and/or unskilled writers.

2. On "this is a simple and easy task/you're getting a free education..." it's funny that you say this phrase is a marketing technique aimed at trying to entice writers to write for you for a cut rate by making them think they're getting something of value from you other than money. I'm in that target market--I'm a writer. That phrase strikes me as arrogant and condescending, and it tells me the person is trying to take advantage of me and make me think I'm getting something from the deal. Among professional writers I know, nobody really responds favorably to these phrases. We're not all completely naive, believe it or not. The people who would respond favorably to these would be very naive, inexperienced writers. So if that's marketing advice you get from people claiming to be professionals, it's bad advice.

3. About this phrase being intended to "appeal to a prospect's ego, weed out non-hackers who don't know how to write but just want a paying assignment, and offers the prospect something of value":

We've covered ego; it certainly doesn't appeal to anyone's ego to infer that they need a "free education." It says you think they're not educated.

As for weeding out "non-hackers" (what's a non-hacker, anyway?) who are just looking for a "paying assignment", that's all of us. All professionals, anyway. Believe it or not, writers don't transcribe people's info, write people's sales letters and marketing material and content articles for the pure love of writing or just to learn something. People write fiction and poetry for the pure love; they write business copy for money.

Professionals charge for their work because it's their full-time job; they're good enough to attract and keep clients who pay. The people who are willing to work for free or very low pay are either a). very inexperienced; b). from a country where $5 per article will actually support them (and they usually don't have great writing skills and often don't speak English too well); or c). doing something shady like copying from other sources. The people you want working for you aren't the people who are willing to do it for free or cheap.

4. Your advice to "follow the money" generally applies to hiring writers; if you pay for cheap writing, you get cheap writing. If you pay for really excellent copy, that's what you get--and it will definitely do more for your business. I can understand someone with not much capital being tempted to hire cheap writers to get their projects off the ground, but for people who supposedly earn $5k an hour, I'd think they'd be able to afford (and know the value of, if they're such great business people) good writing.

That's why I'm a bit skeptical about these people who are giving this advice. I generally don't like to be insulting to anyone, but I do think they're jokers. The advice they're offering makes them look that way. You say nobody will look down on you for using these phrases, but the community of professional writers will. These are phrases everybody in that community knows. They're a clear marker that the person using them is looking to hoodwink someone into working for them at much less than they should be earning (otherwise, the person wouldn't have to offer "a free education" instead of fair payment).

Anyway, so that's my $5k. You "make it a great day" yourself.