Repetition is Good for You

Remember back in school when you were learning those spelling words or learning those math equations? If you went to a school like I did, you were expected to spell those words out five, ten times in order to remember. With math, you had to complete a bunch of similar equations in order to understand the concept. Same thing later in school if you were learning a language or memorizing historical facts or dates. It worked, didn’t it? Let’s apply that logic to some of the advice I’ve tossed around here on occasion, more specifically places and employers you should not be working for.

Here are some of the places/employers you need to forget about:

Startup companies. They may have a great idea or a great new service, but nine times out of ten they have no organization or cash. Good luck getting paid. I’ve been on the edge of that cliff more than once, which has made me swear to avoid them altogether. How can you tell it’s a startup? They’ll use language like “ground-floor opportunity” (synonomous with “low pay” anyway), or they’ll say they’re a new company or startup.

Foreign employers. To date, I’ve not come across anyone who’s had any positive experience with a person in another country. Seriously, if they default, how are you going to collect? There are enough employers domestically to go around. Work with people who are subject to the same laws you are.

People with posses. This one isn’t easy to spot at the outset, if at all. But nervous clients can tend to want to run their copy past friends, family, coworkers, etc. That’s death to you and your check. No writer or editor can survive the onslaught of several, differing opinions and still serve the paying client’s needs. No one. And it’s totally uncool of your client to expect it. Do what I do – put a clause in your contract now that states no third-party involvement without both parties agreeing to such in writing. It’s because I’ve had such experiences more than three times that I’ve started putting that into contracts. Make it a deal breaker so you have an out should it happen.

Job/client listing sites that charge fees. This one’s never an easy sell. Others have had success getting jobs through these places, but they also have had more than their share of headaches as sites like eLance change the rules so that it costs a writer more to secure clients. I object to sites that charge writers for job listings as much as I object to sites that act as a clearinghouse for clients and writers. You never needed a third party to intervene before – why now? If you feel that strongly about representation for those connections, hire an agent.

The same goes for membership sites. There are some sites out there that expect you to pay for your memberships. Look, maybe you get some value out of rubbing elbows with other people who pay 20 bucks a month or more. If so, don’t expect it to be anything more than an online country club. If you decide to join (and some may be fun – I can’t say), do so on the assumption that it’s more of a club and not so much a place to find work.

Anyone who posts an ad using the words “It’s an easy job for the right person.” In nearly every case this phrase is included, the “employer” expects you to work your arse off for much less than you should be paid for the job. This is a person who doesn’t understand the scope of the project or worse, does understand and wants it for next-to-nothing. I guarantee any job with that phrase attached is going to pay crap wages.

Clients who won’t sign a contract. Yea, I dropped a job once because the client wouldn’t sign a standard contract. Anyone who avoids a written commitment is someone whose integrity should be reconsidered. I had one dude go ballistic on me when I refused to finish a project after he’d said he won’t sign. He’d assured me he was a stand-up sort and that he’s much more relaxed than that. How very cool for you, but I’m uptight when a client refuses the most basic arrangement protecting both of us.

There are so many more, but these are my biggies. How about you? What work or employers are you avoiding?

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  • Marijke Durning May 20, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Oh – I have to disagree about the start ups. Although I have been burned by a start up, I’ve also had great success with a couple.

    The trick with the start up is you need to check out what they are really doing, but blunt and ask about funding, goals, etc.

    If the project sounds interesting to you and could be promising, I think it’s worth the risk. Everyone had to start somewhere and if you’re good at what you do, if the start up is a good idea, and the principals are committed, it could be a win-win situation for all.

    But, like everything else, you have to do your homework.

  • Devon Ellington May 20, 2008 at 2:04 pm

    I agree with everything except the first two.

    I’m cautious with start-ups and tend to demand more upfront money, but I’ve had more positive than negative experiences.

    And some of my highest paying clients have been based in Canada, the UK, or Australia.

    Again, caution and a strong contract is key.

  • Irreverent Freelancer May 20, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    I agree with all of these except foreign employers. (Pretty much learned my lesson about all the rest.) One of my best ongoing clients is a Korean who lives in England. I would work with clients in Canada, Australia and Western Europe. Anywhere else though, and I’d be instituting some heavy upfront payment, stopgap measures.

  • Lori May 20, 2008 at 4:03 pm

    Maybe I’m just not finding the right startups, ladies. All of the ones I’ve worked for – all four of them – have been very slow to pay. One had to be threatened. The other took 4 months to send the check.

    Aren’t you concerned going into an agreement with a foreign-based client that you’ll be stuck unpaid?

  • Dina at May 20, 2008 at 5:03 pm

    Geat post, Lori! I couldn’t agree more about steering clear of overseas employers. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

    I guess you could charge in advance, and do it by PayPal, but that would mean you’d be working for a flat rate (say, per article or per page) instead of hourly.

    Feh. I’m going back to what I said in the first paragraph. I agree with you on the foreign accounts philosophy!


  • Jennifer Williamson May 20, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    Lori, one of my best regular clients is located in England. I wouldn’t say people should avoid clients in other countries, but there is an extra security issue to worry about.

    One thing I would suggest is a). Have a clearly stated contract and insist the clients SIGN it by hand (not just type their name in) and send it back, either by mail or as a pdf attachment. Keep all correspondence with the client. And have them pay a 50% up front deposit through paypal before starting. If they don’t want to pay the remainder when the project is finished, you can go through a dispute process with Paypal. I’m not sure exactly how it works, but I believe Paypal will review your contract and all your emails and decide if they should charge the client’s account on your behalf. Again I’m not sure exactly how it works but I’ll find out–I’m going through this this week with a deadbeat client, so I’ll report back.

  • Lori May 20, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    EXCELLENT advice, Jen. Thank you! I agree – there has to be a 50% deposit with foreign clients only because any issue would make it quite hard to collect.

  • Devon Ellington May 20, 2008 at 8:14 pm

    Oooh, I thought of something else: Do not write “test” pieces for free.

    Several sites over the past month have told writers they were shortlisted for the job and had them create material for free, told them they didn’t get the job, and got all the content without paying for it.

    If they’re incapable from telling from your samples whether your style fits theirs, they’re not worth the work.

  • Devon Ellington May 20, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    PS With overseas clients, as with many clients, a 50% deposit is required.

    Also, I usually have contacts in those countries who can help me if the client reneges.

  • Laura Spencer May 21, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    Great list, although I do have foreign clients. Like other posters have said, I require a deposit up front.

    Even if you decide to accept a job from a client that fits into one of these profiles, this list should cause you to examine your decision more carefully to make sure that the client is right for your business.