4 Red Flags That Freelance Writing Job Will Be Trouble

Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We provide you with accurate, reliable information. Learn more about how we make money and select our advertising partners.

Despite what you may think, you don’t need to be an established writer or even have a huge amount of business experience to launch a career in freelance writing.

All you need is a little insight, an interesting idea and the guts to start pitching editors. Seriously, there are all kinds of writing jobs, from the weird and wonderful to the straight-laced world of business copywriting.

However, the world of freelance writing isn’t all rose petals and sunshine. Over my years as a freelance copywriter, I’ve seen a lot of online writing jobs, most of which are completely legit. However, I often see postings which make me raise a skeptical eyebrow.

Some clients are great at masking their ill intentions, while others honestly don’t appear to understand they’re ripping off the freelancers they hire. Either way, if you see a writing job ad that includes any of the following terms or elements, alarm bells should start ringing in your mind.

Here’s what to watch out for when you’re looking for freelance writing jobs.

1. Ridiculously Low Pay

We’ve all got to start somewhere, right? Low-paying jobs allow you to experiment, develop valuable skills and build a solid portfolio.

But there’s a limit to how little you should charge — a limit often abused by content mills and clients on bidding sites who offer less than minimum wage.

The bare minimum I recommend charging is $50 per article.

Why $50? Because any lower and:

  1. You’ll struggle to survive.
  2. You’ll rush work, compromising its quality.

Thankfully, it seems as though people have caught on to the fact that content mills are pretty much the online equivalent of sweatshops. They’re all about quantity over quality. These outlets want vast amounts of copy that provides little useful information, but instead focuses on satisfying the Google search algorithms. The worst part is they pay next to nothing!

Most clients no longer want the poor quality work they get through content mills, and many writers are realizing their work is worth more than $10-$15 per hour. Here’s a quick look at the stock price of Demand Media, one of the largest content mills around:

Demand Media Stock


Freelance bidding sites are a contentious option. Some writers say they’re awful, while others manage to earn six figures.

Personally I’ve had nothing but bad luck with bidding sites. I find jobs are often awarded to the lowest bidder instead of the best writer for the job. Getting into a bidding war won’t work either, because some writers will bid as low as $2 for a 500-word article. Here’s a prime example:

bidding site ad

With such a low fee, it’s obvious that this client doesn’t understand the value of high-quality content or the work needed to produce it. It shows me that he doesn’t value his writers, and makes me think he views us as an expendable commodity, one easily replaced.

It’s also nearly impossible for you to earn a livable wage on $2 per 500 words (I make that out to be around $5 per hour). The only way to earn enough would be to rush the work, which compromises its quality and potentially causes issues with the client.

2. Revenue Share

Websites often talk up revenue share as a valid way for you to earn. The idea is that you’ll earn a piece of whatever advertising income the site makes. They’ll exaggerate the site’s monthly visitor numbers and profits to excite and lead you to believe there’s big earning potential.

But the site owner is the only real winner.

Sure, the site might have 100,000+ monthly visits and earn a few thousand dollars in monthly profits, but that’s likely across hundreds of posts and pages. Your lone article isn’t likely to bring in more than a few dollars.

All the little profits add up for the site, but individual writers often struggle to make the minimum amount so they can actually get paid (often $10).

3. Pay Per View

This term is just what it sounds like: the more views your article gets, the more pay you receive.

This is very similar to revenue share, but instead of getting a percentage of total revenue earned, you’re offered a set fee if your article attracts a certain number of views. It sounds better as you’re only relying on people viewing your article rather than having to click on an ad, but it’s still massively flawed.

When first starting out I was caught by this trap. I thought I’d write an awesome article, promote the hell out of it and be rolling in cash. I needed 5,000 views to earn $20, and I’d get $10 per subsequent 1,000 views. How hard could it be?!

Turns out, quite hard. I used Alexa to get an estimate of the site traffic and discovered they didn’t even have 5,000 visitors per month across the whole site! They had a whole team of writers effectively working towards payment goals that were, at that point, impossible to achieve.

4. Exposure

“Writing for us is great exposure!” says the ad.

Exposure can be great. Proper guest posting can get your name in front of the right people and help grow your career.

It’s a tactic I recently used to build my portfolio and get noticed by those who might need a writer. Thanks to my “exposure posts,” three new clients contacted me to offer between $150 and $300 per article.

However, the site that published my articles doesn’t advertise for writers and doesn’t brag about their amazing exposure benefits.

Why? They don’t need to. Writers know having a byline from that site will look great in their portfolios and share their work with a wider audience. At most, sites like this will have a page outlining their contributor guidelines. They don’t advertise for writers because their audience is already approaching them with plenty of great pitches.

It’s pretty obvious which sites offer great exposure — you’ll know them by name or reputation. They’ll usually be well-respected in their field, and have a wide audience. In my experience, sites that explicitly note exposure as a primary benefit actually offer little to no exposure.

Don’t let this advice put you off. There are a lot of great writing clients and opportunities out there, and once you learn how to identify the scammers, you’ll have a much easier time finding your first freelance writing gig.

Your Turn: Have you ever come across a dubious freelance client? What tipped you off that this opportunity was less than ideal?

Pete Boyle is a full-time professional freelance copywriter based in London. If you’re looking to break into the world of freelance writing, sign up to the Have a Word Weekly Writing Gigs Newsletter here for ongoing job opportunities.