Ask Me Anything: How Do You Know Which Clients Are For Real?

I’m working with a freelancer who’s absolutely new to the game: she’s just finishing up her first project and she asked me to coach her as she looks for more work. She’s been looking around online and she asked me a an absolutely crucial question:

How do you know which companies are reputable? There are so many companies that promise plenty of work but are they for real?

There are plenty of pitfalls out there: there are a few companies that have turned out to be scammers, either trying to get written work for free or having a deeper game and looking for personal information out there. They’re relatively rare, luckily, but recognizing them can be difficult. The same holds true of recognizing bad deals: companies that will pay you practically nothing, clients who will be hell to work with or projects that just don’t meet your ethical standards.

I went through a bunch of job listings with this new freelancer. We were looking at the same page of jobs on Craigslist and I told her to skip probably half a dozen in the process of finding two good leads. She asked me why and at first, I had a hard time describing what was wrong with each one. After a freelancer has been in the game for a long time, many of us will just skip over gigs that are written in certain ways because we can tell from just a few words that we wouldn’t want a particular project. It’s a skill that requires a lot of practice.

But in general, I think that clients who are for real tend to stand out: they tend to be specific about what they want in their ads, down to pay rates. They don’t make promises of plenty of work — even if there are more than a few projects that they have in the queue. Even the big content buyers, like Demand Studios, tend to take a low-key approach to advertising for writers. They try very hard not to promise something (like a big payout or tons of work) that they may not be able to follow through on.

It truly comes down to whether or not an opportunity looks too good to be true. If it seems hard to believe that a client is for real, go with your disbelief. You’re probably right.

If you’re in the DC area, there’s a seminar that might interest you: AIW is hosting a seminar called “Pushing the Electronic Envelope Even Farther! Using Cyberspace to Advance Your Career” for writers. I know about this particular event because I happen to be on one of the panels. Let know if you’re coming out — I’ll be around all day.

Here’s the full rundown on the event from organizer (and phenomenal freelancer) Kristen King:

Johns Hopkins University Masters of Arts in Writing Program
and American Independent Writers present…

Using Cyberspace to Advance Your Career

Saturday, October 3, 2009
Registration @ 8:30 a.m. · Program Starts @ 9:00 a.m.

Bernstein-Offit Building
1717 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036

Metro: Red line, Dupont Circle


Three ways to register!
§ Phone: 202-775-5150
§ Online:
§ E-mail:

Early Registration (through September 20, 2009)
§ Member Price, $69
§ Nonmember Price, $99
§ Student Price, $39

Regular Registration (beginning September 21, 2009)
§ Member Price, $89
§ Nonmember Price, $129
§ Student Price, $49


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  3. Caitlin   •  

    I’d not heard of Demand Studios so thanks for the tip-off. Do you have any other suggestions (or a previous post on this topic you could point me too)?

    I am an experienced writer but new to the US market.

  4. thursday   •     Author

    @Caitlin, I’ll include some suggestions for other US-based work on Saturday’s Ask Me Anything. I know that a lot of those bigger content sites aren’t always the best fit for experienced writers — but some can definitely even out a freelancer’s varying income!

  5. Caitlin   •  

    @thursday Thanks, that’d be great. I’ve applied to do some copy editing on DemandStudios. I didn’t apply for their writing gigs because they have a work-for-hire contract.

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