Job Boards for Freelance Writers: The "PICK ME! PICK ME!" Problem


Writing is one of those weird things.

Technically, everybody can write, because everyone - within a certain margin of error - can think. So, if you can think, and you know your business, industry, or subject matter, then why shouldn’t you be able to write about it?

And when picking talent to write for you, it’s tempting to pick the cheapest. You can always fix it later, right?

The reverse applies to freelance writers too. If you consider yourself to be a writer, you believe that, within a certain margin of error, you can write anything. And often, because competition for “gigs” online can be fierce, you’re willing to try anything and everything, even if you’re getting paid peanuts to do so.

As a result, freelance writers put themselves onto job boards within the “gig economy” hoping to be connected with clients by the platform itself, rather than position themselves as artist entrepreneurs seeking a specific client that might be a good fit for their style and area of expertise. This starts a rather vicious cycle.

The writer, probably broke and/or desperate, starts writing 1500-2000 word pieces for $15-$30  a pop. They tell themselves that they can “knock it out” in a hour, which is a lie. That hour can soon balloon into three hours, or even ten or twenty. So that $30/hr rate suddenly becomes $10/hr or much, much worse. The quality of work then takes a back seat because this project has to be finished AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. The writer is now hemorrhaging energy, and probably has to write forty to fifty more of these things just to pay rent and bills. And that’s not even including the things that might break, slow them down, or falter, such as an aging laptop or weak WiFi. So they power through the work, exhausted, counting pennies to buy a cup of coffee, and then finally - against all odds - turn it in.

On the other end of this spectrum, the client is trusting the writer to do a good job, despite the fact that they chose the cheapest writer they could find without any visible expertise in their subject matter or deliverable type. The client didn’t know what to search for, so they found a journalism major to write website content or a quirky creative writer to handle a data-heavy sales tool. These are not good matches at all, but both writer and client are flying completely blind, hoping this will all work out in the end. Often times, it doesn’t. The draft is messy, or downright wrong. The voice doesn’t match the brand, or the research doesn’t help the argument. Maybe the formatting is way off, or the style is rushed and clunky. But it was super cheap at $30, so you get what you pay for, right?

As for the platform itself, which connected our desperate writer with our low-risk-appetite buyer? It’s just the middleman here. Countless job boards serve to make these poor connections in exchange for a cut of the deal. They’re not there to connect the best people, or serve as match maker. They exist to turn a quick profit. Sure, they want to facilitate good content creation because that moves their business forward; but they’re not in the business of babysitting writers, or even training them. And these platforms certainly don’t exist to consult with customers on the types of content they need or how to accomplish their goals. That's left for the customer to determine on their own. 

So this is a tricky system to navigate.

Writers, typically, are not trained as entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are not always trained as writers. We need each other to succeed. But when a writer - or anyone else in the gig economy for that matter - puts themselves on a platform for $15 per project (more or less), begging strangers to “PICK ME! PICK ME,” it only leads to a downward spiral in terms of connections, quality, and respect.

Think of how you might choose an Uber driver. You don’t choose for safety, quality, or credentials. You choose the driver who can pick you up the fastest. But driving you from A to B is not an art form or a creative pursuit. So why would you put your creative pursuits in such a position when the stakes are so high? And if you truly want to stand out online as an entrepreneur with powerful content that converts, why would you choose your writers the same way you would choose a cab?

These are deeply personal endeavors.

So whether you’re a freelance writer or an entrepreneur searching for one: find the relationship you deserve.