Blog Post

4 Online Freelancing Jobs You Should Approach with Caution

First time freelancers make the mistake of accepting every single job that comes their way.  I made this mistake, and there’s a good chance that you did too.  Who can blame us?  Freelance income isn’t stable, especially when you’re starting out.  We tend to think that we should accept all the job offers we can get today – because there might be none tomorrow.

Sometimes, however, the jobs we take end up costing us instead of giving us profits.  What we intended as another step in our career only becomes a lesson we shouldn’t have learned the hard way.  How do we identify these problematic jobs and what can we do about them?

The Low Paying Job.
These are the jobs that are often advertised on craigslist and they try to compensate for the low pay with promises of “exposure” or a percentage of the profits.  They also make excuses, which include the following:

  • they’re just starting out as a company;
  • web workers in developing countries charge at that low rate and you have to compete with them;
  • and your pay will be increased over time (although this claim is vague and not indicated in the contract).

Even if a low paying job were legitimate, accepting it has disadvantages.  This job will take hours away from your work week, hours that could be better spent on boosting your marketing efforts to get the well-paying jobs.  Plus, it will lower your average hourly income overall.  Ideally, you should be increasing your rates as the years go by and not the other way around.

Unless you’re just starting out and looking to build your web working experience, there should be no reason to take this job.

The Job You Can’t Learn From. In a previous post, Mike Gunderloy talked about how he only takes jobs that will allow him to learn something new.  While I believe there’s something to be learned out of every experience, I would rather take Mike’s advice than accept a repetitive copy & pasting job.

Take this kind of job only if you’re low on cash or if you plan to outsource or delegate it, otherwise, you won’t be getting much else apart from the money.

The Audition Job. You know those jobs where you have to “audition” by doing a design mock up or a draft and if your client likes it, they’ll pay you.  If not, well, that’s too bad.  This approach to job applications is also known as speculative work (or simply “spec work”).  While it’s true that not all people who ask for spec work are out to scam you, it’s not the best way to conduct business – both for the freelancer and the client.

The “Easy” Job. Some jobs seems simple enough when you look at your client’s initial specifications, but once you get deep into the project you realize how big the scope actually is.

It’s hard to identify this kind of job at first.  What usually gives it away is when your client tells you “It’s easy!” or “It will only take 10 minutes of your time!”  Think about it, if the job were really easy, shouldn’t they be able to do it themselves?

Also, while there are clients who are appreciative of a freelancer’s skills and efforts, there are always those who will undervalue your work.  Do you know this client well enough to trust that the job is truly easy?

One way to work through the “easy” job is to assess the project yourself, discuss it with your client, and define the deliverables before you start working.  This protects you from “surprise” tasks that suddenly creep in when you realize that the scope of the project is much larger than what your client initially thought.  In some way, you’ll risk looking like you’re out to milk your client for every penny, but if you give them all the information and references they need, they’ll know that you’re only doing what’s best for them in the long run.

What other jobs should online freelancers be cautious about?  What was your experience with these kinds of jobs?

14 Responses to “4 Online Freelancing Jobs You Should Approach with Caution”

  1. The “Miscellaneous Little Stuff”

    Hmmm, I’m really amazed at the number of clients who will include very general tasks in a project and expect a freelancer
    not to want to clarify. I recently had a potential client who seemed to go out of his way to avoid detailing specific tasks.

    No thanks…

  2. the main reason why i wrote this letter to the company is that to now about how the freelancer online job was determined her organisation and what kind of achievement the freelancer have since the time it has been createv because some body tell me about the quality of your side but i hope is the same way he told me is the right part your organizationhas it so i was a computer tech student which am finished my diploma in the one institute in my location but i want to apply for this type of job your for all the time ibrahim abdullah…

  3. Great list. In this economy, many people are just looking for a little bit of supplementary income, and are definitely prey to these kinds of jobs. Hopefully people read this and approach such opportunities with caution.

  4. Damn if it’s true.
    I’m quite a first timer and i’ve learned all these lesson in about a year now. 8 months ago i took a web design job for a medical instruments maker and my lack of firm in some arguments and they’re ignorance led to reiterated pushbacks to the end of the job, resulting that i still have to finish it and i’d rather cut my veins now than seeing them again.

    A thing i don’t understand is why, despite i clearly fixed some milestones, they continue to try adding a new feature or something every time we talk.

    Oh, and they made me re-do the frontend graphics because mr. president “don’t like it”, also if they accepted the draft and payed 50% after it!

  5. I would strongly argue against working with any client who has trouble understanding/accepting the complexity of web work. Red flags for these types of clients are ones who advertise the work to be “simple”, “easy”, “short-term”, “opportunity” and/or lack any project scope and/or have unrealistically high expectations for the time and cost they’ve budgeted for. Many times you’ll need to sit down with the client to get a better feel of what it is their after – but that hour or so is invaluable in determining whether or not to take the job.

    And don’t be afraid of not taking work. Often times walking away is the best thing for both you and a client. You don’t get dragged into a nightmare job with scope blow-outs, and the client learns that they need to reassess their project’s needs.

    I can’t tell you how a regular client of mine whom I do project management for has come to a better understanding of web work only when a job is refused by a potential contractor. Often times my recommendation for a pay-rate is initially rejected by the client who is convinced it can be done cheaper. Both my life and the contractor’s are improved by their willingness to refuse a job.

  6. The most worrying paradox with “Audition Jobs” is that the client – who is often quite large and well-respected – wants you hand over the finished product before they have you do the weeks of research, wireframing and discussion that will inform the final product.

    I’ve brought this up with people who approach us with this kind of job in the past and have only ever received blank stares in exchange.

  7. Most of the people you want to get hired by are looking for two things; 1) proof of your skills and 2) proof your not a flake.

    The easiest way to accomplish those is a basic portfolio (can be school work) and a reference or two. The better you can nail those, the less you’ll have to worry about taking these crap jobs.

  8. LesArts

    The “Family & Friends Discount” Job.

    Never take a job from someone who is introduced to you through either family or through a friend (unless that friend is really only a business acquaintance). If the friend is someone you shoot hoops with on the weekend, he he or she has a friend that needs some work done, you are definitely looking at a problem job.

    On the other hand, if this new job is referred to you by an existing client, 9 times out of 10, it’s as good as gold!