First posted here on 2/4/2014

 

I highly value my work and the time I invest in it.Picture

If I didn’t value my work, both in terms of what I charge and as a product, how can I expect clients to value the work also, the effort, and the result. This is not a question; it is a statement of fact.

At day’s end a quality client will recognize (and pay for) quality work. That’s my belief, and experience.
As noted in an earlier post, the Internet enables anyone with access to present himself or herself as a freelancer (of any description, not just as a writer). I also noted; “Quality aside, the spin-off is seeing potential clients disinclined to pay higher rates to professionals because of the glut of available providers.”

I believe this glut comes largely from the content mills, which one blogger describes as “…race-to-the-bottom, bid-site platforms.”

I do not decry people using these sites for they can provide the opening needed when looking to kick start a freelance career.Unfortunately, the downside is such sites do not create a globally level playing field. Rather they help drive and keep freelance rates down, as this job posting (in part) from Elance shows:


“I am looking for an experienced article writer who has the skills to produce well-written articles on a wide range of diverse subjects. Articles MUST be grammatically correct, error-free and 100% unique… I need ten articles and each article must be between 500 and 600 words long. The deadline for completion will be seven days…I expect to pay approximately $4 per article…preference will be given to low bids.”

Do the math. For each piece at the maximum 600 words each for an expected $4.00 per piece, that’s just 0.0066666666666667 cents per word.

Shuchi Singh Kalra, founder of Pixie Dust Writing Studio; described as being “run by a young and dynamic team of writers” and as being “a quaint little writing and editing firm that services a global clientele”  (As such it could perhaps be considered a form of mini content mill) says:

“$1000 a month may be lousy pay for a writer based in the US but for someone living in India, it counts for a decent income, enough to pay the bills and still leave room for investments and indulgences…I do not blame writers willing to work for ridiculously low rates because I believe that every writer exists in a unique professional space and charges what they think they are worth. There are $50,000 handbags made by Louis Vuitton and then there are $10 handbags made by err, China. There is a market for everything and people buy what they can best afford. Where you place yourself on the scale is entirely your choice.”

Matt Barrie: CEO Freelance.com

Meanwhile, over on Freelance.com a freelancer working out of Pakistan recently bid AUD74.00 (USD68.00) successfully for a job requiring up to 4300 words in “natural English” across eight website pages. There were no SEO requirements, nor any particular keyword focus; “this is just straight up copy about our business and products,” the posting said.

That particular freelancer won the bid for just under 0.016 US cents per word, upholding what Matt Barrie, the Australian owner/founder of Freelance.com told the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) in February 2012:

Photo by Tim Bauer (SMH)


“A tectonic shift to society is under way and this shift is going to be so significant it is going to change the way that we live our lives, the way we do business…it is going to change everything. I will tell you why. The reason is that 70 per cent of the world is about to join the internet. They are poor. They are hungry. They are driven. They are self-skilled. They are self-motivated. They want a job.”

Put differently, freelancers from such regions are able to charge significantly less than do their Western counterparts because living and business costs are significantly lower.

I am not in the US, the UK, or Australia; I live in South Korea where, according to Numbeo.com, consumer prices in Seoul are 184.66% higher than in Karachi, Pakistan.

I would need around 4,618,283.94 Korean Won (USD 4,312.08) to maintain the same standard of life I could have with 1,300,000.00 KRW (USD 1,213.81) in Karachi.

Writing about the future of freelancing Kimberly Palmer, a senior editor for U.S. News Money, says that in 2011 Freelancer.com had around three million users globally, with the result being:

“…jobs tend to flow from wealthier nations, where companies, start-ups, and entrepreneurs are looking to outsource their work to countries where the cost of living is lower and workers are hungry for those projects,” and that “Together, the United States and Great Britain make up 50 percent of outsourcing offers, while one-third of the freelancers using the site come from India. Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines make up an additional 20 percent of freelancers. (Some 11 percent are in the United States.)”

Palmer also adds that since the competition is global, “freelancers in wealthier countries who charge more for their services” are distinctly disadvantaged.

Yet, according to Barrie, Freelance.com empowers freelancers in such regions because they can earn a month’s salary in a few hours or days, creating “incredible opportunities” for them to” raise their economic circumstances, creating not just opportunity for themselves, but also for their local community,” while helping small business in the West.

“Want to build a website? We’ve got someone in India that will do it for you for a few hundred dollars. Need a logo? We have a great graphic designer that will do it in Romania for $30. Previously, there was so much time, hassle, and cost involved trying to find someone that many people just give up when they see a quote for $20,000 or more to build a website.”

PictureCan you escape the mill?

While this may be cost effective, at least in the short-term, there are some who feel such freelancers do little in facilitating long-term product quality.

In February, one copywriter wrote about clients who say they can get the job done more cheaply via a content mill.

“I send them to the content mills and tell them to come back when they’re ready to sit at the grown-up table. I know some of them are too embarrassed to come back with a mouthful of humble pie and instead they hire another copywriter. Yes, we talk to each other! Plenty do return, though, with a sorry tale of wasted money and poor results.”

I do not necessarily agree, however, because arguably, at least for many in India, Pakistan, and the Philippines, English is as much a first-language as it is a second and many have graduated from Western universities. So, from this perspective, I believe that in many instances, there is some likeness of quality.

Nonetheless, it is still the case that perhaps the only reason they are able to compete is simply that they can (and do) significantly undercut their Western counterparts.  If you think rates charged are disconnected from end-quality, consider how one freelancer puts it:

“One reason writers rush through their writing is because they seriously undercharge for their work. If you undercharge for your work, it puts you in the position of having to write very quickly if you are to have even a slim hope of earning a living.”

In 2013, Paige Taylor wrote that she was nervous about content mils:

“Content mills are not who I want to compete with, and they are not where I want my fellow marketing writers spending their valuable time killing themselves for low pay. But, unfortunately, they, with their cheap labor and factory production, are likely here to stay.”

That they are here to stay is without doubt. And their effect for freelancers working out of countries such as India and Pakistan is such that they will not go away because, as Sramana Mitra writes: “There are companies that have been established and grown into million-dollar businesses via the Elance platform.”

This alone is incentive for those freelancers hungry for projects.

Charles Gray, a self-described “ 45-year-old historian and freelance writer” believes content mills may be ok if you are a casual writer but says they can be a “dangerous trap” if you are trying to write for a living.

“A content mill is very much like a wading pool. It’s a good place to paddle around, get your feet wet and to gain some experience. But in the long run, someone who is interested in writing for money needs to head to the deep end and take the plunge, rather than sticking to the shallows, no matter how safe they seem.“

Other than saying, “have faith in your work and your ability to deliver professional material at a price you can afford to charge,” I wish I could provide a solution.

At the end of the day a quality client will recognize (and pay for) quality work.

This journalist and writer is available for hire.

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