Is Freelance Writing a Sure Thing? Scam Alert

Carol Tice

Scam Alert: Is freelance writing a sure thing? Makealivingwriting.comDo you think freelance writing is a sure thing?

If so, there’s a newly minted online writing ‘expert’ who’d love to take your money.

You may have heard that if something seems to be too good to be true, it probably is.

Well, if someone tells you that freelance writing is an activity even a “broke, jobless dummy” can for-sure earn a middle-class income with, because “anyone can write” and “earn a safe, secure income” from home (all quotes from this pitchster’s website)…please be wary.

Here’s what I recently learned about the wild promises being made to online writers about the easy riches that supposedly await them…

Promising the moon, delivering heartbreak

I’ve written before about how to bust unqualified faux experts online by asking basic questions about their expertise…but in the past week, I was sent an email that set new records for spinning tall tales about how easy it is to be a well-paid freelance writer.

Yes, easy to earn — in a career that’s been called “the most difficult way to earn money quickly,” by experienced coaches including Diana Burrell.

Here’s an excerpt from the pitch I got to sell this total stranger’s offer (I’m omitting identifying details, since I wouldn’t want to inadvertently lead any writers who read me to this site):

Hi Carol,

Do you have any interest in doing some cross promoting a writing product for a big commission? If so, here’s what I have for us: I recently release a book called “TITLE.” It’s a guide based training program on how to become a home based writer. The book sets a target of $5,000 a month with several action paths to get there (and beyond).

I figured since we’re in the same niche, we could be a great fit to work together.

Here is the link to my website, you can check it out: [LINK] and let me know what you think!

All the best,
Freelance Writer XXXX

Now, I never affiliate sell products or services that I’m pitched by total strangers. I only affiliate sell products and services created by people I know — usually, ones I’ve used and benefited from myself.

But this guy’s angle sounded just weird enough that I went to take a look.

What I saw really made my jaw drop.

When you assume…

There’s a common problem with people who want to hop into selling how-to-write products without any experience working in the writer community and talking to struggling writers. They make a very basic, bad assumption.

They broke into freelance writing fairly easily, and have been able to earn a living with it.

Therefore, they conclude, everyone can.

But that is a faulty assumption. One person’s experience cannot be extrapolated to all, or easily duplicated by others.

Every writer, their abilities, and their life experience, is different! This isn’t widget assembly, but a creative career.

If it were super-easy to earn $5,000 a month as a freelance writer (the claim this ‘expert’ makes), I wouldn’t get emails every week from writers who are literally starving and desperate to figure out how to earn anything beyond a pittance online.

So this guy’s sales angle — that this is a “safe” and “foolproof” career, really made me see red.

Reading the red flags

Besides the ridiculous pronouncements about what a cinch freelance writing is, what were the “tells” in his website copy that made me suspicious he was selling snake oil?

  • His story includes moving to Thailand two months into his freelancing career to cut his expenses by 70% (why is that needed, if it’s so lucrative?).
  • He names no freelance clients he’s worked for, and includes no portfolio.
  • The testimonials for his book have no head shots or website links, so there’s no way to verify they’re not fictitious.
  • A tiny footnote reveals he’s using a pen name! Do you trust a coach who’s hiding their true identity?

I called him on what seemed like obvious flaws in his claims with this note:

“[NAME], if freelance writing were a safe bet, EVERYONE WOULD BE DOING IT. You have very scant experience with the marketplace if you think this is a sure thing. And maybe it’s safe if you’re a young, single guy with no expenses. What about safe for women with children to feed, who live in a developed country?

“Sounds like you lucked into a few gigs. That doesn’t qualify you to teach others.”

This was the response I got:

“Writing is a safe bet, I stand behind that.

“I had no writing experience starting out (I have a finance degree and mediocre English grades). I just emailed companies, cold called, and got jobs.”

To repeat: Just because something happened to you, does not mean it is a foolproof career path for everyone who’s ever dreamed of writing for a living. But over and over, you’ll find freelance writers who’ve had a flush of initial, personal success online promising they can teach you how to replicate their success.

The final straw with this scammy site — he claimed to have statistical proof that writing is a no-fail career that you’ll earn $60K a year at. So let’s take a look at that claim.

Lies and statistics

This book-seller’s site has a top headline that screams: “2 out of 3 writers work from home and earn $60,000 on average.”

Where does this figure spring from? It’s from a career thumbnail on writers’ and authors’ careers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wow, that sounds incredible, doesn’t it? Gotta be too good to be true?

Well, in fact, that IS exactly what BLS has to say about the career of writers and authors:

Freelance Writing - bureau of labor statistics

So — does that prove that it’s a sure thing for all interested writers to make $60K a year? Hardly.

Let’s look a bit deeper into these federal figures about writer jobs — so you can see why the claim made by this charlatan is deeply false.

Median pay, for those who don’t know, is the point at which half of respondents make more, and half make less. It doesn’t mean most writers make $60K, or even that the average pay is $60K. Many make more, and many make less.

It could be that every writer on the downside of that figure makes $1,000 a year — that would still be the median if it’s #68,250 in sequential order of earning least-to-most, of their 136,500 writers they’re tracking.

BLS says two-thirds of these writers are home-based. That means one-third of them have staff writing jobs.

There are 136,500 of them in all. So that leaves roughly 90,000 home-based writers that BLS is tracking.

BLS estimates 90,000 people work from home as writers and earn something from it.

Writers who earn nothing? Not counted here. Writers who earn a little on the side and don’t report it on their taxes? Not counted.

Which would be many, many writers.

The figure BLS doesn’t supply is how many people would like to write from home for a living (or the people who’ve tried and given up, either). The people for whom this would supposedly be a ‘sure thing,’ if they followed this guy’s book.

No stats are readily available on that, but after a decade of coaching writers, I’d have to say that aspiring writers number easily in the millions. And BLS says there are 90,000 of them that manage to get paid.

Finally, let’s look at what BLS says about growth of the writing career. Essentially, there is none. It’s a flat market.

When US population is growing roughly 1% a year, and the career is forecast to grow 2% a year, not a lot of jobs are being added.

By contrast, there are nearly twice as many civil engineers, and 8% forecast growth. They earn more, too. Now that’s more of a sure thing.

Who knows freelance writing?

Let’s look at the next big problem here: How does BLS get its data? From a monthly sample of payroll records. Translation: BLS’s expertise is employer data, not freelancer data. It’s out of its wheelhouse here.

Also, BLS data is only completely updated once a DECADE. So the agency tends to be deeply out of touch with current market realities, and slow to understand how employment is changing. If you’re looking for stats on niches such as freelance blogging, for instance, you’re out of luck.

Assuming BLS has a clue about who’s writing from home, that’s a very tiny number of people earning a good living at writing. With the outlook that not many more jobs will be added, in a country of 322 MILLION people.

How can freelance writing be a ‘sure thing’ when there are only about 90,000 positions, in a country of 322 mililon people?

Easy: It can’t be.

There are not that many freelance writing gigs. Most who try — especially, most who try without advice from coaches who really do know the marketplace — will fail.

Remember, as Mark Twain so wryly noted, statistics can be made to lie, or to prove anything you like, if you misuse them.

If it sounds too good…

Please writers…do your homework before you buy. Look for:

  • A teacher using their real name
  • Testimonials with pictures and/or website links
  • A portfolio of proven freelance work with links you can check
  • A substantial timeframe of writing experience
  • Coaches who don’t paint blue-sky pictures of how easy it will be

I don’t think I have once, in a decade of coaching writers, ever told anyone this is an easy career. It’s a wonderful one, and a rewarding one, but it takes work.

Those of us who’ve done it know that delivering solid writing on deadlines, week after week, year after year, is no walk in the park.

Beware of anyone telling you freelance writing is a snap — if only you’ll pay them to get the details.

Seen any writer scams online? Let’s discuss in the comments.

300+ Hours of Trainings. Once Affordable Price. Freelance Writers Den

71 Comments

  1. Jon Lee

    Riannon,

    We certainly DO all have different learning styles, experiences and blocks. I will say that I still believe that “success leaves clues” (not my wisdom, but I WISH it was), as does its opposite.

    So, if someone’s success is attributable to their actions, as is most often the case, those actions should be traceable and hopefully, repeatable.

    Its failure to pass this test is why I’m so cynical about Upwork and all the claims that it’s a great gateway to freelancing stability. I read these claims all the time, but I’ve yet to find anyone able to demonsrate a repeatable process by which they’ve made this happen – circa 2016.

    I was reading through an otherwise pretty useful blog when I found a video of an Upwork brand advocate talking about its advantages. Along the way she noted that she “understood” the criticism that it was a gateway for a race to the bottom, but noted “it’s a great way to fill out otherwise unused time with paying clients.” Have a look at some of the VERIFIED employers and what they generally pay out per hour on average. Sometimes three star clients — meaning they are supposedly willing to pay a premium for quality — are averaging as low as $5.00 per hour.

    Pretty hard to prosper at that rate, let alone working for the one- and two-star clients.

    • Carol Tice

      But pay close attention to what she said about who their ideal writer is — someone ‘looking to fill out otherwise unused time.’

      NOT a freelancer looking to earn a full-time, middle-class living. This is what I have heard from every bid site platform and content mill exec I’ve ever interviewed — their vision is you want an extra $50 a week to go out to a nice restaurant or something, not that you’re trying to bill $5K a month or more.

      I wish writers would really LISTEN to what these platforms are intended for, and not use them if they have other goals than a little pin money.

  2. Riannon Westall

    Thanks for covering this! Personally, I don’t belieive any career course can be a for sure thing. Everyone has different learning styles, experiences and blocks. One path can’t be replicated by everyone for successful results.

    • Carol Tice

      E X A C T L Y.

  3. Carol Tice

    Just had to come and say I had someone crawling all over the comments of a more recent post, stuffing links to his own posts about how easy it was for him to make $800 a week as a writer ‘right out of the gate.’

    Of course, he’s been a freelancer for less than 2 years, but he’s here to teach you how easy it is to earn big money immediately. Beware!

  4. Enyum Patrick

    Hi Carol,
    Sometimes, I blame copywriters for this; I am a copywriter and I know what I’m saying. Many clients will give you a project to write a sales letter on a product that you as the copywriter, will be damn sure it is not feasible.

    If you take on such jobs, you will be obliged to come up with words that will sizzle the reader and push him or her to action.

    Maybe there should be a campaign for copywriters to become ethical.

    • Carol Tice

      Good luck with that one!

  5. Marte Cliff

    I wonder if I just heard from the same scammer who wrote you. It was a promotion for a writing class. Here’s part of his claim:

    Need some cash for a vacation? Come up with a promotional idea, write the copy for it, and put your copy in front of your audience!

    Tax man knocking at your door? Write some copy making a compelling offer, send the email, and watch the dollars flow into your inbox.

    Want to increase your income dramatically, without increasing your ad budget? Write a new piece of copy that converts browsers into buyers…and your bank balance fattens up like magic.

    Just need cash FAST? Write copy for someone else and pocket $3,000 or more for writing a simple letter like this one! (I’ll show you how to get these clients.)

    If you just sign up for this class – you’ll be rolling in $$ in no time!

    • Carol Tice

      Actually sounds like a different one! The woods are full of them. Sure makes it sound easy, though.

      Anyone who promises fast cash from freelance writing should trigger RED ALERTS for any writer. It takes time to build a business.

    • Marte Cliff

      Unfortunately, there are enough people hoping for an easy path to riches that people like this can keep right on selling their snake oil.

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