Freelance marketplaces to avoidStarting your career as a freelance nurse-writer is a heady time — and not always in a good way. You may feel enthusiasm as you begin sending queries and letters of introduction, followed by despair when you get no response. Really, not even a rejection? Just silence? It can be disheartening.

When those feelings set in, you become vulnerable to seeking paying gigs at any cost. I’m here to tell you not to cave in.

Do not sign up for services that offer you assignments at pennies per word. Do not pay to register on freelance bidding sites, where your goal is to lower and lower your rate in order to ‘win’ an assignment. ‘Win’? That’s a sure recipe for losing!

As a newbie, you may not be aware of these types of sites. Here are my top picks of freelance marketplaces to avoid.

Content mills

I’m not going to name names. Not because I’m skeered, but because I don’t want to give them any publicity.

A content mill is an organization that expects you to churn out low-quality articles, blog posts or ‘stories’ at a high rate for a few cents each. When I say “low-quality,” I mean this: You get an assignment to write about a festival in Nebraska. You quickly look up the organizers’ press releases and rewrite them. Usually, you must stuff the article with keywords for SEO purposes (even though that approach doesn’t work anymore). You submit this soulless copy — let’s say it’s 500 words — and make $5. Yes: FIVE DOLLARS. (For reference, that assignment should net you anywhere from $250 to $500, depending.)

How can you identify a content mill? Go back and read my post about working with healthcare marketing agencies. Those are NOT content mills. They offer real writing jobs at decent rates — in the “dozens of dollars per hour” range. Now do a Google search for “content for real life.” Yeah. That’s a content mill.

The defining aspect of a content mill is the abysmal pay and the high output expectations. Don’t work for content mills. Associating your byline with that stuff could damage your reputation.

Freelance bidding sites

Commit Yog’s Law to memory: “Money flows toward the writer.” The corollary to this is: Money never flows away from the writer.

Yog was referring to book publishing when he made his famous statement, but the rule applies to freelancing in general. If you are presented with an ‘opportunity’ that requires you to ‘pay to play’ (that is: pay to obtain writing assignments), run away as fast as you can.

Many freelance bidding sites exist. If you do a Google search on “freelance marketplace,” you will find the biggest players. (Exception: Media Bistro is a highly reputable site. Their ‘Freelance Marketplace’ is a destination where freelancers can post profiles for a fee. That’s a very different thing.)

Freelance bidding sites work like this: You pay a fee to join. You set up a profile. A prospective client contacts you and several others with a proposal. You then get the privilege of bidding on the proposal against the other writers. Very often, the cheapest bid wins.

Is this good for the prospective client? NO! Do you think they’re going to get high-quality work at the five cents per word they wound up paying some other person to do the job? Of course not!

When you engage in bidding on these sites, you’re competing against many people in foreign countries. For those people, five cents per word might be decent money. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But a nickel a word isn’t good money for you. You need to avoid freelance bidding sites and instead keep hammering away at your marketing so you can win jobs that pay good money in your economy.

What about content marketplaces?

I’ve engaged in some spirited conversations with colleagues recently about a new crop of content marketplaces and whether or not they’re legitimate. Trust me, they are. And I am here to name them — or at least the ones I know of.

Ebyline is a bona-fide content company. It’s free to register and put up a profile. Ebyline acts as an intermediary between you and prospective clients. Clients register and post gigs. They also can browse profiles and approach you directly. But there’s no overt bidding involved.

Contently is mainly for journalists (as opposed to content marketers), and you need some reporting clips to make it worthwhile. Some of my friends land great gigs through Contently, so I know it’s reputable.

Skyword. Again, it’s free to register and post a profile. While clients can peruse profiles on Ebyline and Contently, I’m not sure that’s the case with Skyword. I believe (I don’t know positively because I haven’t received work through them) they match you up with clients in need of specialized expertise. Anyway, it’s a legit company — not a content mill.

The easy money ain’t always the best money

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Freelance writing is not a get-rich-quick scheme. You can make a good living doing this (especially as a nurse-writer), but you must have patience. Don’t fall for the fast (but low) money schemes. Keep working your marketing efforts. Set the marketing foundation now, and it will serve you well in the years ahead.

Have you fallen for any of the pay-for-play schemes? Tell me about your experiences in the comments section!

Wishing you well!