Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bubbles and Bursts

Last week was a very mixed week in my freelancing world. On the bright side, I was invited to write a guest post for On the Money, and I enjoyed doing that. I don't know if I've done a guest post under my name before. I do a lot of ghost blogging, but a guest post was nice to do.

On the dark side, well, there was a lot of it. I write quite a bit for a large content company, though I'm careful not to be tempted into making it too much of my income. I think perhaps that I've gotten too dependent on it, though. The company is infamous for its editors who send small things back for edit requests. Usually those edits come back with, "Can you add X?" or "Can you change this part to X?" I'm used to it, and even though it's a pain, it pays ok and the work is plentiful. Occasionally, though, the dark side shows itself and that annoyance turns to something else entirely.

Instead of the usual "We'd like you to change X," last week's edits came back as "This sucks and you should pretty much just die." It was actually so bad that the head of the editorial department contacted me personally to apologize. However, the damage was done. Being dependent on freelancing is a lot like laying on a big bubble. As long as you have the confidence that the bubble is strong and sound, you don't worry about it bursting. You can move around as much as you like, confident that the bubble will be there. But, every once in a while, someone will come along with a needle and remind you of how vulnerable it really is. Once you remember how thin the bubble is and how vulnerable you are, you become too scared to move around for fear of bursting it. I haven't had the confidence to write a single word for them since and I'm not sure that I will again. I spent a lot of time starting at the screen and wondering if I had any idea what I was doing.

Relying on content companies for a lot of your income seems safer to a lot of freelancers. Unlike private clients, a content company won't run off with the merchandise. A company won't stall payments, and it won't be hard to contact. I know of many people who feel much safer when working for them. And on the whole, they do feel safe. They're not. Sometimes they can hit you a lot harder than the clients who run off. At least those guys only take your money.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Tale of the NCA

Last year I found myself in a real quandary, wondering about the right thing to do. I won't mention the company names out of politeness, though I think a lot of Web writers may recognize them. Here's what happened:

Early last year I was working for a Web content company that supplies articles to a large and popular website. You've heard of it. I had been working for this company, Company X, for almost two years and liked them fine. They were fair with their writers, though the pay wasn't stellar, and the work was plentiful. Then, after almost two years, Company X asked us to sign a non-compete agreement. A few months before that, the company that owned the popular website, Company D, was starting to hire its own writers for 50 percent more per article. I had applied to them and never heard back. I assumed that they weren't going to hire me and forgot about it. Some writers were accepted and started writing for both.

Now, the non-compete agreement request came just after we were told that Company X had just been assured a two-year contract with the popular website. Two years! That's unheard of in Web writing circles. Two full years of unlimited work? Wow, I was certainly interested in staying with them. Meanwhile, many of Company X's writers jumped ship, refusing to sign the NCA and going off to write for Company D. I figured that even if I got in at Company D, they weren't offering that type of contract. And, they limited the number of articles per week that you could write. Even for less money per article, a two-year contract sounded like the way to go. I signed the one-year non-compete agreement. Fine.

The situation rapidly unraveled from there. Very soon after the NCAs were signed, Company X informed us off-handedly that they did not get the contract after all and that they had only two more months of their contract left. I searched the NCA and found that it didn't mention the contract at all. So, we had two months to write as much as we wanted and then the relationship between Company X and the popular website would be severed forever. The website was bulking up Company D and would be hiring all of their own writers for the popular site. That meant no chance of another contract for Company X to supply articles to the site. None.

A month later, I received an acceptance by Company D. It had literally been about six months since I'd applied, so I was extremely surprised. I was accepted by Company D for 50 percent more per article and under the NCA to Company X for another 11 months. So, I didn't write for Company D and focused on writing for Company X while I could. Their contract with the website ended. I had no work from them and another 10 months of a NCA. Odd.

After two months I really started to wonder about the NCA. Was it even legal? Especially since working for Company D wouldn't take business away from Company X. More months passed. I found out that, in fact, NCAs are illegal in my state and in many others. That didn't concern me as much as the ethics involved. If I were to start writing for Company D, was that really ethical, since I'd agreed not to? It wasn't so clear. I had signed the NCA because we were told that Company X had a two-year contract. They didn't. The two companies were no longer connected, and working for Company D would in no way affect Company X. It wouldn't take business away from them, and in fact it wouldn't impact them in any way. So, to start writing for Company D or wait another five months to write for them because of the NCA? Hmmm. What would you have done?

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Yeah, I'm an Examiner Too

"Have you heard about Examiner? Maybe you should be an Examiner!" That's what is on the fingertips over every Web writer, both pro and amateur, these days. If you haven't yet heard about Examiner, you will. Actually, you just did. I wrote a general explanation of the company and sites that might clear it up.

I've been hearing about it for about a year pretty much non-stop. I turned down a national position from them last year because I didn't think it would amount to much. Remember how crazy people were when Bukisa started? Yeah. No thanks. But over the past month, more and more people have been saying that they're doing pretty well from it. All together I've heard results coming in about evenly- about half say it's very little per article over time and about half say they are doing great with it and are moving more and more of their time there. One person said she's has stopped writing for private clients and is exclusively writing for Examiner.

After all of the hoopla, I finally decided to try again and I got accepted for another national position. I actually suspect that as long as your writing samples are in decent English and you pass the background check you're pretty much in. Did I say background check? I totally did. They conduct a background check to see whether you're a criminal. I think that a criminal would likely know just as much, if not more, about my topic as I do, so I don't really see the point. But, that's the way it is.

I decided a little over a week ago to give it one month- one month of actual effort in order to see whether or not it's worthwhile. I've only been there for eight or nine days now, so it's hard to say much about the money you can make there. I think it has a lot to do with the topic chosen and how often you post articles. I chose a national position rather than a local one because I figured it would bring in a wider audience. Then I chose a topic that I already have useless knowledge about and that everyone is interested in for some reason in order to make the articles easy to write and the audience even broader. Foolproof, eh? So far, not so much.

The traffic has been extremely slow and at least one day there was none at all. It's a little after 5 p.m and my nine articles have so far gotten one page view today. I realize that I have only given it a week, and it was a holiday week at that, so I'm going to put in more effort to see what materializes. So far, the money earned with Examiner has not been worth it, but it is a residual site, so the effort put in up front could be worth it down the road. We'll see.

Actually writing for Examiner is about as easy as writing blog posts and easier than writing for an article directory. Their publish tool is a little awkward, but there's no annoying editor to harass you and ask you why you didn't use X phrase X number of times. You can pick your own topics and post more than their recommended number of posts, three to four a week, if you like. I do like jobs where there's little contact with other humans, as unsociable as that sounds. The creativity simply flows better that way and the annoyance stays to a minimum.

If you want to try Examiner, there are actually referral codes for joining. I'm not sure how I feel about that, since I think it might influence others to make claims of more money than they are making in order to refer others. I'm also not sure how it bodes for the site itself if they have to get their writers to recruit others. This is the only review I've done so far of writing for them and I don't plan to promote my referral code other than right here: 15559. If you want to join, you can use that as your referral code and I'll be rich and famous, or maybe they'll just give me a stick of candy or something. I forget which. Actually, I think you get a decent amount of money per referral but I haven't looked into it much yet. I do know that some Examiners make more for their referrals than they do for their page views. I don't know how long Examiner could keep that up, but it sounds good for the time being.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Safety When Using Wireless Internet

Whenever we go out of town I have to drag a laptop to do work, so having a secure connection is extremely important to me. Every time I have gone out of town I have people telling me different things about how to connect safely. All of the men in my extended family are either programmers or scientists, so I have access to a lot of information that I usually ignore.

I have been told by them before that plugging a laptop into the wall at a hotel or condo rental is a safe Internet connection. I have also been told that it's incredibly unsafe and that you might as well set your computer on fire. I've been told that tapping into a hotel's wireless connection is perfectly safe and also that it's the most foolhardy thing a human can ever do.

This time I made it clear that I wanted the most secure connection possible. With two weeks in the rental, I needed to do everything that I do at home, minus making fun of the redneck neighbors. I got the programmers together and got them to tell me what is safer. One answer. No double speak. No programming terminology. Just. Tell. Me. What. To. Do.

The answer is apparently to get your own wireless router and to use your own secure connection for your Internet forays. A wireless router is about 40 bucks and can be bought at Wal-mart, Target, etc. It's easy to set up, too. Here's how to set it up for the most secure connection when you're out of town:

Get a relative to set up your router for you. Read some Anne Rice while he sets it up. Ask him periodically if it's set up yet. Once it's set up, use the computer. And that's how you can set up your own connection and stay safe while on vacation. At least, that's how I did it.