The Top 10 Freelance Writing Red Flags to Avoid When Looking for Jobs


The Top 10 Freelance Writing Red Flags to Avoid When Looking for Jobs


Prevention is better than cure.

But how do you prevent disasters? By learning to identify the freelance writing red flags that show the potential danger ahead.

Considering that there are many potential dangers online, the more red flags you identify, the safer you’ll be. This will help you grow and flourish in your freelance writing career.


So, when searching for a freelance writing job, look out for these top 10 freelance writing red flags to Avoid.


1. The Job Involves Unpaid Work

One of the most obvious freelance writing red flags to avoid is when the job description requires you to produce:

  • a free sample to prove your expertise
  • a trial, unpaid article based on the client’s requirements
  • any other task which will benefit the client at your expense

However, unscrupulous clients have become smarter. They know freelancers are wiser now and won’t write for free.

So, they devised a new strategy: They’ll request you to do a test article at a meager rate with the promise of paying you a higher rate after they ascertain your skill from the test article.

Here’s an example:


test article at lower rate than normal article


In such a scenario, you don’t really know whether the client just wants to entice high-quality writers with the promise of good pay, but the real intention is to get those skilled freelancers to write for him at a below-standard fee. What would prevent the client from picking several writers and giving each of them the low-rate tests without picking any for ongoing tasks at the higher rate?

However, this may not be such a big deal if you’re comfortable with the low rate.

If a client approaches you with such an offer, request them to up their rates. If they don’t do it, simply say no.


2. The Job Requires You to Take Inappropriate Shortcuts

All clients want you to deliver excellent results with your content. But some want you to achieve such great results through uncouth methods.

For instance, the client’s job description may require you to guest post on top websites:


job that requires taking shortcuts



If you don’t know, being paid to guest post on a top website is usually against the contributor guidelines of such high-authority sites. A site like Forbes requires writers to reveal any financial interest regarding the articles they submit for guest posting:


forbes contributor rule to disclose financial interest


Taking up such jobs could eventually ruin your reputation in the long run.

In fact, why would you want to work with a client who specifically instructs you to take shortcuts?

Can you really trust such a client?

And if you do take up such a job, how would it look on your profile? Having such a job in your profile can turn off ethical clients who might want to hire you in future. And, since other legitimate contributors may be using Upwork or other freelancing sites, they might decide to report you to the top websites.


3. The Client is Involved in Shady Business

What would you do if you get a client who produces fake diplomas or sells bogus herbal treatments through his website, and he’s offering to pay you thousands of dollars to blog on his site?

Would you take up the offer or turn it down?

If you’re tempted to take the money, pause for one moment and think. How far does this shady business go? If the client is willing to scam his customers, won’t he also scam you? You might start off pretty well, and even get paid regularly. But when you start to trust such a person is often when you get scammed.

Clients involved in shady businesses will typically lose customers in the end.

That means you can’t depend on such a client for long-term work. The energy you spend working for the client would be better spent looking for legitimate long-term work.

However, the most crucial question is: what if your own mother or father is among the customers scammed by that client?

Do you really want to participate in the destruction of other people’s lives?

But if you don’t care and go on to work with such a client, you risk putting off other clients who value integrity and even face legal consequences.


4. The Client Complains About Cost

“You’re charging too much. Can you give me a discount?”

“I’ve worked with other writers who I paid half the amount you’re charging, and their content was way better than yours.”

When you hear such complaints from clients, do you quickly revise your rates downwards or stand your ground? If you genuinely believe your rates reflect the value you’re offering, you shouldn’t reduce your rates. You’ll likely end up with a terrible working relationship after lowering your rate. It might be better to look for another client.


To some extent, people gauge the value of certain products or services based on the price. For instance, a study by the American Association of Wine Economists reveals that people enjoy wine more when they know it’s expensive. Without that knowledge, they can’t differentiate between cheap and expensive wine.


people enjoy wine more if they know it’s expensive


If you lower your rate, you might give the client an impression that your content isn’t so valuable.

Once you set such a precedent, the client might even expect you to lower your rates further, if she thinks it isn’t good enough. You might get further rate-review requests after making even minor errors in your writing.

That’s definitely not the path you want to take.


5. Long Payment Terms

How long are you willing to wait before you get paid?

One day, a week or one month?

And what is the ideal waiting period?

That depends on whether you’re working with a client directly or through a freelancing site that has an escrow payment protection system. If you’re working with a client directly, you would rather have short payment terms, especially if you hardly know the client. In fact, it would be even better to get an initial deposit.

On the other hand, working through a freelancing site with an escrow system, longer payment terms won’t be a big issue. However, also consider the amount of work you’re doing. Why should you have to wait an entire month for the client to pay you for writing one article?

But watch out for clients who want you to submit an entire month’s job altogether, at the end of the month. What if the client doesn’t like the content, yet you’ve already written thousands of words?

If you have to handle a large batch of articles with a monthly payment, you should submit the content in smaller quantities. This way, the client can check and approve each article as you continue working on the project.


6. Ridiculously Low Pay

Freelancers often take low-paying jobs as they try to build their profiles in freelancing sites.

Unfortunately, rogue clients know this, and they’ll try to take advantage of you. It has come to the point that some clients are paying unbelievably low amounts, like this one:


low-paying job


Starting out, you might not have a good enough profile to win high-paying jobs, but you shouldn’t continue writing for low-paying clients all your life.

Even if you desperately want to get your first job on Upwork or any other freelancing site, you would rather take time to build your profile so you can win high-paying jobs, than spending your energy trying to please clients who don’t appreciate you.

Most likely, you’ll never get any credit for the low-paying jobs. Besides, you might not even want your name to appear on such content since you’ll likely do shoddy work as you rush to complete as many articles as possible to pay your bills.

Although it may sound counter-intuitive, writing free guest posts on top sites can be a better strategy than doing those low-paying jobs.

With the guest posts, you’ll have quality content to display on your profile. Plus, having a guest post in a top site will boost your reputation. You can then confidently bid on high-paying jobs, having a real chance of being selected.


7. A Job Description Full of Threats

At times, you come across a job description that sounds more of a threat than an actual job offer. Or you get a whole list of threats:


job description with threats


Although the stated consequences for poor delivery may be valid, you might wonder what would happen if you made an accidental mistake. If the client indicates just how ruthless he’ll be if you intentionally under-deliver, would he be equally ruthless when you make an unintended mistake? Would he know the difference?

Probably, the client had a bad experience previously and wants to avoid it happening again.

That also means such a client will be extra vigilant. He might penalize you for the smallest of mistakes to prove a point. So, are you ready to take the risk?

On the other hand, the client may just be trying to scare off amateurs.

Since you can’t tell whether they are red flags or not, only apply if you’re extra confident that you’ll deliver beyond the client’s expectations.


8. Customer Badmouths Former Freelancers

“I had another writer who just re-wrote content from my competitors, and it messed up my Google SERP ranking. I hope you’re not like that.”

Ever heard that from a client?

Even if the client may be well-meaning, it’s almost like a veiled threat: “I’ve been messed up once before, so you better not cross me this time.” That’s certainly not a good way to start a great working relationship.

The situation would be even worse if you’re actually close to the freelancer your client is referring to. And when you check with your friend, you realize the client was at fault – not the freelancer. Perhaps, the client’s website had poor SEO optimization; hence, the sites’ poor ranking had nothing to do with the freelancer’s content.

Once you discover this, you’ll certainly have doubts about working with such a client.

Will the client wrongly accuse you too for doing something wrong?

If you don’t pay attention to those red flags, you’ll end just like that other freelancer.


9. The Job Description Has Little Information

How would you bid for this job:


job description with little information


The job doesn’t even mention any of the subjects you’ll write on. Plus, you have no idea how long the e-book will be. Those are major red flags. How much will you charge, and do you even know whether you can do the job?

Most likely, that isn’t a serious job offer.

It could be a scam.

Why should you waste your time bidding on a job that might not exist? But if you really want to bid, you should first request for more information to help you quote an accurate price and assess whether you can do the job. Bidding blindly is one of the worst mistakes you can ever make when sending out proposals for freelance writing jobs.

If you bid blindly and the client accepts your proposal, you might be obliged to work on a highly technical e-book for a low price. In the worst case scenario, the client will give a poor rating when you fail to deliver.


10. The Client Wants to Communicate With You Off Site

This isn’t the worst of freelance writing jobs red flags if the client wants to communicate through Skype.

Quite a number of clients use Skype for in-depth discussions on their project scope. Besides, most freelancing sites have allowed such legitimate communication. That’s why you find job descriptions openly stating this requirement:


job requiring Skype calls


However, most freelancing sites are setting up video and audio call systems within their own platforms. Both Upwork and PeoplePerHour have that feature, and they encourage freelancers and clients to use it.

Using the freelancing platform’s video call will actually benefit you. If a dispute arises, all the conversations you had will be easily accessible on the freelancing platform. This will help if the site administrators have to arbitrate between you and your client.

If you use Skype, much of your conversation will be out of reach of the freelancing site.

Therefore, keep all communication within the freelancing platform.



As the online world continues to evolve, new dangers come up. Therefore, you’ll need to identify new red flags to avoid in the future.

If you remain vigilant, you’re sure to avoid as many dangers as possible.

Unfortunately, you might fall for one or two tricks, like rogue clients who refuse to pay. To get through such a challenging situation, you should learn practical techniques to get clients to pay up.


Which other red flags have you noticed in your freelance writing career? Share in the comments how you dealt with them?
  1. Reply

    I’m new to blogging and I am just starting as a writer. These are great suggestions. Thank you.

    • Reply

      Hey Amanda,

      Welcome to the blogging world. I’m glad you found this post helpful.

  2. Reply

    Thank you for all these warnings!!! I’ve been thinking of getting a freelance side hustle since I think I’d be able to handle it, but I don’t know where to draw the line. Thank you so much for these tips 🙂

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