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Kelly Cheek
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I'm Standin' On Shaky Ground

In my previous post, I began telling about venturing into the world of freelance writing, and the first couple of jobs I got from Wormhole, "the site concerned with de-stigmatizing the dark side of life." It was a bright and encouraging start. But it may have set my hopes up a little too high.

The third job I got through Upwork involved writing articles for a wholesale gardening supply company. The job paid double the amount that the first two jobs for Wormhole paid. I was moving up!

The first of these was an article about the LED grow lights the company sold. I didn’t know anything about grow lights, but according to the job listing, “The articles are slightly technical in nature, and we want to make the information easy to understand for our readers.” Take existing technical articles and make them more readable for the general public? I could do that!

After I was awarded the contract, the client told me he had a little information about the specific lights they carried, but he didn’t want just an article about the products. He wanted an article about the effectiveness of the lights, how they work – not just the specs of the lights themselves, but the science behind how they work. They wanted a lot of background information, and I had to research it myself. Apparently, there were no technical articles in existence. It was up to me to write them.

Well, I felt a little intimidated by this point. I wasn’t a gardener, I’d never used LED grow lights, and I didn’t know anything about how they worked. I was counting on the information that the client had. I wasn’t expecting to have to do a bunch of research before I could even start writing the article, and I was a little put out that the listing didn’t mention that.

But I was still a newbie, so I went ahead and got started.

The job listing said that the articles would range from 1,000 to 4,000 words, contain several specific keywords, and have links to the lights that they sold, as well as links to outside sources of information, with references. After doing a fair amount of research, I was able to string together 1,364 words, including those keywords, links and references, into a reasonably interesting article.

I was able to use my natural writing style, which made the article seem personal, conversational, as if I was just talking to the reader, which is what they wanted. So I sent the article to the client, ready to get paid and move on to the next project.

I was perplexed when the client responded that he really liked the style, but that it was too short. He wanted it to be at least 2,000 words. He gave directions such as: “I think here is a good place to discuss the exact spectrums/wave lengths/PAR that plants absorb best.” (Huh?) Also, he didn’t like the outside links I provided. “Let's use links to Universities or other sources instead.” Great idea, but I didn’t find any university links in my research. I found out later that to access many research journals requires a university account or subscriptions, some paid, and I just didn't have access to that.

All in all, he sent me a list of 14 major changes he wanted done. Now, I was more than just a little intimidated. I was starting to see myself spending hours on this one article, most of which would be research, and making maybe a buck or two an hour.

At this point, I started thinking about backing out of the job, but this early in my Upwork career, I didn’t want a bad review. A bad mark on my profile page this early on could hinder my being accepted by future clients.

I posted about my dilemma on the Barefoot Consultants Facebook page, and I got a few good suggestions, most of which involved just coming clean to the client. There was some talk about reporting him to Upwork because of the misleading and incomplete listing, but I figured I’d wait to see how he responded.

I composed a very diplomatic message to him, admitting that I didn’t know enough about the subject to write the kind of article that he was wanting, that based on the listing, I assumed that the articles were already written and that my job would basically be rewriting, and that the amount of research that he wanted done would eat up a lot of hours. I closed by stating that I didn’t think that I could do the project justice.

Then, I waited.

He responded about a half hour later saying that he understood, and that he appreciated me being upfront with him about it. He also told me that he was going to rewrite the listing to let future bidders know that it would involve a lot of research. And ultimately, he released me from the contract.

I didn’t get paid for that time, but I didn’t sink any more time into it. I breathed a sigh of relief. But my confidence had suffered a heavy blow. It seemed like every job I looked at after that had something about it that made me feel unqualified to do it.

How could I ever hope to support myself with my writing if I didn’t feel qualified to write?