The Freelancer’s Dilemma: Dollars or Sense?

Five years ago, I was doing regular work for a content farm. They paid well enough for a relative newcomer to the industry and had a variety of jobs available, though most fell into the “write about auto insurance” or “create sales copy for this new vacuum” categories.

But then an interesting piece appeared. At first glance, it seemed to be a request for Yelp reviews from a small business. Not exactly shocking; I’d been around long enough to know that many “impartial” reviews were in fact drafted by poorly-paid copywriters but as I looked at the details of this particular request, I realized it was something else entirely.

The owner of the business had received a poor (I should say very poor) Yelp review, and wanted a legal-sounding “cease and desist” piece to post on the site. I was immediately uncomfortable, but struggled with the idea of giving up a paying job, even if I didn’t agree with the concept. Using the little information I had about the company I was able to locate the review in question. Scathing might be the best way to describe the content—and it wasn’t the only one. The business, it seemed, had a habit of not completing work properly and then dodging any consumer calls about these problems.

I’d stumbled across the Freelancer’s Dilemma: Did my commitment to “the job” (any job, really) outweigh my personal issues with the assignment?

Ultimately, I passed on the assignment and my editor at the time said it wasn’t the first problem they’d had with this particular client. I felt vindicated. I also realized I needed a line in the sand—something that never occurred to me before I started freelancing—because work I created had the potential to influence companies and consumers even if it didn’t carry my name.

In a world of Web content informed equally by breaking news and brand positioning, talented freelancers occupy a unique space. We are the voice of companies but remain quiet reflections of our own beliefs, and if we do not believe in what we write, we do disservice to both our clients and our readers.

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