When I started HomeWorkingClub, I never thought there would be a time when it would make me thoroughly miserable.
But then it happened out of the blue last week – and it happened right in the middle of a long-awaited family holiday – which wasn’t nice.
I shall discuss what went on in this article, and provide a lot of advice that should be useful to freelancers in any business sector. But just so you know that you won’t be merely reading a rant – here’s what you will learn from this post:
- How HomeWorkingClub was genuinely conceived as a way to help people improve their lives.
- How marketing hype permeates almost every part of modern life – and why it’s best just to get used to it.
- Why scams are so prevalent in the world of freelancing and home working.
- Why you should believe that there ARE genuine opportunities and trustworthy people out there.
- How it’s almost certain that as soon as you achieve success, somebody will try to spoil it for you.
- Why you simply HAVE to learn how to dust yourself off and keep working if you’re ever going to make a success of a business of your own.
- The reality of the fact that the reason many people don’t find success is that they don’t try hard enough.
So with those lofty goals established, let’s get started! We’ll begin with some background:
The Birth of HomeWorkingClub
When I started HomeWorkingClub (around a year ago, at the time of writing), one of the things I was most excited about was being able to combine a new business venture with that much-sought-after feeling of “making a difference.”
Throughout my life, I’ve often complained that I’ve had few problems earning a living, but never really had that feeling that I’m doing good for the world. While I’ve undoubtedly “helped people” over more than a decade of fixing computers and building websites, there’s a vast difference between making an office network more reliable and making lives better!
As such, I’ve long had a sense of awe and envy for people like midwives, nurses and firefighters, who must surely go home most days with a tangible sense of achievement.
I’ve tried to fill the gap with various things, such as training to be a counsellor, but (with a growing family) I’ve also needed to keep the money coming in. So when I came up with the idea of HomeWorkingClub, I finally felt as if I’d landed on something that could allow me to use what I’ve learned in the past 15 years or so to help people change their lives.
Freelancing has allowed me to completely change my lifestyle, and it’s clear that many people want to do the same. Even many of the people who are quite comfortable working for a “boss” will find themselves forced into becoming masters of their own destiny in the coming years. Various studies suggest that due to changing business practices and automation, around 50% of people will be self-employed within the next few years.
So, with that in mind, HomeWorkingClub was born – a chance to share my experiences, network with like-minded people, help novices get started, and – hopefully – make a modest income from the site that would grow alongside the predicted boom in freelancing.
The Fine Line between Selling Dreams and Scamming
One of the first things I wrote for this site was the “About” page, where I explained that there are “a great many scams” in the world of home working and freelancing.
If anything, the situation has got worse in the past year; You can’t move on the internet for adverts making ludicrous claims such as suggesting you’ll be able to give up your job and replace your income by filling out surveys, or start a six-figure career from your bedroom tomorrow regardless of how much experience you don’t have.
What these adverts are doing is tapping into people’s hopes and dreams. Some are merely being economical with the truth – perhaps not being upfront about the amount of work involved in becoming a success. At the other end of the scale, you have the outright schemes and scams, operated by people with no moral code, and no real desire to do anything beyond separating people with certain ambitions from their (often limited) money.
However, it’s crucial to remember that not everything in the world of freelancing is a scam. In many cases, the promises companies make are nothing more than basic marketing.
Take Upwork, for example – the world’s largest freelance marketplace. Plenty of people out there call that a scam. Upwork promises “freedom to work on ideal projects,” “wide variety” and “high pay.” It can deliver all of those things (and you’ll find some tips for success on Upwork here).
But – Upwork’s marketing materials don’t advertise “freedom to compete with literally millions of people for every job,” “a wide variety of ways potential clients will waste your time,” or “high pay (but only if you live in a third world country.)” And you’ll encounter all of those things before you come anywhere close to being a “six-figure” freelancer.
Upwork isn’t a scam! It IS a place where plenty of first-time freelancers swiftly realise that there’s a lot of global competition out there, but it’s not a scam. And Upwork failing to point out the reality is nothing more than marketing.
Let’s consider a couple of parallels: I have various low-calorie, “diet” recipe books – but I’ve yet to see a disclaimer on any of them saying “this is delicious but you’ll probably eat a bag of chips within an hour because your body will be desperate for carbs.”
When I booked my recent holiday, the website I used showed me shimmering beaches and families grinning from ear to ear. At no point was I warned that some children find “sand too sandy” and “hot tubs too hot,” nor that even short-term weather forecasts can be woefully inaccurate, or even that – shock horror – budget airlines don’t seem to have as much legroom as it looks like in the pictures.
The thing is, I’m neither seeking a refund for my holiday nor sending my recipe books back to Amazon. Everyone in the developed world has been having dreams sold to them for decades, so it’s no surprise that thousands of marketers have stepped into the home-working and freelancing space. After all, when it comes to selling dreams, there are few as desirable as having plenty of money without having to go to a regular workplace.
Another thing I said on HomeWorkingClub’s initial “About” page is that we would “never sugarcoat what work is truly involved in making a freelance living.” This part is important, because there are thousands of people selling dreams in this industry who are as likely to tell you about the realities of home working as Coca-Cola are to start to printing “MAY ROT TEETH AND GIVE YOU DIABETES” on their cans.
How my Holiday got Messed Up
When I set off on my recent family holiday, I was feeling very upbeat about HomeWorkingClub.
After a year of hard work, I was finally approaching a financial break-even point with the site. Page views were up, and there was a really pleasing stream of new subscribers joining up. (A special thanks to any of them reading this!)
I’d also recently reviewed a product called WritersWork, that provides a host of features for freelance writers. As I receive dozens of emails from aspiring writers, it felt good to promote a product that seemed like it would suit their needs. It was great to see a few sales coming through as a result of my positive review, and I felt that HomeWorkingClub was finally moving into an exciting new phase.
What I didn’t expect, a couple of days later, was a load of abuse on Facebook. This included being accused of being dishonest, and being a paid “shill.”
As it turns out, WritersWork is run by a team who previously stepped too far over that line of “selling dreams” with the previous product they marketed. You can read all the details in my updated review, but suffice to say that once this link was brought to light, I immediately knew I’d need to investigate and amend my review.
This investigation took a couple of days. In the meantime, I took down the nasty comments until I knew which were valid. I ended up losing several days of holiday to the stress of investigating and rewriting my review. This had a direct impact on my young son, who was quite rightly disappointed when his dad suddenly slipped out of holiday mode and disappeared behind his laptop.
There’s Always One Ar$3hole!
A couple of days on, everything was resolved. It was all incredibly frustrating; I’d had to work very hard on something that resulted in me revising my review, which would then inevitably reduce any sales of the product! Integrity is everything (at least to me), but if you imagine having to work overtime in return for a pay cut, that was essentially how I ended up spending some of my holiday!
So, imagine how much of a kick in the teeth it was to come in from the play-park the next afternoon, on the penultimate day of my holiday, to find this posted on my website:
Clearly, this individual hadn’t taken the time to notice my updated review, complete with a detailed explanation. Nor did she take the time to reply when I sent her a detailed and heartfelt response (if you like you can read it on the review). Nor did she reply when I sent her a message saying I’d responded AND republished her initial comment.
When I updated my review, I also took the time to send a message to the man who originally alerted me to the connection between the two companies, triggering my investigation, and personally thanking him. He didn’t bother to respond either.
Like the vast majority of professional websites, I DO receive a commission when people buy some products after clicking through. Sometimes (and this is what really seemed to anger the female keyboard warrior), companies even pay as much as a huge(!) $25 incentive when you post a review! If I didn’t have the hope of realising a small amount of money through affiliate commissions and ad-clicks, this website wouldn’t exist – and nor would many others.
And – I’m sorry, but McDonald’s and Burger King give out cheap food to people who fill out staff surveys; corner shops make a mark up when they sell you bread and milk, and brands of all varieties pay Instagram marketers a small fortune to promote products. Anyone who’s going to be mad about honest people making honest commission may as well be mad at the whole world.
As I’ve previously discussed, we live in a world saturated with marketing – I don’t like it that much myself but it is what it is.
What was so maddening about this incident? My reward for showing integrity and turning my back on income to give my readers the full picture was unwarranted abuse from someone who’s not even had the decency to engage in debate. (I’d like to take the opportunity to thank some of the members of HomeWorkingClub’s community Facebook group for their kind comments while this was all going on!)
Unfortunately, stuff like this is not unusual. That’s the point I’ve taken perhaps a little too long to make! As discussed in our article about bad feedback, entrepreneurs of all kinds have to contend with the fact there’s almost always someone who wants to spoil things. It frequently comes just as a new business is starting to gain momentum, and it often happens unfairly. The sad reality is that almost always happens in some way.
Perhaps the hardest thing of all is that when you work for yourself, you’ve not got a team or a boss who will bolster you and keep you motivated after something like this happens.
I spent a fair proportion of my holiday firefighting a problem that was essentially caused by a mixture of a company failing to disclose their past sketchy dealings, and a keyboard warrior who fancied getting “shouty” on my website. But in the background, I also had freelance problems of my own.
These included chasing money from a long-term client who’d suddenly stopped paying, and wondering what to do about the fact I’d paid someone in advance for work that had completely failed to materialise.
These things are just everyday hassles for a freelancer, but added to the whole holiday debacle, it was certainly hard to start back to work this morning feeling super-motivated! In fact, I typed this article first for a measure of catharsis before I tackle the 33 personal emails from new subscribers that have build up in my inbox. I feared that if I replied to them any sooner I’d be too tempted to just say “get a job – self employment is rubbish!”
But, of course, it’s not really. The main point of this article is to demonstrate the rough with the smooth at a point where it’s fresh in my mind – because the whole point in the site is to be completely honest about freelancing. Most of the time it is a great life – but if you think you’ll escape stress because you work for yourself, you’re very much mistaken, and the more your profile rises, the more you land up in the firing line of idiots.
But – hey – on the bright side, at least you’re free to call them out (or even rant about them online) if you feel you’d like to 😉
Now, before I finish with the ranting, I have something else to get off my chest. It won’t take long!
Must. Try. Harder.
While I was investigating the whole situation with Writers.Work, I made a couple of interesting observations:
The first is that many online markers really have no scruples whatsoever. When I was looking at MasterWritingJobs, the team’s previous venture that had made some far too ambitious claims as to how easy it was to get started in the writing world, I found that plenty of the people calling it out as a scam then used the very same article to sell their OWN product.
Now personally, I think it’s a bit much to say a product that costs less than $40 is a scam, and then go on to suggest that the best strategy to avoid being scammed is to subscribe to an equally unproven product for $25 per month! This goes to prove that sometimes, you need to be as wary of the “scambusters” as you do of the scams themselves!
The other observation was something I’ve always been aware of, but it was really brought home to me once again; Companies do market dreams and take advantage of people, but plenty of people also use this as an excuse for failing to take action and work hard.
Some people often like the idea of something way more than they like the reality, so it’s hardly any wonder that marketing that taps into a lazy, “get rich quick” mentality works so well.
Take online courses as an example; There are some amazing online learning resources that we’ve discussed here before. Nowadays, people can learn anything they want from their laptop, and if often costs next to nothing.
However, I can inform you that the completion rate for these courses is only around 5%. That’s right – around 95% of people lack the tenacity to finish a course off. This shocking figure only goes to demonstrate that an awful lot of people enjoy talking about what they’d like to do more than actually doing it.
As I discussed in a previous article on jobs for lazy people, my own investigation into this kind of thing was quite depressing too, showing that even when I lay out genuine ways to make money, surprisingly few actually act on the opportunity.
Now in some respects, I have sympathy for those who lack confidence, those who have to balance lots of different commitments, and those who lack the computer skills to hit the ground running with online work. However, there comes a point where people need to sacrifice watching a soccer game, catching up with a soap opera, or meeting up with friends if they’re going to start on a prosperous freelance path.
The people that do get started and stick with it are the people who make it. Given that starting a freelance business requires way more effort than completing an online course, we can confidently surmise that the proportion of people who do get beyond the “talking about it” stage is small.
So it’s little wonder that the remaining people are the constant target of the next cleverly-worded marketing campaign – the one designed to convince them there REALLY IS another way to get started in freelancing – a way that doesn’t involve hard work, bumps in the road, and the occasional need to lock horns with a moron.
Well, I can save you some time – that way doesn’t exist. But what you CAN count on is that I’ll be honest about it. Thank you so much for reading this to the end and helping me get this off my chest!
Suggested article: Have YOU got what it takes to be a freelancer?
Founder of HomeWorkingClub.com – Ben is a long-established freelancer with a passion for helping other people take control of their destiny and break away from “working for the man.” Prone to outbursts of bluntness and realism.