Checking Out the “Cheaper” Competition

We recently had someone tell us, “You know, I can get copy just as good as yours, for less than half the price.”

Naturally, we asked where such a deal was available. The answer was “At Elance, of course.”

We had heard horror stories before, about copy from Elance or similar freelancer sites. But this time, we decided to see for ourselves just what the deal was. So we signed up for an account and posted a job: a few 1000-word articles on a subject which would require a decent amount of research. We offered to pay $15-$20 per article, and specified that we only wanted native American English writers. We also decided in advance that we were only going to consider writers who had received a rating of at least 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.We received several dozen applications within a few hours. Our next step was to check out the “writers” who applied. Right away, we were able to discard several applicants, who weren’t American. We also discarded another five, who didn’t submit any writing samples (which we had requested in our posting.)

Then, we looked at the portfolios or writing samples of the remaining applicants – and we were horrified. There wasn’t a single person whose writing would meet our standards. There were spelling errors, grammatical errors, sentence fragments, careless factual mistakes, and that was in their portfolios – the writing they chose to show as the best examples of their work.

Somewhat daunted, we plunged ahead, and chose the “best” of the bunch, someone with a rating of 4.9 stars out of 5 and lots of great recommendations on the site. Elance only allows you to communicate with your writer on their in-house message system, so we were unable to speak with our writer personally to explain the project; we did the best we could by leaving directions and samples in their inbox, and then held our breath.

A week later, we had our articles. We were disappointed but not surprised to see that the writer’s portfolio was a good representation of their work; the article’s structure and organization was mediocre, there were grammatical and spelling errors, serious factual errors, and a few sentences that didn’t really make sense at all.

Out of curiosity, we decided to edit the articles ourselves to see how long it would take to turn the copy into something we would use on one of our own sites. And as we suspected, we had to spend almost as much time editing the pieces as we would have spent writing them ourselves.

It’s certainly possible that we just happened to choose the wrong writer. But we doubt it. In our opinion, we got what we paid for – mediocre writing at a below-market price.

You may already have had the same experience with freelance sites. If not, we pass along the experience as a cautionary tale. Are we biased? Of course we are. Take this story with however many grains of salt you’d like.

But in a strange way, we’re glad we gave this experiment a try.

It made us feel more confident than ever about the service and quality that we offer our clients.