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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Getting Paid Bonuses

Sometimes you will find an order in the general pool that is really short and promises a bonus for completing it. In other words, the total word count is really low, like 100 words, so if it only paid the usual rate per word, it might not be done well because it takes too much research or something. So, they will tack on a bonus.

Or, if you belong to a team, if they are coming up on a deadline, they may offer bonuses if you complete X number of orders during a certain time frame. There can also be other situations where a client offers to pay you a bonus -- in other words, to pay you more than what you would get just based on word count alone.

I very recently learned that bonus payments are listed at the bottom of your Pay-Off page in a section titled special payment. Just scroll all the way down.

I never knew where to find this information and I have been shorted on bonus monies promised me once or twice. Now that I know where it is listed, I can follow up if I don't get bonus funds promised me and say "Hey, you said I would get x and I haven't been paid that." There has been a time or two I suspected I was shorted, but I had no idea how to verify that and I never followed up.

Be smarter than me and keep track of any bonus payments promised you and follow up with the client if you don't get it. If they promise you a bonus when they send you a revision request, copy and paste that info somewhere else, along with a listing of the headline ID and client number, so you can readily follow up in the internal messaging system if it doesn't show up in your pay.

Even if you are on a team, it is typically on you to keep track of which ID's are supposed to get a bonus. You can't see the instructions for a revision or anything you wrote (except the title) after you submit it. So if there is any discussion of bonus payments, do keep track of that and check to see if you get it.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Enable Your "Away" Message

This is something I did not do for the longest time. Now, if I expect to be unavailable for a bit (call it at least two days), I enable my away message.

You will find this option at the bottom of your profile page. You can enable it for "until further notice" or for a set of dates. While it is enabled, your messages area on the top left of your member area will show a notice in bold that your away message is enabled.

I have begun doing this because I treat this as my job and I have repeat clients who sometimes send me direct orders. It is a courtesy to let people know that I am unavailable for a time and it allows me to schedule some time off without fretting about clients so much.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Check Your Notifications and Take Action

In the upper left section of your author area, there is a thing called Notifications. If you have no notifications, it will say that (except the word Notifications will be in orange and the fonts are different and it has a gif of a paperclip next to it and I don't know how to recreate that here ):

Notifications
There are currently no messages

Things listed under Notifications are things you do not necessarily get emailed about, such as team invitations. If you have a team invitation, it is a good idea to go ahead and look at it and make a decision. Either accept the invitation or fill out the invitation (they sometimes want a writing sample -- actually, more often than not they want this) or go ahead and decline if you are just not interested.

If you don't take action about the item, it will continue to tell you that you have a team invitation and if you then get an actual new team invitation, you won't know that because your notification status will not change and you will not get an email about it. It will just perpetually "You've been invited to a client's exclusive Team."

The Notifications area will also let you know if you have internal messages. You will get an email about this and the Notifications area can tell you how many messages you have. I always go click on all of them promptly and see what they are about. But, unlike with internal messages, Team invites do not get emailed to you and I don't think they update to indicate that you now have multiple invitations. This is possibly a thing that Textbroker could do better. But, hey, if you actually want to know if you are invited to a new team, it takes little time or effort to address this yourself and stay on top of it.

I am on dozens of teams. Only a handful very regularly provide work. So, the clients are not that different from the authors in terms of using the system intermittently, as they see fit. Being on more teams is a good thing. In most cases, there is no additional burden of expectation on the author in terms of how much to work or when.

In a few cases, they do explicitly say you need to do X number of articles per week to remain on the team, or you need to complete articles within 2 hours of pulling them or whatever. The instructions are typically a little more heavy handed, but since you use the same instructions over and over, it isn't necessarily that burdensome.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Learn to Use the Search Function

Textbroker has a search function for looking through the available articles. I have known this forever and never gotten around to figuring out how to use it. A few days ago, I accidentally clicked on it. Whoa!

One of the things it allows you to do is sort by article length. You can also sort by client ID, deadline, keyword and quality level. There are a bunch of things you can do with it that you cannot do in the regular interface where everything is listed by category.

So, if you want to make good money and not waste a lot of time simply looking for an article to write, learn to use the search function. This can be enormously helpful.

Unfortunately, I am not even qualified to do screen shots and give tips because I am just now "discovering" this. But don't waste all your time just manually looking through the queues. Learn to use their internal search function.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

The Value of Not Chasing Your Pay

I believe I recently read that freelancers chase the money for up to 40% of their work. Unfortunately, I am unable to locate the source where I read that. However, there are plenty of horror stories and enough advice about how to deal with it that you can confidently infer that this is a significant problem for independent workers. This is probably why this video is so popular amongst independents: F*ck You, Pay Me

Thought experiment:
If I spend 4 hours working at $20/hour but then also have to spend 8 hours trying to get paid, it has taken me 12 hours to make $80. If, instead, I had spent that 12 hours working at $10/hour and got paid at the click of a button for it, then I have earned $120. That is 50% more money for the same number of hours of effort at nominally half the hourly rate.

This is one of the reasons I like Textbroker: If I do the work adequately, I can get paid every week by requesting my pay out. I do this by clicking a button (and then confirming).

This means my actual hourly pay rate is not depreciated after the fact by the process of chasing my pay. Chasing your pay is not only time consuming, it also means you do not get paid in a timely fashion, and you may not get paid at all. Since you might not even get paid, chasing your pay is incredibly stressful.

Until you actually have it in hand, you spend all your time worrying that you wasted your time working for these people. You can't help but fear that you will get bilked.

So, at the same time that it drives your real pay rate down, it drives your stress levels up. This is a dreadful thing to go through. I think if I had to deal with that for every paycheck, that would be torture. I would have zero sense of security or confidence that it would work out.

Most people who do gig work or freelance work seem to go through exactly that scenario a high percentage of the time. This is no doubt one of the reasons it has such a terrible reputation as a very insecure way to live. But I don't feel that way at all about working for Textbroker.

Instead, I feel empowered to build the kind of income I want while retaining a high degree of control over when, where, how and how much I work. For me, this is a dream come true.

When I first began working for Textbroker, I was incredibly ill. I went through long periods where I worked very part time and intermittently. My de facto hourly pay was well below minimum wage and my paychecks were typically small and sporadic. But the work I completed got paid at the click of a button.

I knew that was worth something. I knew that a nominally higher pay rate was not necessarily a better deal in reality. Because Textbroker plays middleman, I consistently get paid in full and in a timely fashion without chasing my money. That is a big part of why I stuck with it when I was making so little at first.

Not long ago, I did my first paid writing outside of Textbroker. They came to me, so I did not spend time looking for this assignment. Overall, it was a positive experience. But it did take more time and effort to both garner the work and to get paid for it than how Textbroker works.

On the one hand, it has me feeling like there is a larger world of greater possibilities that I may yet explore. On the other hand, it has renewed my appreciation for the Textbroker model.

I always liked Textbroker, but some of my loyalty was based on a hypothetical comparison point. I now have actual experience of getting a commission that only serves to verify my hypothesis that there is real value in not needing to chase either the work or the pay.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

How to Improve Your de facto Hourly Rate

Please Note: If you are a 2 or 3 star author, the following tips may be useful, but your primary focus should be improving the quality of your work so you can become a 4 star author.

I realize that if you desperately need money and are a 2 or 3, you may feel very pressured to churn out as much work as possible because the pay at this level is very low. I am also well aware that 2 and 3 star articles disappear from the queues rapidly, so there is a lot of pressure to just grab what work you can and finish it as quickly as possible. But, in the long run, you will be better served by doing what you can to get your quality up to the 4 star level first and then worrying about how to be more time efficient so as to improve your effective hourly rate.
Because this is piece work and not wage work, your hourly earnings will vary. If you have health problems, special needs kids or other personal burdens, it might take you all afternoon to finish a piece that will pay you $5. I have absolutely done that in the past when my health was worse than it is currently. If so, your hourly rate for that piece on that afternoon may come out to $1.25 (or less).

But, it is $5 more than you would have otherwise had and no one will fire you for being so slow. All they care about is: 1) Did you follow directions? 2) Is it grammatically correct and typo free? And 3) Did you turn it in before the deadline? Yes, yes and yes? Then you get paid!

So, I was absolutely OK at first with having an incredibly low hourly rate because of my difficult personal circumstances. But I could readily see that this could eventually be improved. I was clear that this work had the potential to turn into a middle class income with very flexible hours and a high degree of control over my work conditions. This is exactly what I need, so I stuck with it.

Everyone talks a lot about the per word pay rate of online freelance writing. Although it certainly got a lot easier for me to make a decent paycheck after I got access to work with a better per word pay rate -- not just 4 star work, but also teams and direct orders -- there are a lot of other factors that influence your effective hourly rate. To a surprising degree, your hourly rate can be improved by making judicious choices regarding the following factors:

Type of Writing


Writing about familiar subjects will take less time and produce better work than writing about unfamiliar topics. Sticking to subjects you know well or developing a niche can help you increase your effective hourly rate.

Time spent choosing an article


If you are new to Textbroker, it is a good idea to go through all available work and at least skim titles and article length, and read the instructions from some representative samples. It is common for a large number of articles in a category to be submitted by a single client. They will tend to have similar instructions. It doesn't take long to start recognizing patterns, so it isn't necessary to read every single set of instructions to have a good idea of what is available.

After you are generally familiar with what the pool of articles looks like, you should make an effort to get efficient at quickly picking something to work on. In order to make money, you must choose articles to write and choosing well can make a big difference, but since this is not wage work, you are not being paid for time spent on the selection process.  Thus, you want to do as much as you reasonably can to reduce the amount of time it takes to choose something to work on. You want to develop some best practices for quickly selecting something you are well suited to write.

There are four or five categories I check first. Because I have been doing this a while, I know from experience I am more likely to find work in those categories that is a good fit for me. I used to comb through every article every day, but my rule these days is to quickly skim my favorite categories and to go ahead and grab an article if it looks like a good fit (so it doesn't disappear -- other people are also looking through them).

If I don't see anything particularly compelling, I check some additional categories. But I try to not spend too much time on this. I want the majority of my time to be spent actually writing, not spent endlessly looking for an article.

Pro tip: Teams and direct orders can substantially reduce time spent looking for work.  For team orders, you already know what the instructions are, so you only need to worry about evaluating a shorter list of details, like the specific subject and the key words. In my experience, direct orders are typically a good fit for me. The client has usually chosen me based on similar work I did for them in the past or based on my profile. Direct orders in my account pretty much equals work I will start on promptly.

Instruction Overhead


Reading the instructions is a required part of the job. But, again, you don't really get paid for that time. You get paid for the writing and it needs to comply with the instructions, but time spent reading instructions is not time spent in production per se.

There are a few points to consider here:
  • Article length
  • Instruction length
  • Persnicketiness

Article Length


I like pulling articles from the 4 star general author queue that are between 400 and 1000 words. At the 4 star level, if you write 500 words, you make $7.00. You make the same whether that is one article at 500 words or 10 items at 50 words apiece. But 10 shorter items will require you to read 10 sets of instructions, plus just pulling them takes time.

So, generally speaking, a single 500 word article will tend to translate into a higher hourly pay rate than 10 smaller pieces that add up to 500 words. Articles longer than 1000 words are more likely to require significant research or have more persnickety instructions. Thus, in my experience, that mid range of article length seems to be the sweet spot.

If I pull a 500 word article that has short instructions and requires little or no research, I may be able to finish it in about 30 minutes. If so, my effective rate for that article is around $14/hour. That is a respectable pay rate. At this point in time, I cannot yet sustain that for 40 hours per week. But, I can achieve a pay rate of about $14 -$17 per hour in fits and spurts. This is definitely causing my income to trend up and making my life more comfortable.

Instruction Length


When you open them up, some articles present a giant wall of text in the instructions section. But don't promptly nope out of it. Sometimes, only a portion of the instructions are relevant. At other times, it is a rewrite and most of that text is the body of the article they want rewritten.

So, shorter instructions are generally a better deal for the author, but it isn't always quite as straight forward as it seems.

Persnicketiness


Length of instructions and pickiness of instructions are often separate factors. Some articles specify key words and some don't. Some key words are harder to work with than others. Some key word instructions are more rigid ("this exact phrase") and some are more relaxed ("this phrase" but it can vary in specified ways). Generally speaking, it will take more time to comply with pickier instructions than with instructions that give more latitude to the author.

Writing Process


Develop some good habits. If you pull an article before lunch, thoroughly read the instructions and do any necessary research, then go to lunch. This can give you time to digest the information. When you come back, you will likely be ready to set to work promptly. This can be especially helpful with more challenging work with a substantial research component.

Also, it can be helpful to just copy and paste all the key words into the body of the article. Post them as many times as they are required at the very top of the article, then cut and paste into the sentence when you want to use one. This makes it easy to keep track of them. This is especially important for articles where they ask for key words, but those key words are not entered into the instructions in a way that gets them automatically tracked by the Textbroker system.

Before you submit the article, do a quick scan of the instructions to see if you missed some detail. Also, use a spell checker, grammar checker or other tool to "clean" your writing. Remember to not write anything at all in the "Title" box until you are done with all your writing and checking. This will prevent you from submitting by accident.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Art of Writing Titles

Some of the articles I write for pay come with a title and some require me to create a title. Titling is something I think it is kind of hard to do well. I think I have learned a lot in the last couple of years, in part from participating in online forums and in part from blogging and in part from reading things that weren't specifically about titling per se.

Reading the below linked article about Star Wars misquotes was a huge epiphany concerning making good titles. Specifically, the part I quote below gave me some insight into how to try to convey stuff in a nutshell better:

1. "Luke, I am your father."

"Luke" probably snuck into the real quote because, taken out of context, "No, I am your father" is not that impactful or recognizable. "Luke, I am your father," on the other hand, is immediately obvious as a line from Star Wars (even if you're not doing the voice, though this line is usually quoted because people want to try out their impersonation of Darth Vader). As a result, the "Luke" version become one of the most memorable movie misquotes of all time.

Famous Star Wars Quotes (That Were Never Said)

The explanation about how "No" got swapped out for "Luke" and why helped me a great deal. I later tried to recreate that effect for a piece I put on a blog of mine. I looked up a movie scene I wanted to reference, and it didn't have anything snappy that captured what I wanted. So I tried to capture the scene in a nutshell, like the above misquote does, and then tweak it to say what I wanted it to say.

In specific, I wanted to evoke the scene from The Matrix where they talk about spoon bending and the kid tells him "There is no spoon." I looked up the dialogue for that exact scene and decided to go with the phrase "First, realize there is no spoon" as a nutshell version of the scene. I then changed it to First, Realize There is No Glass for an opinion piece talking about the proverbial Glass Ceiling.

Another recent-ish incident that was an epiphany for me was this blog post of mine: A small bright spot. If you look at the URL, you will see that it was originally called "A crappy day with a small bright spot." Please notice that the site is called Mic Eats. When I looked at the site after posting that, it read as "Mic Eats A crappy day..." and I went 'Um, no.' and I changed the title to "A small bright spot." Since then, most posts list a food as the first word of the title and that is frequently followed by some sort of descriptor as to why I chose to eat the thing in question (as I use diet to manage my health issues and often choose something due to specific symptoms, based on research).

I have listened to lots of stories over the years about how sensitive subjects or potentially problematic wording got handled for movies or famous songs or similar. A lot of those stories get handled in a way that gave me a negative view of the practice. But the above incident made me completely rethink the various stories I have heard over the years. It made me feel that handling things carefully is just a matter of good communication. It is not kowtowing to unhealthy expectations in "unsophisticated" people, which is how I had so often felt those examples suggested was the case.

Thus, these days, I try hard to be aware of possible unfortunate interpretations of phrases when taken out of context. If I am pulling a phrase from an article to try to work into a title, I stop and think about how that phrase will sound when removed from the context of the article. Titles need to be pretty information dense. They need to sum up the article fairly well while being snappy and fairly short. Summing it up in an unfortunate manner that will give the wrong impression when taken out of context is not something I want to do.

I generally start with some basic phrases for the main idea and do some brainstorming as to different ways to say that. I try to come up with something fairly short that captures the most important information. I play around with what idea should lead. In other words, I am frequently trying to convey at least two pieces of information in a title and sometimes it makes a big difference which piece of information comes first. Sometimes, it isn't such a big deal. But I like to swap it around and see what impact it has.