So when I first got into freelancing, I accidentally worked for a bot for a full month—and never got paid.
I had just graduated and was living with my in-laws, so I was prepared to take any freelancing job available, no matter how crappy. That’s where I ran into a common Millennial problem: I let my desperation blind me to all the red flags I should have seen from a mile away. First, the person offering the job online had no proof of previous payment on other jobs. Second, the employer would only chat via Skype and wouldn’t video call. It’s notoriously easy to make bots in Skype, but I didn’t know this at the time. I thought it was odd, but I just didn’t think about it.
Third, my work was timed. The “employer” (AKA, the bot) would contact me, ask if I was ready to write, then give me a topic and tell me they needed the finished product in an hour. I knew that this made no sense, that no normal, human person would make their freelancers work this way, but like I said, I was desperate, and my desperation led to denial.
Finally, and most frustratingly, they kept putting off payment. I tried to be firm, I tried to insist on being paid, but whoever was running the bot always stepped in to make very human arguments for why payment would be delayed and somehow convinced me to keep working for free.
Dear fellow freelancers: if an employer misses their first payment date, do not keep working for them. If you’re desperate for money, working for someone who won’t pay you isn’t going to help, so listen to your intuition when you notice this killer of a red flag.
In my final days working for the bot, I was putting in fewer and fewer hours because I had found a different job that actually paid me on time. The person running the bot got upset, and we got into a fight. They called me unprofessional, I said right back at ya, and it just got uglier from there. I had a complete meltdown and finally quit, but I demanded to be paid for my time. In response, I got an automatic response I’d seen a million times: “Hello, yes, are you there?”
That’s when it finally hit me: it’s a bot. All of the weirdness about this job suddenly made perfect sense, and I felt like a total idiot. There went my first month as a freelance writer, totally wasted.
At the time, I thought no one in the world was as dumb as me, and I was sure I would never find a real, steady freelancing gig. I panicked and started looking for office jobs I knew I would hate. I spiraled, and it felt awful. But guess what? In a few short weeks, I found several other freelancing gigs with real, live employers who paid me the minute they said they would. I am currently a full-time freelance writer, and I’m no longer sending out panic resumes any time something goes wrong.
It sucks, but sometimes you really do need to make mistakes to learn from them. I hate that. I wish I could just know everything and do it all perfectly right away. But I’m learning to strive for progress over perfection. Good stuff can sometimes come from the mistakes. And if nothing else, it makes for an entertaining story.
If you’re working on breaking into the freelancing world, keep your eyes out for red flags, and don’t give up! You can absolutely do this. Look your failures in the eye and say “I will learn from you. You will not defeat me.”