Dealing with Illegal or Invalid Project Listings
As you search for projects on online freelancing sites, you’ll come across problem listings, and will have to decide what you want to do about them. These generally fall into two categories:
Generally speaking, your three options with these projects are to ignore them, report them, or try to contact the client to discuss them.
The most obvious and simple solution to dealing with an illegal or invalid project is to simply ignore it and move on to the next one. Another common response is to report it to the freelancing site’s abuse or customer service department, so they can review the listing and take corrective action.
Both of these are perfectly acceptable approaches, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Some freelancers, especially on marketplace site discussion forums, try to guilt-trip their peers into always reporting bad listings. They claim that “we have to act together as a community” or say that “the site needs our help”.
Frankly, this is hogwash. While it’s certainly fine if you do want to report bad projects, you are under absolutely no obligation to do so.
Remember that while clients are your customers, in the context of the freelancing sites, you are the customer. You pay these sites so you can find projects, not act as unpaid project review staff. The freelancing marketplaces take in large amounts of money in fees, and if they really cared about the quality of their projects, they could hire someone to look through project listings very easily. If they choose not to do this, there’s no unwritten rule saying you have to do the work for them.
In fact, one could easily argue that those who constantly report bad projects are acting as enablers, permitting these sites to skimp on proper project review and filtering. I wouldn’t say that this should stop you from reporting if you want to, but I do still think that this is the responsibility of the freelancing site, not the contractors who use it.
The three main factors I assess when deciding whether or not to report a bad project are these:
Another factor is how frequently bad project listings appear. If they are there constantly, I am less likely to bother reporting them. But then again, I don’t use sites that have large volumes of illegal listings, so it’s not really a practical issue.
Another option to dealing with problem projects is to contact the client directly. Whether this is a good or bad idea depends on what exactly is wrong with the listing, and also your approach.
For simple problems, such as a project being listed in the wrong category, contacting the client is not a bad idea. Politely explain what you think the problem is and how the client could correct it. Many people will appreciate this effort, and it could even be a springboard to a business relationship. Of course, that won’t always be the case, and you shouldn’t do it with that expectation in mind, but it can happen.
If the problem with the project is that it is just poorly written or unclear, a gentle request for more details can be effective. Be prepared to get no response to such queries, however.
If the project listing is aggressive in tone, is demanding, or contains profanity, do not bother to contact the client. You don’t want to work for someone like that, and your chances of remediating his or her behavior are miniscule.
Projects that violate the terms of service of the site are more tricky. I only recommend trying to contact the client if you feel, from the tone of the posting, that he or she doesn’t realize that what is being requested is against the rules. You may get a positive outcome from this, but beware: in most cases the client knows what he or she is doing and will either ignore you, or respond in a hostile manner. Some particularly nasty clients may even try to turn the tables and report you to the site!
Never try to contact the client for projects that contain deliberate attempts to circumvent a site’s TOS—such as spam advertising for other sites—or obviously illegal requests. You’re just wasting your time.
Whatever you do, never become aggressive or belligerent with a client. It is unprofessional, does not gain you anything, and could in the worst case result in the site taking action against you. This applies even if the project is clearly illegal or the client is abusive first. Remember that professionalism is about how you behave, not others.
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Last Site Update: February 1, 2012
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