Advice to Copywriters on using People per Hour

Nexus Copywriting logoA guest blog from Nexus Copywriting

People per Hour have changed their rules since this blog was written. Please also read this earlier blog.

So, you’ve got your shiny new copywriting business – now you just need some shiny new clients, and that can be tough.

Worry not, though! With the internet you’re connected to the world and the world contains an awful lot of clients. It’s just a question of how they’re going to find you. There are a lot of copywriters out there who’ve had years to build up websites which come far higher than yours in searches. So you need a place where businesses come to find people just like you; somewhere you can be noticed; somewhere your talent can shine.

Welcome to the world of freelancer sites, which connect you with business people looking to hire someone with exactly your skills. Many hundreds of jobs are posted there every day so this must be the perfect place to find new clients, no? Suddenly with your professional profile and carefully written proposals the business world is your oyster.

We-e-ell, as you’ve probably guessed it’s not as straightforward as that. The problem with oysters is the pearls are few and far between and if you’re not careful you’ll end up with food poisoning, so this article is intended to give you a realistic picture of what to expect and how to get the most from one very popular freelancing site, People per Hour.

How People per Hour Works

First of all, a brief summary of the system at People per Hour (PPH). You sign up as an individual rather than a business and create your profile, noting your experience, qualifications and skills.

Businesses looking for copywriters could find you by searching the lists, but the most common route is to use the equivalent of a ‘jobs board’. Business people post jobs they want done and you send a ‘proposal’ to apply for the contract. If you opt to receive email alerts you’ll be sent notifications of all jobs which match the criteria you set – I typically hear about 10-15 jobs per day. Your proposal sets out why you would be the best choice for the job and includes a price – either the amount you charge per hour or a fixed cost. The job posting might include a budget for the job, but usually doesn’t these days.

The person posting the job may communicate with you to explore your proposal further and eventually they award the job, having made a deposit (typically 50%) with PPH. Once completed, you invoice them for the work through the site and PPH take their fees before paying you. Currently they take 15% of the first £175, then 3.5% of everything above that. There are very strict rules to prevent you undertaking work found through the site without going through PPH’s systems.

The Reality of Applying for Jobs on People per Hour

Let’s start this section with an important statement. I have found some good clients from PPH. Many of them have become repeat clients and they have paid sensible industry rates. But these are most definitely the pearls which are few and far between.

The majority of people who post jobs fall into two camps:

  1. Those not remotely interested in quality. These people generally want articles or blog posts which they (falsely) believe will help their SEO. Essentially, they want words that fill a page, with keywords scattered within. Whether it’s interesting to read or even 100% accurate is not as important as price. You’ll see these jobs offering £5 or less for an article. More fool you if you put in for one.
  2. Those who want decent work but have no realistic understanding of what that costs. Usually these are small businesses on a tight budget, and I sympathise with that. However, they wouldn’t sell their goods dirt cheap to someone just because they were a bit short of cash. Why should you do the same?

Well, in the longer term the implied answer to that question is clear. But when you’re starting out you may want to consider job type #2. That’s why the site can be of use to those with a new copywriting business. The money paid will not be appropriate for the work you’ve done. However, you could reasonably look at it as bringing another sort of payment – credibility. You can show other prospective clients work you’ve done for real businesses and if you’ve done a good job you’ll get some good testimonials. These things have value which can compensate for the lack of monetary return.

The downside is there are a lot of writers who aren’t professionals on PPH. They’re people who do a bit of writing alongside other things; they’re not full-time writers. Clients looking for a bargain may well go for these people because, to be honest, they know no better and like the very cheap rates these people charge (e.g. £10 per hour). That’s why you may still find it difficult to get that first bite and why you should never go for this type of job in the longer term.
But, whilst these types of jobs predominate, you will also find the occasional job from someone who genuinely wants a high-quality professional and who is prepared to pay appropriately.

Judging Jobs

Putting together a proper proposal takes time if you want it to stand much chance, so you can’t afford to waste that time on jobs which are unlikely to suit professionals.

The question, therefore, is how to sift the gold from the grit? With a free listing you’re entitled to send 15 proposals every month. I’m never even close to this and typically send around 5. They will be for jobs which feature these characteristics:

  • They are professionally presented with a clear brief. They’re spelt accurately and provide the information you need to put in a bid, e.g. how much copy is required, not just “I want my website written.”
  • They don’t spell out what a copywriter would naturally do, e.g. “The writing should be accurate, not waffle and be written to appeal to my target market.” If they need to explain this they’re not expecting to find a professional.
  •  They provide a budget. It’s true that some worthwhile clients won’t specify a budget because they don’t want shed-loads of proposals from poor writers trying to cash in on a rare, professionally paying job. In reality, though, most either have no idea what appropriate payment is or are looking for the cheapest person who sounds reasonable. To this end you will mostly be wasting your time.
  • That budget is realistic. I’ve read of good copywriters on PPH who’ve sent proposals saying they can do a great job for a higher price than the budget stated, and they’ve got the job. Clearly this strategy can work but it depends whether you’re prepared to invest the time because usually if a client states a budget, that’s what they’re prepared to pay. Rejected proposals are a waste of your time, so try to minimise them.

These are not infallible rules – they can only be generalisations – but I’ve found myself feeling less frustrated at evidently wasted proposals since I’ve been following these principles.

Strategies for Success

So, if a job posting looks worthwhile, how do you maximise your chances of success?

Write a Good Proposal

Never submit generic proposals. You can pre-write certain sections about yourself and your services, but you must take time to analyse the job and then write a proposal specifically about that. Focus on the benefits your services will bring to the client and specify the working processes which make you worth the higher price you will be charging compared to many other bidders, e.g. collaborative consultation with the client; draft and re-draft to ensure they get copy which perfectly matches their needs. Provide a clear timescale for the work and a time when you can begin. It can be helpful to specify what you will need from the client, helping them envisage themselves in a constructive working relationship with you, e.g. details of competitors’ websites so you can create copy which positions them appropriately in the marketplace.

Don’t Delay

Jobs can be awarded very quickly. Indeed, although they stay live for a month, any which haven’t been awarded within a week are very unlikely to be serious. So put your proposal in straight away.

Include Relevant Samples

I don’t provide an online portfolio at PPH. Instead I put together a selection of sample work which is relevant to the posted job and send that with the proposal – I refer to this in the proposal and relate it to what I would produce for the client.

…But Not Free Ones!

If the client asks for a free sample written for them, forget it. Read this article, Copywriters – should you do free trials? to see why.

Do Your Homework

PPH tries to stop people posting links to their sites in job briefs, but they’re not always successful and you can also work much out from the content of the brief and the job poster’s own profile. Try to find out what you can about their business and show an interest in your proposal. Finding out about their sector in general and including references to that will also help you look like the right person for the job.

Provide Contact Options

PPH quite reasonably wants people to keep communication through the site in the early stages at least, thereby deterring people from arranging work done outside PPH’s system. However, to sell myself properly I always direct people to my website – whilst noting this work will be done through PPH. I also provide them with a contact number so they can discuss the proposal with me.

Even following these guidelines, most proposals will come to nothing. In fact, the majority of those I have applied for over the years have not been awarded to anyone! At least, not through the site.

But the successes have made it a useful site. And once a year has passed since your client found you through PPH, you no longer have to go through the site and can invoice them directly, with no commission.

So People per Hour can be worth it, if you follow the rules above. As ever for the freelancer, though, it should be just one facet in a wide range of options for marketing your services.

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