People per Hour – Making Life Difficult for the Professional

Guest blog by Nexus CopywritingNexus

Important message from the Copywriting Apprentice webmaster: Please note we are not associated with People per Hour in any way and are unable to offer advice on how to contact or make complaints to PPH. If you are experiencing problems we recommend you contact the Trading Standards Department or the Information Commissioner’s Office.

A couple of months ago I posted a guest blog here about how to make the most of People per Hour as a freelance copywriter.  I set out the drawbacks of a freelancing jobs site such as this, but also the benefits on offer and strategies for success.

However, recently there have been changes in the approach at People per Hour which make it less appealing for truly professional writers.  These changes also invalidate at least one of my pieces of advice, so I felt I should write a follow-up to my original piece to keep you up to date.

Killing Proposals – Ninja Style

As noted in my original article, I don’t put in many proposals at People per Hour.  The vast majority of jobs are a waste of time and frequently don’t even offer the minimum wage.  But occasionally a very attractive job turns up, which is what happened recently.

A non-governmental organisation working internationally wanted their website completely rewritten.  It was an interesting job which would pay handsomely, so I put in my carefully constructed proposal and hoped it would catch their interest.

Several hours later I received an email, written in the increasingly irritating ‘cool’ style People per Hour has adopted:

Subject Line: “Oh No!  Your message was edited.”

Body:

“Hey David,
We didn’t have a choice! Your message had to be edited, because some of its content was against our policy.
Learn more about it:

This message contained contact details.  Please communicate directly on the Workstream where you can also exchange files.

Thanks

The Customer Support Ninjas”

What had I done?  Following my own advice in the previous article I’d included my contact number in case the potential client wished to discuss the proposal with me.  I’d also included the phone number and email of a client for whom I was currently completing a very similar job so they could find out what he thought about my services.

These are the details any professional would wish to include in a serious bid, but with stealth living up to their name, the Customer Support Ninjas had slipped into my proposal and carved it up with their Client Satisfaction Nunchucks.

My proposal now had gaping holes where the contact details once sat and looked thoroughly unprofessional.  It was instantly clear I wouldn’t be hearing from the NGO anytime soon, even though I sent a follow-up to explain and apologise.

The rationale behind People per Hour’s move is clear.  Whilst they suggest it’s for my own protection the reality is they want to avoid people finding clients on People per Hour and then arranging to do the work outside their payment systems.  Now I can understand that because doubtless many people do exactly this.  However, self-protection needs to be balanced with allowing people to make professional bids, and that’s why I now have serious doubts about the value of People per Hour to professional freelance copywriters.

Uneven Playing Fields

Here’s the real irony.  Following more of my own advice from the previous article I researched the company which placed the work.  On their own website they had advertised the same job.  So I could have applied for it there and avoided the commission People per Hour would charge.  But I’ve always approached this business with a desire to act with integrity and so because I would not have seen that job without People per Hour I still submitted my bid through them.

However, another copywriter applying for that job through the NGO’s website would have an advantage over me.  They could include the contact details which would make their proposal fully professional.  Any organisation intending to spend a four-figure sum will want to speak with the contractor.  Frankly they’d be crackers not to.  So if I don’t provide contact details to enable this, they’re going to go with the freelancer who does.

In other words, People per Hour expects you to submit proposals to potential clients with one hand tied behind your back, seriously damaging your chances to compete fairly with other freelancers.

The Official Response

I sent an email to People per Hour complaining about this and received a reply.  It was very polite and had the good sense to leave Ninjas well out of it.  They accepted my complaint was made from a concern about being able to submit effective proposals but they would be unable to help me at this time.

To be fair, I’ll share their justification.  They want initial discussions kept on their ‘workstream’ so everything is on record:

If this information is not in the workstream it makes it very difficult for us to act on your behalf should you run into any issues with your Buyer as we can only verify information in the workstream.

This is also to ensure that payment is being held in Escrow before any work is undertaken to ensure that we can release these funds to you if your Buyer does not accept your invoice or get in contact with us about it.

Personally, I’d rather be able to submit professional proposals which win me work.  That’s why I’m on the site in the first place.

In fact, they made a telling statement:

We appreciate that this change will not be popular with the majority of our Users.

Hmmm.  Possibly not a smart move then?

Personally I now regret not making my bid directly to that company on their site.  After all, they were advertising it there so I would have been perfectly entitled to do so.  I didn’t because I wanted to play fair with People per Hour, but they don’t seem to want to play fair by me.

So, I need to revise my previous advice.  Don’t include your phone number or other contact details because they will be unceremoniously sliced and diced.  Don’t include any contact details for reference purposes either.  Prospective clients will be able to see references left on your People per Hour profile, but if there are other clients who might be more relevant to that job you can forget it.

This approach by People per Hour is fine for very small jobs because the clients won’t be interested in speaking with the copywriter.  But then they’re not going to be interested in finding a great writer anyway – just a cheap one.

My own goodwill towards People per Hour has evaporated and I suspect other professional copywriters will feel the same.  That means we’ll be less inclined to use the site.  Which means it will increasingly be a place for piecemeal, low-rent jobs.

If you’re a quality company seeking quality copy, I recommend you look elsewhere.


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12 Responses to People per Hour – Making Life Difficult for the Professional

  1. As annoying as this has been for you David, I actually had my account SUSPENDED for the same thing 18 months ago. What with that and the slowly increasing commissions and I am seriously out of love with PPH. It’s no better than elance.com these days.

  2. Hi Ben

    Glad you caught the article after your responses to my tweet about this.

    I agree with you about the new commission structure, too. I’ve been involved in a rather protracted PPH job which has involved several stages. During the course of this I’ve received their automated emails suggesting I invoice for work done to date. And why should I do that when they base their fees on monthly cycles? That means if I stagger my payments for a high-paying job then PPH will rake in much, much more as their share of the cut.

    So no, I waited until the job was complete so they can take their 15% of the first £175 of the entire job, not repeatedly for each part that’s invoiced in a separate month.

    And yes indeed, I also once felt it was much better than elance, but it now seems content to fall in with the lowest common denominator approach.

  3. I no longer apply for jobs on PPH as I can’t really afford to. But with their ‘lowest common denominator approach’, I can’t see how PPH can be making the sort of money to justify the massive injection of capital they received last year (or maybe 2011). When I read that odd combination of corporate-speak and breathless, gushing prose in their blogs and on facebook, I get the feeling that it is just so much bravado in the face of imminent disaster.

    I am sorry I didn’t find this excellent blog earlier David K. I also particularly enjoyed your blog on your site about Google.

    @Rob – you probably couldn’t find better than the author of the above guest blog 😉

  4. @Rob – sorry I didn’t see your comment before. As a guest blogger the system doesn’t notify me of new comments.

    In all honesty you probably don’t want to go looking on jobs boards. One of your best bets is good old-fashioned word of mouth! Ask around business contacts for good copywriters they’ve used. Otherwise it’s a case of internet searches and then contacting the most likely candidates to discuss your project – you’ll soon get the measure of how professional they are. And of course you’ll want to see samples of their work.

    If you’re still searching for a copywriter you are of course very welcome to get in touch with me. You can visit my site from the link at the end of the article.

    @Nichola – thank you so much for your kind words! I’m glad you enjoyed the blogs. Sad to say I’ve been a little remiss with mine and don’t update it as often as I should, but I’d welcome your thoughts and comments there too!

    I doubt copywriting earns PPH an enormous amount of money – the vast majority of jobs now are for cheap articles, and I think this reflects what’s happened to that marketplace after their changes. However, from what I’ve seen in the past I think they may well earn a lot more from freelance programmers – these were almost always the people who dominated the ‘top sellers of the month’ feature which they used to operate, because they do get bigger projects which pay well.

    I’d be interested to know if their changes have impacted on that sector at all.

  5. I couldn’t agree more. Over the past year PPH seems to be intent on making itself less and less easy to use. I can no longer understand the layout, cannot manage jobs easily, and now they have started blocking jobs I post (but from the hopeless feedback, I can’t work out what I have done wrong). It would make a case study – it is the first business I have ever come across that seems actively to be trying to make its service worse!

  6. Hi David – very interesting to hear a client-side opinion of the People per hour system.

    I definitely agree about the layout changes – the old dashboard was clear, straightforward and easy to use. Now you might as well cover your eyes, swish your mouse around and click – you’ll stand as much chance of navigating to the information you want as if you’d looked hard and tried to work it out.

    Their latest wheeze has been surreptitiously changing the working contract. When I first signed up, they stated any client you find through People per Hour must be invoiced for all work you do for them through their own system for a full year. Once that year was up you could just work for them privately and not involve People per Hour or pay them any commission.

    But when I tried to find this in their terms recently in order to prove to a client this was okay, it had disappeared! I emailed them and they explained this had changed – now you have to do all work for clients you find there through PPH’s systems (and commission) for ever!

    So a fair and reasonable condition has been turned into a financial penalty for the rest of your working days.

    I actually wonder about the legality of changing the contract you signed up for without even drawing your attention to the fact. Any legal types reading this who have an insight – please post!

  7. Hi David

    This was an interesting read. I made a lot of money on People Per Hour, but I left the site after several problems. The company changed its fees and backdated the change without telling anyone, which I felt was ethically wrong and probably in breach of contract. I then had a problem with repeated orders from the same person using a stolen card, but the security team refused to help.

    I’ve written my own blog on People Per Hour over here. I hope you don’t mind me linking to it:
    http://red-robot.net/10-tips-for-success-on-people-per-hour/

    Take a look at the most recent comment. It was supposedly posted by a happy customer, but it contained a tracked UTM link for a social media marketing campaign. It didn’t take me long to find the job on People Per Hour where the company asked for someone to integrate UTM links into their CRM.

    Given the ongoing disrespect towards freelancers, and now fake comments/ spam, I’d say People Per Hour is struggling for business. Unfortunately I’ve never found a freelancer site that pays good copywriters what they’re worth, and I refuse to list assignments on freelancer sites because I believe the rules put good freelancers at a huge disadvantage.

  8. Hi, I just wanted to add … I am not a copywritier. I am in admin and such and for 3 years used PPH to pick up jobs for data input, websearch, ghost writing, cv/cover letter revamp, transcribing and so on. I was doing well, not enough to give up the day job but enough to do some home improvements and look forward to giving up the day job. PPH changed… for example I have a new ranking – from 100% and a top rank 5 star worker to ‘ranked 2nd level’ which is barely off the ground. I charge £6 – £9 per hour depending on the job. 2nd levellers are usually (no distrespect) asian quarter workers offering £1.00 per hour. I can’t compete. And my last job – they won’t even release the funds becasue although I did the work through PPH AND invoiced through PPH the ’employer’ commented on PPH that he would like to work with me privately. That missed the ninja net but I think it was the way he worded it. Now I can’t get my money – he paid, they have it! Very very unhappy. And try contacting them! directed to message boards every single time. I don’t know how I can move forward and get work but I doubt I’ll use PPH any more. They’ve let down a lot (probably most) of their professional and semi professional workers in favour of cheap quick fix jobs. Very sad. perhaps someone else ought to start a job site that works. Rant over.

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