I’m always on the lookout for side gigs and freelance work on craigslist. Mixing Los Angeles and craiglist has about the same hazard level as amateur chemists mixing chemicals in a haphazard meth lab: phosphine gas can be fatal. So maybe it’s not fatal, but using craigslist around here is feast or famine and mostly famine. My most recent craigslist experience was just AWFUL, and I am moving back to using Elance and oDesk for creative side gigs which are likely to be a lot more legitimate. Clients are never going to be perfect or 100% clear about what they want, but they will be a lot more professional and generally refrain from creeping you out.
The Hazards of Craigslist and Dealing with People Who Hire You via Craigslist
People post ads just to see if anyone will respond
Craigslist is such a powerful service, and what makes it so amazing is its simple, ad-free interface and the fact that anyone can post an ad for just about anything. The drawback? That anyone can post an ad for just about anything. You might even be guilty of it yourself. Have you ever posted an for a part-time personal assistant when you were feeling really, really busy? Or maybe an ad for someone to come clean your entire house for $20 just to see if anyone would respond? I’ve totally done it. The majority of ads I respond to via craigslist (whether it’s an apartment, job, gig, furniture for sale) never get responded to. So we are already wasting our time looking at and responding to ads, of which I would estimate only 25% percent are legitimate, and that varies wildly by category and location. For example, LA has a lot of wannabe “producers” looking for “interns”, either unpaid or with some ridiculous stipend of $100 a week. These guys are generally the scum of the earth, barely have any credits to their name of projects they’ve even worked on let alone produced, are working out of their home and will probably try to hook up with their 20-something female interns. Gross. But you know what? They probably get tons of respondents, as people move out to LA, have no idea how to get work especially in the entertainment industry and use craigslist as their first tool, and these dudes take advantage of that. It’s not always easy to separate the legitimate ads from the vermin. I have found some great jobs by responding to one-liner ads like “Need someone to write a press release for me”, where the person was a mobile app developer pressed for time and I was able to turn something around for him quickly, and he paid me via PayPal before I was even done. That was awesome! But those people are often lost in a sea of total time-wasters.
Uncertainty of Payment
Unlike using a freelancing site, the guarantee of payment on craigslist is the honor system. And the honor system works great among people who have…honor. We all know someone who has been burned by a craigslist gig. It hasn’t happened to me but I am sure that if I give it enough chances, someone will decide not to pay for an article or a project completed. It’s a numbers game, people. There’s more work involved setting up an account with a freelance site, taking some tests to qualify, marketing yourself and sending out bids and proposals, but in turn, your work is documented, you have past references and more opportunities.
They Might Be “Non-traditional” and Extremely Unprofessional (Creepiness Factor)
Side story: I was trying to help this guy set up an eBay store. It took me a little while to realize he was crazy, but it finally clicked after about an hour of talking in circles. Then he said “I’ve never worked for anybody a day in my life” and I thought, yup that’s pretty freakin’ obvious! He had no idea how to interact with me. He kept wanting to talk about other business ideas and how we could “make a lot of money together”. That’s when he got on my bullsh*t radar. Why does he want to share all his business ideas with a complete stranger? He would ask me a question, I would respond and he would say, “You have no idea what you’re talking about.” Ok bro, so why am I here? Am I going to set up this eBay store for you or are you going to start telling me about how you’re getting a divorce and then ask me to help you edit your Match.com profile? Yeah, it went there. By that point, I had already decided to cut my losses and not try to get this guy’s business, but he wasted about 3 hours of my time yesterday and a few days before when we had an initial meeting (where he didn’t seem creepy). Sadly, I doubt he would have acted this way if I was a man. I acted professionally at all times, but either out of his weirdness or perhaps loneliness, he couldn’t seem to get over that I was a young woman. But that’s life and I can’t put on a Richard Nixon mask and pretend I’m a dude just to be able to get business. I could have made a decent bit of money selling his antiques, but if it meant having to talk to him and pretend he was sane for even one more second, it would not have been worth it.
One of the problems of dealing with the wild carnival that is the general public is that not everybody out there has their heads on straight. Not everybody has their act together and they might try to rope you into their world of crazy. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like dealing with people who make me uncomfortable if I don’t have to. After years of working off of craigslist, I have a good idea of who to avoid, but you still have your sleeper cells (like the guy above). You have to update your strategies and playbook regularly to weed out the non-payers, the whimsical “let me see if anyone responds” posters and the creeps. But don’t get discouraged and give up your freelancing and side work. Craigslist still works, as do Elance and oDesk, among others. And don’t forget to use your personal and professional network, as well as your online network to find work or help you use better methods to find work.
The New Year is here, go out there and happy hunting!