As a freelancer or someone who utilizes them, how can you spot an imposter from an actual business or genuine opportunity? Today’s guest is Ricardo Fayet. Ricardo is the co-founder of Reedsy, a community of over 150,000 authors worldwide and a curated network of 1500 handpicked freelance professionals from editors, cover designers, illustrators, book marketers, and publicists. They help bring over 500 books to life every month. Reedsy was named Book Tech Company of 2015 by UK Trade Magazine. Ricardo has been invited to speak at the Frankfurt Book Fair, London Book Fair, and dozens of other writing and publishing conferences.“When hiring a freelancer, you need to treat it as a hiring process. Ask for references and what their experiences were.” - Ricardo Fayet Click To Tweet
- [0:57] – Ricardo shares his background and what Reedsy is all about.
- [3:10] – There are other freelance websites that are very general. This means they are not very curated. But now there are other sites popping up that are more specific.
- [5:28] – Asking about work experience is really important.
- [7:14] – You must trust the platform you are looking for a freelancer on.
- [8:36] – When hiring a freelancer, you need to treat it as a hiring process.
- [9:48] – Illustrators and graphic designers are usually easy to hire because you can see their work and choose the style you like. Other jobs are harder to hire.
- [11:02] – One scam is companies hiring freelancers rather than hiring full time employees to avoid paying for benefits.
- [12:32] – If a platform guarantees a certain amount earned as a freelancer in the first month or two, doubt it and look at the fine print.
- [13:39] – There’s a tricky email scam that is designed to force you into creating a profile.
- [16:28] – Create a profile, even if unused, to prevent other artists or freelancers from stealing the identity or your work. Well known platforms can also usually detect when there is a false profile.
- [18:20] – Large platforms won’t be able to investigate until there are victims who have negative experiences with a freelancer.
- [20:01] – It is highly recommended to charge for services at the beginning of a project.
- [22:20] – A lot of freelancers on many platforms do not live in the United States and if there is a problem, the legal process becomes almost impossible.
- [24:00] – Platforms may charge a freelance fee which actually protects both parties.
- [27:01] – As a freelancer, you are very much at the mercy of the clients and their banks.
- [29:45] – You have to strike the right balance between solid contracts and trusting people.
- [33:05] – Don’t hesitate to say no to a contract if you feel like something is off.
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Can you give myself and the audience a little background about who you are and what you do?
Sure. I'm mostly known as one of the founders of Reedsy, which is a marketplace connecting authors and publishers with what we like to think as the world's best talents in terms of publishing professionals. That's editors, proofreaders, cover designers, book marketers, ghost writers, all the people who can work at any point on a book so that authors and publishers can hire them through our marketplace. Think a little bit like Upwork or Fiverr, but specifically for the publishing industry and very, very high end.
We accept less than 3% of the freelancers who want to be listed on our marketplace. Most of what I do is try to provide education to authors so that they can make the best use of the marketplace. I've written a book, for example, on marketing books called How to Market a Book. I'm working on another one on Amazon ads right now, and I've written several free courses for authors on various aspects of marketing since that is sort of my specialty.
With COVID and whatnot—probably even more than just COVID—there’s this significant shift in the way that people work these days. It used to be, for you and I, our parents were probably, “We're going to find a job. We're going to work there 20 years, 30-40 years.” Our generation, maybe we'll do 10 or 15 years at one stint.
Now, it seems it's pretty unlikely that someone will be at a job for more than a couple years, and everybody's got a side hustle. Everybody's got some projects on the side that they're doing. I know that that leads to all sorts of scams targeting those people there.
You have people that are eager to make a little bit of extra money and maybe not super business-savvy. Let's talk about some of those scams. Actually, before we do that, let's talk through what you see is kind of the major freelancer platforms just so we know what platforms people are using.
For me, the main platforms that, at least, I know of are Upwork, Fiverr, PeoplePerHour—these would be what we call generalist platforms. You can go hire a web developer, you can go hire an artist, you can go hire a proofreader, or someone to do basic data entry. All different skills are in there and because they're so generalist, generally they're not super well-curated because it's very hard to vet all these different kinds of professions.
I think the great thing about the past few years is that you've seen these kinds of platforms emerge for all kinds of industries. For us, we're in the publishing industry, so to create a marketplace specifically for that. For almost every industry out there, you're going to find a marketplace for it. There's probably a marketplace for builders, a marketplace for plumbers, a marketplace for any kind of service that you can imagine.
It actually also makes me think there are probably both sides of freelancer scams. There are people that are targeting freelancers and other people that are posing as freelancers.
Absolutely, there's a lot of that. It's not always scams, but in our case, for example, there's a lot of people who like reading. They've got a degree in English, literature, or whatever, and they say, “Oh, I'm going to be an editor.” They want to list themselves as an editor, work with authors, and charge them editing rates, which are pretty high, because people who are professional editors have been doing that for the past 10-20 years at the big publishing houses, and they actually know how to edit.
Sometimes even with good faith, people try to go into these new businesses, these new careers that start as a hobby, and they don't necessarily do it in the right way. Starting small and then building up and only starting to charge proper rates once you've built up the experience and the portfolio to justify them.
If I'm looking to—let’s say, we'll put it in your business model—I’m an author, I've kind of assembled my thoughts into something, and I'm looking forward to an editor to kind of curate it and clean it up, what are the things I'd be looking for in terms of warning signs that this person really doesn't have the experience that they have? What should I be looking for or what should I be watching out for?
It's certainly easy. You just need to ask what their work experience is. If they say, “I've been helping a few friends to do their edits, to edit their books and they really like it,” then they're not a professional editor. They're a hobbyist, and they might be very good. They might become professional editors in the future.
In the case of hard skills that need to be learned over a long period of time, generally in structures such as a publishing house, it's fairly simple to find an editor who's professional. If they worked 10 years at, say, a Random House, then you know they’re a professional editor. If they've worked on a couple of manuscripts for friends, they kind of claim themselves as a professional editor.
I've done a little bit of looking for one-off work either through Fiverr or Upwork, where I just needed someone to find a hundred quotes about privacy and security. I always find this person got a thousand positive reviews. OK, let me just use that. For me, it's always been something that, if it turns out that they totally messed up the job and don't produce, it's the—$10, $20, $50—it's no big deal.
How do you, in a more broad sense, look at a platform and say, someone has matched my keywords as a type of contractor or freelancer that I want. What can I tell about the reviews? These 500 reviews—are they real? Are they fake? How do I know? How do I have any certainty? I guess I don't really have certainty, but how do I have a good indication that this person really is actually good at what they're claiming they’re good at?
First, you have to have trust in the platform where you sign them. I think all the platforms you have mentioned, their reviews can only be posted by customers who have hired those people through the platform. I think some of them like Upwork even mentioned the amount of hours or the dollar spent on the collaborations. If you see a freelancer, a web developer, for example, who's got 100 reviews, but all of them were for $1 or $5 jobs, then it's going to look suspicious.
On these kinds of sites, you can trust the reviews. The reviews are definitely one of the main places I'd start looking, and even past the reviews, you need to treat it like a recruitment process. Ask for references, email, or call those references to see what their actual experiences were with them because when you need to leave a review on a public forum, a lot of people are good people and they don't want to mess up the credibility of the freelancer. They don't want to hurt them. They would feel bad about it so they're just not going to review or they're going to leave a four- or five-star review that's short and doesn't say much, because, “Hey, it didn't go well in my case, but I'm sure they're a good freelancer otherwise; I'm not going to mess up their career.”
It's always better to ask for a few references and call them up. See and check out the kind of work that they've done. If you're going to hire a developer, for example, check out the kind of sites that they've created, make sure that they work well, that they look good, and that they resemble the kind of work that you want to get done.
I've definitely done that with graphic artists. I needed a logo design. “Let me see some of your other logos that you've designed. You might be good, but that's definitely not what I'm looking for. Maybe somebody else likes that particular style, but I don't like that style, so I'm going to go a different direction.” I've definitely looked at other work when it comes to graphic artists.
In terms of artists, there's a big question of style. Every illustrator, artist, is going to have their own style, so it's super important to look at past work and it also makes it easier to hire them because you can instantly see what their work is like. Images speak to you. If we're talking about other skills that are much more difficult to assess like editing, in our case, or translation, for example, it's hard to judge the translation because you don't speak the language, usually. Then you need to have other factors to build trust.
I was thinking about that, specific to the editors. If the end result is good, you kind of don't know entirely if that is a result of a really good editor who cleaned up a poor author's work, or you just had a really good author and the editor didn't have much to do.
That's true. That's why asking for references and reading those reviews is really important because the author is generally going to tell everyone if the editor was involved in completely redrafting the manuscript and making it much better.
Let's flip this around and talk about some of the scams that are targeting freelancers, because we know that whenever someone's looking to make money, looking for jobs, there's always someone out there looking to take advantage of those people. What kind of freelancer scams are you seeing out there?
I think the most common one is probably companies trying to hire freelancers as full-time employees. Everybody’s trying to hire freelancers instead of hiring employees just in order to get out of offering the additional security, benefits, et cetera. That's the most common kind of problem out there with freelancing work.
All that kind of freelancer scams are platforms. There are also marketplaces that are all a bit dodgy on that. They're going to promise a certain amount of work up front if they sign up. “Sign up to our marketplace and we guarantee you're going to earn $2000 in your first two months because we have a ton of clients.” Then you sign up there and there aren't that many clients. Maybe they have some fine print that explains why you're actually not entitled to that money.I'd be wary of those marketplaces promising something up front, especially if you've never heard of them. -Ricardo Fayet Click To Tweet
I'd be wary of those marketplaces promising something up front, especially if you've never heard of them. If you sign up to Uber and they say, “You've got a guaranteed driver income of this much every month for the first six months whether you get rides or not,” you can trust Uber. Or maybe you can't, but they've got a big enough reputation that you can say, “OK, I'm going to take the chance.” But if it's a platform you've never heard of that doesn't seem to be getting a lot of clients and they promise you X amount of money, then you can probably doubt that and you need to look into the fine print.
Yeah, and any platform that started last week is not going to be able to keep you busy likely.
What I've also seen or heard from freelancers is that—let's say you're a graphic artist—that some reasonably new platform will start up and someone will create a profile using your name, your handle, grab all of your artwork, and to show it as, “Hey, I'm John.” Now, you have someone totally faking to be the artist.
That's a common growth-hacking tactic used by a lot of platforms. They just create a profile for you. That's happened to us as a company. We suddenly get a profile on one of these startup sites, or startup marketplaces, or whatever. Then you get an email saying, “Hey, you've got a profile here; finish creating it and sign up, et cetera.” And that's just the worst way of going about things that you want someone to sign up for your service.
As you said, there are two sides to every marketplace. If we flip this around, one problem that we've had is we have public profiles for freelancers. The ones who were accepted on our marketplace, the kind of 3% who we vet and accept, they'll get a little blue tick icon. All the other ones there, they're public as well. They get their public link and they can share their link, even if they haven't been accepted on the marketplace.
We've had this case—I think last year—where we're moving from scams to kind of serious criminal offenses here. We got called by a lawyer who basically wanted to issue a subpoena to ask us for all the information in our database related to one person, in particular, who'd committed serious criminal offenses in the past, and is now trying to pass as a psychiatrist or a psychologist.
They created a profile on Reedsy, which is a website that has nothing to do with that, but they named themselves psychiatrist. Since we make nice profiles—they look professional—and that filled it in a little bit, they were using that to fool victims into booking sessions with them because they had what looked like a professional profile on a website that was trustworthy.
It works both ways. You've got the fake psychiatrist who was claiming to be the real person, I assume. Then you can have fake people claiming to be like the new graphic artist platform shows up and someone creates a Banksy profile, claim it to be him, uses his website as the reference, pulls in a bunch of his material, and all of a sudden, “Hey, I'll do some artwork for you for half a million dollars.” Everybody else is like, “Hey, that's a good deal, but this is some guy in his garage who's never painted, who's never done graffiti art in his life before.”
There's this push and pull of you having platforms that are coming up, that are creating profiles of legitimate people saying, “Hey, just come and finish them.” But you, as a freelancer, might almost want to be protective. As new platforms launch, even though you don't plan on doing business there, create your account there so that people don't pretend to be you, if you're well known in your industry.
For sure, and even to protect your identity. And also because you never know where the platform might be in the future. Might as well help to have a head start and a profile on there already, get the emails from that platform, newsletters, and monitor how they're doing because it might interest you in the future.
I would say that these kinds of scams, if they're too evident over really stealing the identity of a really well-known person, then the company, the platform is usually going to detect them. It would be much easier for us to detect a fake profile by someone who would claim to be the world's greatest cover artist or the most renowned cover artist, than it is for us to detect a small profile of someone passing as a psychiatrist. That's impossible for us to find out.
That's the challenge with a lot of what's going on on the Internet right now. You have platforms that don't have the means to vet every single thing that happens on their platform, which is difficult. The platforms couldn't grow, the marketplaces couldn't grow to the size that they are. If Fiverr had to vet every single account that's created, Fiverr couldn't exist. It's just not feasible.
It really puts everybody in the “buyer beware” category. The freelancers have to be careful to make sure that they're going to get paid, and the people that are using the platforms have to be careful that they're actually choosing people that have good work, and that actually works out.
Absolutely. The way that platforms do it is they don't do much prevention, and they help correct things, or get rid of scams when they arise. If on Fiverr, someone signs up as a scam artist, once they're going to get that first or second project, which goes badly, then people from Fiverr are going to start to investigate, see what went wrong in the collaboration, see that this person is actually scamming the other one, and get rid of them.
On the other hand, you have this problem for freelancers as well, because most marketplaces are not going to vet the client side of things. They're going to try to vet the freelancers, but they're not going to vet the clients. We don't vet the authors, for example. As a freelancer, especially if you're starting out, you have to be aware of scams targeting you. Things as simple as people sending you or asking you for work, and you're not charging an advance, not charging an upfront fee.
We've had this case, I think, once several years ago of an editor who just finished working with a traditional publisher, started freelancing on her own, so not a lot of experience with freelancing, and she just charged for the full project at the end when she delivered her edits. Since we've got a platform where payment is automated like almost every other freelancer platform out there, we've secured the payment details of the clients, but we only make the charge when the payment goes through, which was at the end of the collaboration. The editor sent in her edits, and the author turns out didn't have enough money to make the transaction, then never answered, and she got burned.
We try basically to do more education now with our freelancers and tell them charge an upfront fee, make sure that they've got to stick in this, never deliver your work before the payment has gone through and has been verified to have gone through , and beware of people who look a little bit not responsive, or their work is not great, or you basically have some suspicion that there might be something dodgy there. It's a question of making mistakes and learning for most people.Never deliver your work before the payment has gone through and has been verified to have gone through. -Ricardo Fayet Click To Tweet
I definitely have seen that sort of thing before, particularly for freelancers who are working outside of platforms that they're approached by prospective clients, and they say, “Hey, this is the job that we want to do.” They do all the work to create the logo, and then they come back, “OK, here's the logo.” They do a round of iterations and the person does not want to pay for it. They've already given them the Photoshop files.
To me, that's heartbreaking for someone who's done a ton of work on a project and the person just turns out to not pay them. It's particularly unfortunate. I'm here in Southern California. If I'm working with a freelancer that's here in Southern California, the freelancer and the client both have a lot of legal means that I can go after the person.
One of the advantages and disadvantages of freelance work is that I think probably most of the freelancers I've dealt with have not been in the United States. If something were to go wrong with a project, “Let's see, I need to find a lawyer in Germany to go after this,” and all of a sudden the cost to try to remedy a situation scales significantly.”
Absolutely. We've seen these problems. We try to go as far as possible in cases like this where we recover the funds to get the author who paid, et cetera, but we're not going to sue someone who's based in another country. Most of the cases, even in the UK—we're talking small amounts here—we're not going to sue someone for $4000.
As a direct client freelancer relationship, if you don't use an intermediary platform, you don't pay the intermediate fee so that's great, but you also lose that extra layer of legal and dispute protection that platforms offer.
If someone has 100 reviews on Upwork, they've clearly built their business there. If you hire them through […] they don't do a great job, or you feel like they're trying to scam you, then you can tell them, “OK, I'm going to report this to Upwork. I’m going to give you a bad review.” And they're going to start looking into things. You have a little bit more leverage there because they're on a platform from which they heavily depend on in terms of income. That's where paying those fees for those platforms definitely comes in worth it. You have that extra layer of protection.
It also works for the freelancer. Those fees work both ways. They protect the freelancers from fake clients, protect the clients from fake freelancers. As long as the platform is doing what they're supposed to do in the long run, it should work out for both parties and for the platform.
Yeah, it can only work out for the platform if it works for both parties.
Yup. One of the other things that I definitely have seen—I think I talked about this on a previous podcast—are for people that are working outside of freelance platforms, they’ve been an established freelancer for a number of years, that they'll have a prospective client come to them with a project that seems very reasonable, it has a reasonable amount of detail to it, the client knows what they want, but then they asked the freelancer to pay some of their subcontractors through them. It's like, “Well, you're a website builder. We need graphic artists also. We've got the graphic artists, but can you pay them for us and then we'll pay you?” To me, you’ve always got to watch out for anything that's fishy or sideways. Anyone who's willing to pay you for something that you're not specifically doing should always be a red flag.
Absolutely. They're probably trying to circumvent something legal there in terms of the number of collaborators that they can work on, or they don't want to employ that graphic designer, but there's definitely something fishy. As soon as it sounds fishy, generally, it's fishy.
That's what I generally tell people. Trust your gut. If something is outside of the norm or even if they present you a reason why they're doing it this way. “We need to hire a graphic artist also. Can you pass through?” “Well, I'll get my own graphic artist to do it.” Ultimately, the scam is that they hire you to do a project then say, “Oh, hey, Bob over here needs a payment.” You make the payment to Bob and then the client never pays you. Basically, the client is Bob.
You basically just sent money to the scammer thinking that it was a subcontractor and your client never pays you, or they write you a check that bounces, or it's a financial transaction that as soon as it hits your bank account, gets reversed. All those little things that, if you're not cautious, can get reversed fairly quickly.
That's one of the things we've discovered. As freelancers, you're very much at the mercy of the clients and their banks. If someone disputes a charge in the US, especially in the US—a little bit in the UK as well—the bank sees their customer as their customer. “First, the customer is right so we're going to reverse the funds, we're going to get the funds back.” Then in order for the freelancer to recover those funds, they have to submit a lot of evidence and do a lot of extra hard work to recover those funds, and not be charged the fee that usually comes with disputes.As freelancers, you're very much at the mercy of the clients and their banks. -Ricardo Fayet Click To Tweet
That's something that always annoys me a little bit because you immediately presume that the client is right in this transaction, and since the client is the customer of a bank and the bank makes the decision, then the bank immediately protects them. Have a low bit of a grudge with that, but that's something you have to be conscious of as a freelancer. You’ve got to know that this might happen. It's probably going to happen at one point or another, whether the client is actually disgruntled with you and disputes the payment as results, or just because they're scamming you. That can happen.
I suppose that goes along with when you're a freelancer, you need to have good contracts. You need to have good documentation of what the expectation of the work is, the timetables, milestones. If you can get the client to pay you in installments as you work through the project, whereas you're not waiting until everything is done before you get the payment, try to strike a balance with the client, and keep the risk on both sides of it.
I think that's what you're talking about. If both the client and the freelancer have skin in the game, they're both interested in making sure the project comes to completion in a way that's satisfactory for both parties. If the freelancer has collected all the money upfront, or the client doesn't pay money until it's all done, it pushes the risk off to one party versus the other.
Absolutely. You also have to be careful of not making things too legal or procedural as well. I see some authors come on a platform. Immediately they want to sign an NDA with a freelancer because the idea for their book is so unique and incredible, that every freelancer on there is going to want to steal it and write the book themselves or whatever.
As soon as you see signs of clients wanting an NDA, wanting this protection, that protection, et cetera, it can be really counterproductive for the work afterwards because as the client and the freelancer, you spend more time with technicalities and the legalities of ironing out the contract and the whole thing than actually working together and getting the job done.
You have to trust people to a certain extent. What I say is you have to strike the right balance between having solid contracts, solid legalities, and trusting people. If you're on the one end of things, some freelancers don't even sign contracts and they trust people. They know that one out of 10 contracts are not going to get paid, but they're fine with that because the nine are always going to pay. And when they don't get paid, they factored that into their business model and what they're planning.You have to strike the right balance between having solid contracts, solid legalities, and trusting people. -Ricardo Fayet Click To Tweet
Others, they really want to make sure that everyone who hires them pays them, so they're going to want a finer contract, and they want to make sure that the client has skin in the game, as you mentioned, not deliver work before they get the payments, et cetera. You've got two ways of handling things and, I think, if you find your balance there and something that works for you, then that's fine. That's the most important thing.
I can imagine, like you said, if a freelancer is understanding that something is going to go sideways 10% of the time, if I'm willing to accept that so that I don't have to do this additional paperwork, I don't have to draw up all these contacts, then that might be worth it. Or the person who wants to only work on one project a quarter, so I'm willing to have extensive contracts. That way, I know the other person is really involved, invested, and if it means I lose some clients because of it, that's OK because I only really want one client a quarter or something like that.
It's always that balance of ease of transaction and the protections that you want involved in that transaction.
As the monetary value increases, the desire to have a contract, desire to have a lawyer involved to do the contract, and the reasoning for it goes up.
Yes, with everything in life, usually the more you invest in something. If you buy a house, you always sign a contract. If you buy a secondhand bicycle, you probably don't want a contract.
That's a very good analogy. When I'm buying a secondhand bicycle, I don't really need a contract. I like that. That's really good.
Do you have any parting advice for either clients or freelancers before we finish off today?
I'm going to steal your advice of trusting your gut. I think that's the most important thing. Don't hesitate to say no on a potential contract, whether from the client or freelancer side. If you feel that something's off or something’s fishy or something doesn't just sit right with you. You feel you won't be able to work well with that person, especially if we're talking about jobs that are going to require a lot of collaboration.
The stuff we see on our platforms is people coming with their books. Sure it's their hobby, but they put a lot of time into that, so they're going to be protective of their books. When you work with a cover designer or an editor, […] you are going to work really hand in hand. There's going to be a lot of back and forth. What I always say is you not only need to hire someone who's a professional, who's got great reviews, who's got references, you know who's going to do a professional job, but also someone who, on a personal level, you think you can get along with because you're going to have a lot of back-and-forth communication with that person. If you think alike or get along, and maybe make a friend in the process, that's all for the better. It's going to make the collaboration a lot smoother.
I love that. That's great advice. Ricardo, thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today.
Thank you for inviting me, Chris.
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