Standing Strong: Saying No to Shady Gigs

Jul 3, 2017 by

A few months ago a potential client made me with an offer. Now, as a freelance writer who spends an hour every morning browsing online job boards, I have to admit it was flattering to have a client approach me, rather than the other way around. The pay was good, and the workload, while certainly heavy, was manageable.

I turned them down.

Did I do this because I have so many clients I can pick and choose my gigs? Hardly. Am I financially well off? I wish I was — turning down this client made making rent difficult.

No, I turned them down because the client’s product violated my Three Big Don’ts. 

Three Big Rules

When I started writing online, it quickly became apparent I’d be working for a wide variety of clients. One week I might be writing articles on pet care, the next I’d be providing content for an SEO Company. I’ve written on heavy-duty machinery, cancer, relationships, choosing insurance — I’m nothing if not versatile.

I do, however, have my Three Big Don’ts. I do not write content that encourages hate or prejudice. I do not write deliberately misleading content, and I do not write content which could endanger a person’s health or safety.

In the case of the job offer I mentioned, the client ran an herbal supplement website. Examining the website convinced me I’d have to write content misrepresenting the supplement’s properties, giving people inaccurate health information which could prevent them from seeking more effective treatments.

Ethics and Online Work

I’m not perfect, by any means. I have worked for questionable clients in the past. Some paid me extremely well. I told myself I was in a business relationship with the client, and only the client. The client’s own marketing and business decisions were of no matter to me.

I was wrong. I realized this while working for a client who, while not doing anything strictly speaking illegal, was certainly playing off his customer’s gullibility. As I discovered more about his business practices, I felt less and less comfortable providing him with content which helped him make sales.

I wish I could say I terminated my contract with him, but I was an inexperienced writer with a young family. I needed the money, so I made elaborate rationalizations to justify working for him. He wasn’t technically scamming anyone. I’m not responsible for my client’s marketing strategy and — perhaps the most desperate justification — any buying decisions rested solely with the site visitor.

Eventually, the client went out of business. The feeling of relief I felt finally made me realize I’d been working at cross purposes with my own ethics. I came up with my Three Don’ts to ensure I’d never put myself in that type of situation again. At the end of day’s writing, I want to be able to look in the mirror and tell myself I did good work.

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