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The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Guru.com


Throughout this week, we’ve been looking at how and why Tamara and I have used Guru.com to jump start our freelance business.  To read the whole three-part series, you might want to check out Finding Those First Few Freelance Clients and Using Guru.com for Your Freelance Business. 

The Good 

If it wasn’t for Guru.com, I suspect that our business wouldn’t have lasted more than two weeks; and the second week would have been because I wheedled Tamara into trying some more.  The fact of the matter is that it has been a means to an end.  We really needed to find some work, and we needed to do it immediately.  At Guru.com, there are employers who really need to find someone to do some work – immediately.  This is pretty much a match made in heaven when you’re trying to prove to yourself (and everyone you know) that you really can earn money with your crazy freelancing idea. 

While there are a lot of small, one-time-only jobs listed on Guru.com, there are some pretty major projects listed, too.  If you’re a good computer programmer who wants to spend the next couple of months on one project while earning several thousand dollars, you will likely find some potential gigs on the site.  Another good thing is that some of those one-time-only jobs actually turn into repeat business.   

One client was so pleased with Tamara’s ability to edit his text book, for example, that he now sends her a new $500 project every few weeks.  Another is constantly adding to their product line, so they just send her pictures every once in a while, and she sends them back a few sentences at about a dollar a pop.  We just finished ghost writing some articles for one lady who was so happy that she’s enquired about us ghost writing an entire book! 

Probably one of my favorite aspects of Guru.com is the sheer number of jobs listed daily.  While I absolutely love sites like Freelance Writing Jobs, there are a lot more opportunities posted at Guru every day.  There darned-well should be, too, since you’re paying for the service.  Just to show some of the variety, here’s a list of some of the jobs we’ve applied for through them so far: 

  • reviewing a resume
  • writing keyword-rich articles
  • editing textbooks 
  • editing a travel-related e-book 
  • writing furniture descriptions 
  • blogging 
  • writing website content 
  • writing tourism articles 
  • ghost writing books and reports 
  • writing resume descriptions 
  • writing articles on motherhood 

Another of the pros about Guru.com is that just landing one job can pay for your sign-up fee.  Tamara and I spent $200 to set up our account (which I think may have been a bit steep), and we had that repaid within the first week or so of receiving jobs.  Since our earnings are listed right on the site, there’s no point in hiding that we’ve currently been paid $857 through Guru.com, and we still have a few hundred dollars’ worth of invoices left to be paid in the near future.  Obviously, I can’t guarantee you will make any money at all through the site, but we’ve more than made back our initial investment, as well as having cultivated repeat clients. 

The Bad 

Finding jobs through Guru.com is not all puppy dogs and roses.  It’s actually a lot of work in and of itself.  In the first couple of weeks we used Guru, I think Tamara literally spent two to four hours on the site every day.  First, you have to read through all of the job listings to determine which ones catch your interest.  Next, you have to figure out how to create realistic bids for each job.  We use a template for bids to some degree, but because the jobs are so varied, each bid has to be fairly customized.  You also need to choose the most relevant of your writing samples to include with the bid so you can show the employer that you’re the best candidate for the job. 

Ah, there’s another downside to Guru.com.  The competition is fierce.  You may be one of 50 or more “professionals” bidding on the same job.  The fact that so many people are vying for the same project really puts a lot of the power into the hands of the employer.  While you can see how many other bids are in, you can not see the dollar amounts of those bids, so you’re on your own there.  This is one of the reasons that the jobs really don’t pay all that well.  It’s also why we chose to sign up as Vendors.  We thought perhaps it would lend more weight to our bids. 

In her article on Pricing Your Freelance Services, Tamara suggested that most writers don’t want less than nine cents a word; and most of us expect a lot more than that.  Many of the Guru.com writing jobs end up paying a penny a word or less.  This is exactly why using this type of service is so controversial.  By accepting such a low rate of pay, the overall market is hurt; and it’s harder for everyone to get paid a decent wage.  Unfortunately, I do not have the solution to this problem.   

In our case, we have chosen to accept some of these lower-paying jobs in order to a) establish a relationship with new clients, b) create materials to add to our portfolio, and c) actually have some money to contribute to our households.  Flame us if you must, but we’re not making apologies for the route we’ve taken.  It’s working for us.  Also, it’s already paying off, as we’ve been able to get enough breathing room to be able to submit much higher-paying proposals to organizations, and several of these proposals have now been accepted.  As time goes by, we are able to become less and less Guru-dependent. 

Finally, we have run into another problem when using Guru.com.  In one case, I severely underestimated how long a project would take.  When all was said and done, I figured out that we actually ended up making about $5.00 an hour.  Ouch.  Still, we had agreed to do the job at a certain price, and I didn’t feel comfortable backing out.  (Don’t forget about protecting your rating, either!)  The employer was really happy with the outcome, however, and is interested in having us do more work in the near future.  I hope that when I explain why I would have to charge so much more, the employer will take it in stride and not think that we just low-balled the first bid to get our foot in the door.  I know that some people do that, but it really wasn’t our intention at all.  Here’s hoping the employer isn’t so turned off that she returns to Guru.com to hire someone else for future projects. 

The Ugly 

In our opinion, there is a bit of a dark side to Guru.com.  We already mentioned that a lot of freelancers are being paid pennies on the dollar just for the opportunity to do some work.  It seems to us that the freelancers are the only ones not making a killing off of the service.  Because Guru.com insists that you get paid through them, they are able to double dip.  Not only do they get your sign-up fee, but they also keep a portion of every payment you receive.  The amount they withhold depends on how you get paid. 

For example, we recently earned $100 for some articles we wrote.  Not only did Guru.com keep 5% of that, but PayPal also took a cut.  When all was said and done, our total payment for the $100 was $92.62.  That sort of ticks us off, especially since we suspect that we’re expected to pay taxes on the entire $100.  You could possibly offset this by setting your bid a little higher, but then you risk not getting the job at all.  In addition, if the employer pays by credit card, then I believe Guru.com gets the extra 2.5% that would have otherwise gone to PayPal. 

We have also run into a couple of cases where the employer reneged on our deal.  In one case we hadn’t gone through the strict Guru procedure in being hired, and we therefore didn’t have any recourse when they just stopped returning our emails after they received $100 worth of work and ordered another $150 worth.  We had all of the work completed (and this was a tedious job, no less) before we realized that they weren’t going to pony up.  It’s absolutely infuriating, as they got half of the project without paying, and we spent all the time doing the second half and won’t get paid for it, either.  To add insult to injury, this tedious, time consuming project can not be altered in a way that makes it useful for anything else.  It was just a complete waste of several hours of our lives.  We don’t even have the recourse of giving them a low rating, as you can’t rate one another until after the payment has been made. 

Even though we didn’t go through the Guru.com procedure, they did still attempt to contact the employer on our behalf to request payment.  Apparently they got blown off, too.  Guru.com was kind enough to let us know that if the employer uses their service again, they’ll be monitored for non-payment.  Um, why would they be allowed to use the service again?  I don’t know . . . seriously, don’t get me started.  We do intend to take the matter up with the Better Business Bureau in Georgia, where this particular employer is located.  Losing out on $250 isn’t the end of the world, but it really sucks when you’ve worked your tail off for it. 

This is how we discovered that the “Safe Pay Escrow” account may not be a bad idea. This leads nicely into one of the other ugly aspects of Guru.com.  Some of the employers are kind of jerks.  Don’t get me wrong, we have worked with some really, really awesome people through the site!  There are some, however, who don’t know what they want.  Unfortunately they don’t realize it until after you’ve done what they told you they wanted.  Then they can get a little huffy because you didn’t read their minds.  I’d tell you all about it, but that’s an experience that will take an entire post of its own somewhere down the road.  Suffice it to say that we’ve learned from the experience and have bounced back nicely. 

I’ve also been asked to do things that I felt were unethical.  One employer who I’d worked with a few times asked me to make up testimonials about their products and then sign something like “Dorothy in Kansas” at the bottom of it.  I had to mull over how best to respond.  Should I tell them off for being unscrupulous?  Should I politely decline and hope that they still wanted me for the other work I’d been doing?  Should I just . . . no, I never actually considered writing the fake testimonials.  It’s just not my style and would probably make for bad karma anyway.  ;-) 

The Summary 

While we don’t think that Guru.com is the right choice for everyone, it has been a great stepping stone for us.  We knew from the very beginning that it would be a temporary measure that allowed us to get a little momentum in order to propel our business forward.  Between it and the non-Guru jobs we’ve gotten, we’ve not only paid back our initial investments in the company, but we’ve also been able to earn enough money to reach our business goals.  (We’re on the verge of our second “pay day,” too!)  More importantly, the Guru stuff has kept us viable so that we are able to work on our other priorities – like developing more lucrative business opportunities.

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    On October 3rd, 2007 at 8:27 pm, Sharon Hurley Hall said:

    This is a great review, Lorna. I reviewed Guru and Elance myself about a year ago, and found that I was getting more joy from Guru and nothing from Elance. Sometimes the time you have to put in doesn’t pay off. What are your thoughts on Ifreelance?

    On October 3rd, 2007 at 11:44 pm, holli jo said:

    Lorna - This is great information; you’ve done a thorough job of explaining guru. Thank you for sharing your experience with it.

    On October 4th, 2007 at 11:50 am, Laura said:

    Excellent review! I reviewed this service last summer, but your review is very thorough. Your posts will be excellent reference points for new writers who might be trying to break into the freelance writing business.

    On October 4th, 2007 at 4:10 pm, Lorna Doone Brewer said:

    Sharon - Guru was the first service I tried, so I can’t really compare it too much to the Elance or iFreelance, other than to look at the info available on their sites. I’m hoping to do a little more in-depth comparison down the road, though. I’m especially interested in learning more about iFreelance.

    holli jo - You’re welcome. Our hope was that it would give you folks a heads up on what to expect and the ability to make a more informed decision about whether it was the right choice for you.

    Laura - Thanks! I’ll have to go back through your posts and check out what you had to say!

    On October 11th, 2007 at 9:06 am, Andy said:

    Sites like Guru have their place, but that place seems to be more “third world country”. As a freelancer, if you want to earn enough to make a living, trying to find projects that will pay you enough through the different job bidding sites is going to be frustrating.

    Instead, freelancers in “mature market countries” should focus on developing a base of LOCAL clients through networking, posting your services to online directories like www.FreelanceLocalTech.com and Kudzu (if that’s where your clients will look for you), even pay-per-click ads specifically targeting cities in your area (if your work supports that kind of potential expense). With local clients you get paid local rates that are in line with the income you’ll want to earn from a project.

    Mentions on other sites...

    1. Freelance Inspiration | Freelance Parent on October 6th, 2007 at 2:55 am
    2. 2007-10-06 Saturday Links Folder : Freelance Folder on October 6th, 2007 at 6:27 am

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