Friday, April 17, 2009...3:24 pm

Is People Per Hour any use?

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During last autumn’s climate of fear about a collapse in the publishing industry, I registered with People Per Hour – a freelance marketplace that allows you to bid on projects posted by a whole range of potential clients. I was curious to see how it worked, and also thought I might even get some paying work out of it.
The verdict? After receiving dozens of job notifications and bidding on several of them – no, it doesn’t really work. It’s not a scam, but it has limited use for established editorial freelancers.
At least, it didn’t work for me. I guess it works for the clients, as there seem to be plenty of bids on most projects. And I guess it worked for whoever put in those winning bids. So what went wrong?
In some ways, People Per Hour is a bit like eBay – you can build up feedback, or recommendations, from other clients on work you’ve done, so that you have a visible track record of competence. It’s what I do in the real world, with recommendations from people I know and have worked for.
But unlike eBay it’s a bit difficult to get started if no one will employ you and, therefore, no one will recommend you. A bit Catch-22.
You can also put samples of your work online and fill in lots of detail in the CV/resumé section – so maybe that’s where I’m going wrong. I haven’t really spent enough time on my online profile to attract clients.
But there are other problems with the site. The main one is the inability of clients to put together a meaningful brief. You’ll often get a brief that asks for “30 blog posts”, or “eight articles”, without specifying how many words they want. And as freelance writers tend to work on a word rate, that is fairly useless.
Or take this one for Web research & Content editing.

I am putting together a web-project that requires information-gathering about how to do business around the world. I need an educated writer who will research, gather information and compile 900-1200 word articles on how to do business in each country.

Er – how many countries exactly? Doesn’t say. I mean, there are nearly 200.
Another issue is the vagueness of the fees on offer. This project, for “Article writing”, is typical.

We require 5 quality, keyword targeted articles of approximately 400 – 500 words on a variety of topics relating to tyres / minibuses / general driving. Each article should be original, engaging and informative with accurate spelling and punctuation. Clarification will be given to the successful bidder to confirm article ideas / titles. The articles are required immediately. Longer term we will require 1 or 2 articles a week.

And the fee? “Less than £250”, it says. But £250 for what? The initial five articles? Or for an ongoing commitment to supply them indefinitely? Probably the former – but it’s all a bit vague.
If you want clarification you can post questions to the site, the way you can on eBay, but clients don’t seem to respond to them very often.
And, while one of the bids I saw accepted for a job I punted for was below above mine [sorry, proofreading slip],  a lot of the writing work also seems to require an awful lot of words for very little money.
A mental health website asking for three blog posts a week, at 350-400 words each, accepted a bid of £220 for the first 30 posts. That’s about £18 per thousand words, or ten times less than I would think of an acceptable, if pretty low, rate. Yes – there’s probably minimal research involved, but still. £220 is about a day and a half’s pay – which isn’t very long to write 12,000 words.
Which means, of course, that the quality of the work will be a bit slipshod. I was amused at a comment made by one company offering a Large Scale Copy Writing Project that:

“My previous Copy Writer completed around 200 articles per 10 days – his speed was adequate, however his quality was not.”

Well, given that he’s asking for 20 articles of 300-350 words each per day, I’m not really surprised.
Lessons learned about online markets. They:

  • Open up the industry – This one allows me far greater access to potential clients than I could ever have achieved rootling around myself on Google. And clients wanting editorial services have access to a vastly increased pool of labour.
  • Drive down costs – with 100 bids on that blogging project I mentioned above, you’re bound to get one that’s in your price range. Problem for the writer is, it also cuts your earnings down to the bone.
  • Drive down quality – Well, that’s kind of a given. If you have to write 1,000 words an hour to get a half decent rate, then you’ll tend to produce hack work.
  • Democratise writing – Anyone can bid on these jobs, so you don’t need a journalism degree, or NCTJ qualifications, or have worked in the publishing industry. If you can write at all, and want to pitch in, you can. Yes, this means quality can be an issue, but then I’ve met a lot of so-called “professional journalists” who can’t write to save their lives.
  • Undermines the growing university stranglehold on journalism – as you may know, I’m not a big fan of the journalism BA. Markets like this at least level the playing field for writers who don’t want to spend £20,000 getting a degree in a subject that should be taught vocationally.

So, some good, some bad. People Per Hour also reveals some other very interesting things about freelance writing.
Most obviously, that a lot of journalism/writing is not about the writing. Instead, many of these projects are for the web, and they tend to make a priority of search engine optimisation (SEO), web development and link-building (ie getting other sites to link to the one you’re writing).
What this means for freelancers is that being able to generate beautiful copy is just not that important anymore – at least for an awful lot of projects. The skills you actually need are more in the realm of web analytics, SEO, scanability, building links. Though, interestingly, a lot of the project listings do stress the need for correct spelling and grammar. Graduates take note.
So – online freelance marketplaces. Is it worth trying to get work through them?
I think yes, if you’re:

  • A journalism student trying to get some experience
  • Working in an English-literate low-wage economy wanting access to the western publishing industry
  • Someone with no qualifications or experience wanting to break into writing

But if you’re already a jobbing freelance writer, not so much.
Will this change in time? I bet it will. I suspect that online marketplaces will steadily drive down the money publishers are prepared to pay for average copy. Though it may not affect the money they’ll pay for really good writing so much, as that may still be at a premium.
Do I think this is a disaster? Not really. I’ve never been a fan of restricted entry into a profession (or trade, really, when it comes to journalism) as a way of propping up wages.
Too many journalists get away with writing sloppy copy and earn money for it. If you’re good enough to make a living at something, the secret to success is to develop more skills and, basically, be better at writing. Much better.


  • In addition to the extremely low wages that are available, PPH have a habit of including all sorts of hidden costs in their use of the website as well like ‘connections’ where you/a client have to actually pay to be put in contact with each other.
    You would think that the subscription fees and commissions that PPH take would be enough but apparently not. When you add everything up, there are cheaper and more user friendly sites around.
    You might find more value in or Over to you 🙂

  • Interesting. If any readers have experience with any of these sites, please feel free to comment…

  • I have done four or five projects via PPH. It is easier for me to get work because I am bidding on legal projects, which average around 5-12 bids, but even so I bid on around five projects for every one I am awarded.
    I agree that the way the site is structured, where the client can state a maximum bid, drives down prices, and I resent the 10% commission, but at least they are reliable and offer an escrow service.
    However, my partner, who is a freelance copywriter, has bid for dozens of projects without success. As you say, FUB, it’s a vicious circle in terms of getting recommendations and work.

  • I’ve had a reasonable amount of work from PPH (over 2K in value), but it helps that I came across it early on and managed to get some feedback.
    In general the project specifications are awful and it’s usually taking a stab in the dark when making a bid. I have won bids only to cancel my acceptance when I discover the project is different to what I had expected. Low budgets (ebay clone for less than £250 kind of thing) abound but I have had several projects with reasonable budgets and see that I sometimes lose out to competition where the buyer has accepted a higher bid. In general, though the PPH site often feels like the buyers want a lot for very little and the project descriptions themselves often barely literate.
    Generally, my work through PPH has been at a much lower rate than I’d often charge and that 10% sometimes hurts – especially the £15 minimum for quick jobs.

  • As a freelance web designer having tried people per hour, a lot of your comments ring true for me too.
    Websites like this work for people that want to compete on price, but not quality. Many posts ask for a company website for £250 which amounts to one day’s work for someone like me with 8 years experience.
    I suppose this is likely to happen in an online marketplace as the prospective client does not have any relationship with the suppliers.
    In marketing terms, an ad which mentions product prices is a ‘direct response’ ad, where as those which generally convey the quality of the brand are ‘awareness’ ads.
    These terms could also be applied to how you market yourself as a freelancer. If you compete on price, then you’re doing the ‘direct response’ ad i.e. ‘I can do it the cheapest on People Per Hour’, if on quality, then it’s ‘awareness’ and you’re promoting yourself via word of mouth, networking etc.
    So I think that it depends on whether you choose to compete on price or quality as to whether PPH is the right tool.

  • Do not go freelance with these people because once you begin to work for someone they automatically deduct £15 from your salary and getting paid through them is a nightmare.They get their money from the person who hires you £24, so theY are making pots of money and interest as well on your salary ,DO NOT GO THERE!

  • In response to barbara:
    PPH may well try and keep your money to earn interest on it, but i’m sure a quick e-mail to the FSA (Financial Services Authority) would solve any slow payment problems people might have with PPH.
    Threaten most companies with their governing bodies and they will bend over backwards for you 😉
    Energy Suppliers – Mention OFGEM
    Telecommunication Suppliers – Mention OFCOM
    Insurance or any financial organisation – Mention the FSA

  • Having experienced P.P.H. my observations are that you have to submit lots of bids and this costs money, as you have to keep buying credits to bid. You also have to bid for categories.
    If you have not done any work from P.P.H. you will not get any work. “If no one will employ you and, therefore, no one will recommend you. A bit Catch-22. ”
    I suspect that many posting jobs are getting paid the appropriate amount for the work from the client and then trying to sub-contract it to a minion for a pittance. There are a lot of very genuine businesses on P.P.H. who suffer because of the experience of the above.
    There are other problems which are that a lot of work is on going and at what point is the contract as advertised on People Per Hour ends and a ‘new’ contract starts.
    There is no guarantee despite the efforts of P.P.H. that you will get your money as the client can claim you were too slow, did not reach the target, misunderstood the brief.
    I am producing my own web site/web page and very happy to post details of freelancers at no cost to themselves.
    Please send your details to

  • The main concern that most people have when using these sites is that the amount people get paid is tiny because people offer to do work for very small amounts. What aims to do is eliminate this by rewarding people for high quality work rather than the cheapest price. There’s no dutch auctions! Employers can also choose to select the freelancer they most want and invite them to bid on a particular project.

  • People Per Hour is painful really. I’ve now bid for fifteen projects and have had interest from a grand total of one person. This one person still has a shortlist of half a dozen people to go through though so I’m not confident that’s going to happen!
    I’m going to get to twenty bids and then call it quits. There’s no way that a qualified and highly experienced freelancer can compete with the cut-price freelancers – be they university students, recent graduates or people from India/Nepal who can happily bid at lower prices courtesy of having a lower cost of living (maybe I’ll move to Nepal – it’s a lovely place after all!).
    I have to admit I’ve been picky about what I’ve bid for, and I’ve also not dropped my rates… but why should I? I’ve spent 17 years learning my trade and you get what you pay for… unfortunately the majority of people posting work only want the cheapest freelancer, and in these days of t’internet they don’t necessarily have to be in the UK.
    So to sum up, if you’re a serious, qualified, experienced, UK-based freelancer, your time is better spent elsewhere.

  • Hi David
    Your assessment is pretty much in line with everyone else. I did wonder if there was any value in this kind of marketplace – but it seems it tends to turn into a bargain basement, with buyers looking only for very low rates (and being surprised when the quality is not up to much).
    It does reflect the view that written content, especially, is simply not very valuable…

  • Certain freelancers post phony jobs which are then awarded to each other, resulting in glowing testimonials all round. This helps explain why so many job descriptions are verging on the incoherent. . .and why people who can scarcely string two words together win legitimate projects. The other point is that nearly all clients are looking to pay peanuts. And guess what?

  • Very helpful article – and comments!

  • I used to work for PPH. Its just a weird company – they desperately want to creat a start up culture but have only suceeded in breeding fear and loathing. Its a little sweat shop.Avoid, avoid, avoid,

  • Tacky – you can do voiceovers for porn films there. Oh, and loads of jobs doing descriptions of free porn films as well. Plus one job I reported to the site administrators that was obviously a paedo who wanted someone to tape a child of 2 or 3 reading some “really really no mistake its a paedo lines” –
    It’s garbage. Lots of ‘editorial’ work from India – these firms double up as translation bureaus, do a quick ‘Google translate’, then get someone English to try to make it read well in English – trouble is , a)the translation is inaccurate, and b)its an NHS patient’s medical records- surprised no one has died yet!

  • Glad I’m not the only one.
    I even contacted PPH to ask why their site devalued writing so much- they claimed it was the market not them. So I pointed out their own ad asking for writers at less than minimum wage…

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