Research Gets Harder

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Research Gets Harder

As we build our freelance careers, we and our clients find each other through a myriad of ways: referrals, seeing work and wanting to work with the creator, putting out an ad, LOIs (Letters of Introduction).

One of the most important (and time-consuming) portions of the finding-clients process is researching and vetting them. This is getting more and more difficult, because of all the disinformation out there. Is what you’re hearing/reading about a potential client true? How do you vet?

If it’s a referral, then the person making the referral matters. If I’m referred by someone with whom I’ve had a bad experience (such as late payment or change of direction without renegotiating a contract or multiple points of contact trying to be heard instead of the single point in the contract), then I do extra research.  Because if a problematic client refers me, the person to which I’m being referred may also be problematic.

Freelancers talking to each other is important, especially when there’s a sense of trust between them. If you talk to a fellow freelancer and trust them to tell you the truth of their experience, rather than worried they will try to sabotage you, everyone wins. If another freelancer, especially one I know well and respect, has a bad experience with a company, that’s a red flag on the company for me.

I keep a list of companies that have asked me for free labor as a part of the interview process. This includes any sort of “test” or expecting me to create something specific to their company, especially before any conversation has happened. “Oh, it’s just a headline” or “it’s just 300 words, it should take ten minutes” means they don’t understand what I do, and they don’t respect it.

Big Red Flag.

I have a specific contract for tests and samples. When the demand is made, I send the contract. Nine times out of ten, the company ghosts me. The tenth time, someone argues with me and says, “But I had to do it. It’s not a big deal.”

And my response is, “I’m sorry your self-esteem is so low. This company and I are not compatible.”

If someone asks me about a company and they’re on my list, I let them know the company expects free labor as part of the interview process, and the individual can decide from there.

I research the company online, see what kind of “giving to the community” they involve themselves in, check out Salary.com and Glassdoor’s reviews about companies, interview experiences, etc. Although, for the latter, if I don’t know the individual, I am less likely to take it at face value without digging deeper.

It gets even more complicated if you want to know the ethics and political positioning of the company. I don’t want to work for a company that funds politicians working to strip me of my rights and promoting authoritarianism. For me, there is no middle ground. Others will say, “Oh, politics doesn’t matter when you’re a professional. Just do the work.”

Fine for you. Not fine for me. Why would I give my time, energy, and creativity to a company actively working to cause harm? For a little cash? In the short run, it might help me as an individual. In the long run, it hurts the collective community.

Saying no up front is a better choice for me.

If I’m vetting a non-profit, I start here: Charity Navigator. Then, I take the information, and look for at least two independent, trustworthy confirmation sources (the way I did as a journalist).

When I want to know which candidates companies or executives donate to, I see if I can locate the politician’s public donor list. I check Followthemoney.org and Open Secrets. I use the FEC’s database of individual contributors. I also keep an eye on Marc Elias’s Democracy Docket, which fights to protect voting rights. With Citizens United, there’s plenty of dark money that’s harder to track, but these are places to start, and then, again, get independent, trustworthy confirmation sources.

Decisions are made from there.

This takes time.

But instead of saying “I don’t have time” I believe that choosing to place my time in this research serves my overall vision for my work and my career better.

How do you research companies in which you are interested?

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