Updated: 15 hours ago
All the books and blog posts warned me. The red flags were there. So how did I end up in this situation?
Here's the thing: When I accepted a web content writer position in early May of this year, I had the full intention of getting paid.
By the time I resigned my position two months later, I had created over 30 articles, edited over 100, and managed approximately 40 people. All without pay.
So what the hell happened?
How I got there
A content writer with no gigs at the time, I was surfing through LinkedIn and Indeed for hours every day, applying to all kinds of writer positions.
At some point during those first weeks of the pandemic, I found a content writer position on Indeed that payed $40,000-$50,000 a year. I'd be writing posts for a blog network on the topics I wanted to cover. The job seemed perfect for me, so I applied.
They got back to me almost immediately, and sent me a PowerPoint that detailed how their business worked. According to the presentation, 40% of ad revenue was divided among the writers, and pay day was every Friday.
Everything was looking great, until I got to a slide titled, "Who is this for?" One of the bullet points was: You don't need a steady guaranteed paycheck.
This was an immediate red flag, but when I asked the company owner about this statement, he said it was there because the way the payment system was set up meant that "some checks could be higher than others."
I accepted that answer as well as the position.
In hindsight, my time working for this company consisted of one red flag after another.
The second red flag? It wasn't until after I accepted the role and started working that I learned the company wasn't making any money.
My new boss explained that the blog network hadn't launched yet, but that we were "close to profitability." According to his calculations, we would be making money in about a week.
As I wrote and spoke with my boss, he grew interested in my previous experience. Within two weeks, I was the editor of a blog. I managed a group of writers, attended meetings, and wrote articles to meet my content quota.
It was exciting! The weekly meetings and one-on-one's with my team made me feel like I was a part of something bigger than myself. My role within the team grew and I was able to offer input on the direction of the company. It was fulfilling work.
It became easy to ignore the fact that a month had gone by, I was working 60-hour weeks, and there was still no money. I was just happy to work.
My role within the company grew, and I eventually became part of what was referred to as the "Cabinet." Two other women and I were directly under our boss, and held weekly meetings where we made decisions on everything related to the company.
Why I left
As I grew closer to my colleagues, I learned more about their lives and realized we all had one thing in common: we put our faith on the company, but struggled to get by financially.
At the same time, the pressure was rising. Our boss wanted everyone to work harder. Work longer hours. Respond to messages immediately. People were being pushed into full-time work. For free.
Though we eventually set up a (failed) crowd funding campaign, our concerns about payment were met with dismissals. His attitude made it difficult to talk to him, so we talked to each other. It turns out that he put the business expenses on a credit card and had no business plan whatsoever.
He just decided to build a blog and "hire" people, assuming that either the money would fly in immediately, or people would be fine working for free.
During the last meeting we had, we discussed the difficulties we were facing. He wanted us to work more, but failed on his promise of payment. We had responsibilities to take care of and bills to pay.
We kept asking the same question: what are you planing to do about payment? We never got an answer.
The business wasn't going to survive this way, and we all needed to be paid for our hard work. Our boss talked in circles, giving confusing answers and rambling about random events.
At one point, he even compared himself to Christopher Columbus! Don't ask me what point he was trying to make because I still don't know.
At some point, he said the quality of everyone's work was lacking, and this was the reason we hadn't reached profitability. Some of us were working 60-hour weeks to do things just how he liked them, but it was our fault there was no money.
I quit that same day.
Finding my worth
In that moment I learned what I should've seen from the beginning: this man never had the intention of paying us. He was looking to take advantage of writers who needed the experience and exposure.
For the sake of experience I fell into a major scam that took me two months to get out of. I came out emotionally exhausted and hanging onto writing samples that didn't show what I was capable of because they were written to match his personal standards.
Sure, I was doing work that I loved, but the longer I stayed, the less fulfilling it was. I wasn't getting back what I was putting in, and it was draining me.
Looking back, I can't help but feel ashamed at my lack of sense. The red flags were there and I still stayed. The only explanation I can find is that I was too naive and desperate for work to think that my efforts had any real value.
I didn't see myself as a professional writer who deserved to be payed. I saw myself the same way my boss was treating me: as a beginner writer who should be grateful for the opportunity.
It took some time, but I finally learned my lesson. Experience isn't worth my self-respect. I absolutely love writing, but that shouldn't give anyone a free pass to my hard work.
The next time someone approaches me with a sketchy gig, you can count on me to run for the hills.