Russell Fry has worked as a freelance writer for 10 years. Besides working on personal projects, he is a freelance writer for Verblio.
The 2008 Recession and the Freelance Revolution
To completely understand what Verblio is and what it isn't, one must know the driving forces behind its creation.
How many of us freelance writers have experienced writing for "freelance" content writing sites like Textbroker or iWriter? How many of you are still forced by necessity to write for such virtual sweatshops?
I bet many of you reading this are a lot like myself: I sort of fell into freelance writing; I never took a single college course related to journalism or creative writing. Before 2009, the thought of becoming a professional writer of any kind never even entered my mind for a second.
Like many freelancers today, I started freelance writing out of necessity.
We are a part of the freelance revolution.
The history behind the freelance revolution is a long and complex one, but many experts trace its origins back to the 2008 Great Recession.
The subprime mortgage crisis ravaged world financial markets as well as the real estate and banking industries. While numerous global markets experienced some ripples, it had a far more pronounced effect on people in the United States and Western Europe.
According to the New York Times, the United States lost approximately 2.6 million jobs in 2008—reportedly the worst year since 1945. The article, written by Louis Uchitelle, stated:
"The unemployment rate jumped to 7.2 percent in December, the highest since January 1993, up from 6.8 percent in November, the Labor Department said. More than 11 million Americans are now unemployed."
In an article entitled The Gig Economy: The Force That Could Save the American Worker? published by Wired:
"The figures are startling: the unemployment rate for those earning less than $20,000 is now 21 percent, nearly matching the rate for all workers during the 1930s Great Depression."
"One of the founders was a journalist turned startup junkie and he saw so many of his friends and colleagues losing work opportunities with the demise of newspapers and print magazines."
In 2009, a large number of major metropolitan dailies were forced to close their doors. While the long-term decline in readership, dwindling circulation, dropping advertising revenue, and the Internet already threatened the newspaper industry, the recession was the final straw.
Big-name newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times suffered significant cutbacks, resulting in it laying off half of its newsroom. The Sacramento Bee, The Miami Herald, and twenty-eight other dailies owned and managed by McClatchy Publishing Company laid off one-quarter of its workforce. And the list goes on and on.
In February 2020, the New York Times reported that McClatchy, founded in 1857, filed Chapter 11 in New York.
From this schism in the workforce, millions of creatives began searching for ways to revive their careers. Of course, a lot of the work done in the creative industries don't require much: a decent laptop, an Internet connection, social networking skills, and nothing to lose.
Ultimately, this gave birth to sites like UpWork, Freelancer, Fiverr, and countless content mills.
The reader should know how the rest of the story goes.
Gallup State of the American Workplace Report
“The percentage of "engaged" workers in the U.S. -- those who are involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace -- is now 34%. The percentage who are "actively disengaged"
— Jon Younger, Forbes Contributor
What Makes Verblio Stand Out From the Rest
I asked Pockross, "Why is Verblio a lot different from other freelance content writing sites out there?" He answered:
"I believe this is one of the foundational advantages of Verblio. It was co-founded by a journalist with writers in mind at the core of our business."
To be honest, when I first began writing for Verblio (which was Blogmutt before it was rebranded), I didn't feel they had the writers in mind. The way the system was set up made me feel hopeless much of the time.
However, I came to the realization that it wasn't the system that was flawed. I may have been a freelance blogger since 2009 but not in a professional capacity until 2017.
I learned the hard way—from various clients, admins, and editors—the correct way to write good copy.
The Vetting Process
There is nothing unique about a company vetting people before giving them more access and better perks. Content mills such as Textbroker and iWriter vet their writers by requiring them to earn a certain number of stars. As some readers may know, the aforementioned sites rely exclusively upon customer reviews to increase writers' levels.
The only problem with that type of level system is that some customers either don't give reviews at all or give unreasonable reviews. It only takes a few unfavorable reviews to drastically affect your star level; dropping a single star usually results in a drastic drop in pay.
And since most reviews are subjective and not objective, it doesn't matter if articles were written well technically.
For example, a few customers who barely spoke English or who weren't that intelligent gave my work negative reviews because they simply don't understand the English language—even though their English was so bad I could barely understand their instructions.
With Verblio, the level system is straight forward. You get a certain number of points for submitting an article and even more points if and when a customer purchases one of your submissions. Customers can give writers up to five stars and leave a comment, but none of those things alone affect your level or pay.
However, admins do have the power to make or break you.
"While your pay and access to jobs are generally determined by the number of points that you have earned, admin do have the right to restrict or increase your access based on your performance on our site.
"If you are submitting truly exceptional work, there is a chance that an admin could increase your access to include longer-form, higher-paying jobs.
"However, if you are continuously submitting content that falls below Verblio's standards for quality at a given level, you may also be warned and/or restricted to smaller requests."
Fair Pay System
Since the admins most likely have some sort of college degree qualifying them to take on the role of editor, you don't have to worry about an unfair shake. But you have to make it to level seven in order to enjoy such security.
Concerning the pay, you never get paid less per word than even the most veteran members of Verblio; every single project pays the same per word.
Nevertheless, Verblio pays writers a flat rate for content.
For example, writers with levels one through three are permitted to write 300 to 550-word articles that pay between $10.50 to $19.25. Level four writers gain access to 600 to 950-word articles that pay between $21.00 to $46.38.
As you can see, the pay begins to double very slightly starting at the 950-word range.
Writer Reward Shares
As far as I know, no other freelance content site offers its writers reward shares. Essentially, writer reward shares are stocks; this makes you part owner of the Verblio brand!
Try to find that or something similar with "freelance" sites like Textbroker, iWriter, Freelancer, UpWork, or Fiverr. If they're not trying to work you for 1.5 cents per word, they're trying to milk you out of all the money you should've earned.
In a press release dated October 22, 2013, Yates wrote the following:
"Verblio, the business world’s most-loved blog writing service, today announced that in addition to pay, it will compensate writers with fully vested stock options in the parent company of Verblio.
"Verblio, like 99designs, CrowdFlower and dozens of others, uses 'crowdsourcing' to accomplish business tasks. In Verblio’s case, there are more than 3,000 writers who create blogs for businesses. For the first time in the history of crowdsourcing, Verblio is making part of the compensation package for writers' actual ownership of the crowdsourcing company.
"'Writers are the very core of our business, and we’re so glad we worked out this way of sharing our success with the most productive and best writers in our system,' said Scott Yates, Co-founder, and CEO of Verblio.'
"'I was a writer for years, and I know writers are crucial in today’s world, but I also know they are always considered expendable at newspapers, agencies, and writing platforms. We’ve changed that whole mindset.'
"Many crowdsourced content companies have done well in the past, and continue to grow. For instance, Huffington Post sold to AOL for $315 million in 2011, but at the time many writers complained that they didn’t share in the successful exit. Those complaints continue to this day."
Another thing that truly sets Verblio apart from most other freelance content sites is its amazing staff. The staff at iWriter is more or less superficially nice, while the staff at Textbroker rarely responds to an email—if at all.
When it comes to Verblio's admins, they seem to genuinely care about you as a writer.
It may have something to do with the company's culture; it seems like people who work at the office truly enjoy working for Verblio, not as if their merely there to clock eight hours. This, in turn, means they actually care whether or not you succeed as a writer—after all, your success is good for the company.
For intermediate level writers, Verblio is a great place to hone your skills; you'll learn a whole lot if you're patient enough to work through the levels.
And that's the biggest hurdle for many; climbing the levels.
The One Bad Thing About Verblio: Writers are Pitted Against Each Other
While we're on the topic of climbing levels, there is one thing I never liked about Verblio but respect nonetheless.
Remember this from the press release quoted previously:
"Verblio, like 99designs, CrowdFlower and dozens of others, uses 'crowdsourcing' to accomplish business tasks."
By "crowdsourcing," they mean "competing with other writers on a single project. You could start working on a project that no one else had yet started, only to find out hours later two or three other writers are competing against you for the sale.
Even worse, you find out you had competition when you receive an email stating:
"Thanks for your submission! Unfortunately, we have decided to go with another submission. Better luck next time!"
First of all, nothing gets you down on yourself like spending a few hours writing an article for a client only to find out it was time wasted. This holds especially true for those of us who write to feed our families.
Second of all, nothing is more annoying than clients cheerfully declining a post you worked hard on as if you only lost $2 playing the Powerball® lottery.
There was a time before I reached level seven when my wife and I were forced to sell items in our house because clients chose to wait two or three weeks before purchasing my content.
Even though I have grown to accept the fact that Verblio doesn't have an auto-purchase feature like most content sites, it can still hurt.
However, there is one thing I respect about Verblio's sink-or-swim approach: it encourages you to become a more proficient writer. By the time you make it to level six or seven, nothing in this industry should intimidate you—even more so with each additional level you achieve.
Being forced to compete against other writers will either compel you to give up or inspire you to become better.
It inspired me to become better—though I admit there were times I nearly gave up. Looking back, I'm sure glad I stuck in there. And I still have a long journey ahead.
I think the founders of Verblio did a great job creating a unique company with a positive culture. They seem genuinely empathetic to the plight that is freelance writing. Even the clientele they attract appears to be cut from a different cloth than customers I've dealt with on the Textbroker and iWriter platforms.
On the flip side, it's a pretty far stretch to compare Verblio to industry leaders such as 99designs and Figure Eight (formerly known as CrowdFlower); companies that do not force people to compete against one another on a single task.
On the contrary, 99designs and Figure Eight actually do encourage freelancers to work as a team on a single project, each one taking and completing a single task.
By definition, crowdsourcing "divides work between participants to achieve a cumulative result."
The opposite of what writers for Verblio do.
Therefore, I feel dubbing Verblio a "crowdsourcing" content writing company is a try-hard attempt at sounding "in."
With that being put out there, Verblio pushed me to up my writing game tremendously. I learned a lot from the admins and clients on how to become a more versatile writer.
If that winds up being the only substantial thing I achieve from my time writing for Verblio, I can say it was well worth it.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2020 Russell William Fry