19 responses to “Helium’s $10,000 hands-off-our writers clause”

  1. Barbra, Bio Writer

    Very interesting, and good for you for digging into that agreement.

  2. Susan Johnston

    Yikes! I can completely understand why Helium wouldn’t want clients poaching their best writers. In fact, when I subcontract with a marketing agency or through a creative staffing firm, I sign an agreement not to work with their client outside of that arrangement, and even without that agreement, I think doing so would reflect very poorly on my professional ethics.

    I think there are plenty of clients to go around (I’m talking about other smaller clients, not the NYT or WSJ, I wouldn’t want to undermine my chances of writing for those), but you certainly raise some interesting questions. I think we’ll see more of these issues in the future as a growing number of “premium” content services pop up. I’m testing out a few of them so I can understand how they work, but I’d be interested in your take on this business model as a whole, not just Helium’s writer clause.

  3. Lance Haun

    I think it is of even more importance to the publication to weigh the costs of such a program. That’s a bounty and maybe if you’re the NYT or WaPo, you don’t have to worry about it but a smaller publication? Ouch.

    That’s why you read your contracts of course. That’s quite the hidden gem there.

  4. Mark Ranalli

    Hi Michelle:

    I’m sorry to hear that you turned down the assignment from Helium. Our clients include many of the largest and most respected publishers in the industry and our Content Source assignments do pay well. You bring up an interesting clause in our contracts with our publishers. We include the clause for a specific reason. We work very hard to attract and retain a large writing community and we provide a great service to our clients. If our contracts allowed a publisher to use us for one article to find a great writer, and then cut us out of the picture, we would not be in business very long. This is the same principal in a temp agency model. After an agency finds a resource to work for a company, they don’t allow the company and the employee to cut them out. Businesses that provide value need to charge for their service. We are no different and our clients understand and respect the service we provide. If we find a writer for them that they value enough to hire, they are happy to pay us a finding fee. As any hiring manager knows, finding great talent is expensive.
    -Mark Ranalli, CEO Helium Inc.

  5. Jenn Mattern

    The real question comes down to the relationship between the writers and Helium. If they’re legally employees of Helium, then the agency model analogy makes sense. If they’re independent contractors, it’s an entirely different story and Helium has no right to get between the contractors and their other clients. They aren’t marketing themselves as a traditional freelance marketplace. That would involve not having writers work for them directly. But it seems that they do. That makes Helium a client, and limits their ability to control other client relationships with those independent contractors.

  6. Jenn Mattern

    As per Susan’s comment, this isn’t necessarily equivalent to poaching clients from a middleman client. That would only be the case if:

    1. The end client specifically used your services through the middleman client.

    2. You’re being paid by the middleman and not just connected, but paid by the end client and working with them directly.

    3. The end client continues to work with that middleman.

    The last clause Michelle mentioned is the real difference. It seems to forbid anyone from using any writer on Helium independently without paying. How exactly could Helium prove a writer was found via Helium just because they’ve contributed there in the past as opposed to being found through their external marketing as the business owners they are? They can’t. And their customers are free to find their own contractors in any way they please regardless of hiring one or two others through Helium in the past.

  7. Paula H

    Piggybacking on Jenn’s comment, the language in Helium’s clause prevents their client from directly contacting and hiring Helium writers. It doesn’t say Helium’s writers can’t directly contact Helium’s clients via query or LOI, etc…

    Unless the writer and client had previously collaborated through Helium Content Source, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Helium’s clients to know if the freelance writer who just sent them a great query also happens to contribute to Helium Content Source. Likewise, the freelancers probably have no way to know for certain if the publications they’re querying are currently Helium Content Service clients. Under those circumstances the clause wouldn’t seem to apply.

  8. Mark Ranalli

    As with any contract, the language is in place to define what is considered to be appropriate behavior and to protect each party. We included this language in our contract to address a specific use case. After spending millions of dollars and several years to build our writing community and our system to connect the most capable writers to a publishers assignment, we don’t expect a publisher to then hire the writer without compensating Helium for our value add in the process. This is the only use case we care about – and the publishing community understands it and respect it. If a publisher has worked with a writer in the past (outside of Helium), this doesn’t apply. With over 1,000 publishers working with Helium already, we have not had a single publisher question this clause. It’s fair and they understand it.

  9. Elizabeth Gardner

    I don’t read it as the media outlet being unable to entertain a query or introductory e-mail from any old Helium writer–just ones whose stuff it has used. It’s apparently not allowed to troll the ranks of Helium writers and solicit them independent of Helium, but the agreement doesn’t say anything about the writer contacting the outlet, as long as the outlet hasn’t run any of that writer’s Helium material.

    I’m not a lawyer, but this clause doesn’t seem particularly enforceable. But I still don’t see that it’s in a writer’s interest to work for Helium unless the writer truly has nothing better to do, given the restraint of trade that would result. I would also like to hear Mr. Ranalli’s definition of “paying well,” because the rates I’ve heard don’t fall into that category. If I’m missing a great new $2/word market, I want to know!

  10. Aaron Coates

    Helium is scamming writers anyways. They closed my account for “unusually high earnings”. I had 100 articles with them, and they averaged 3 cents a day. My Twitter accounts have hundreds of thousands of followers, so how is that to be considered unusually high?

    Plus, after my account was closed, they proceeded to sell my articles, and I do not get any of that money? That is outright THEFT.

    The folks at Helium are just a bunch of crooks in my eyes.

  11. Helium CEO defends finder's fee, dishes on freelance opportunities | WordCount

    […] the contract that the content site Helium uses for its Content Source custom publishing business in this post. The clause stipulates that publishers who find freelancers through Helium to write or edit stories […]

  12. Jenn Mattern

    Mark – I’d have to question how many actually noticed the clause. Not complaining about it doesn’t automatically mean they’re okay with it.

    And you mention a specific use case — a client hires a specific writer through you and then tries to hire them independently. But that is not what your contract language says. It says if they hire writer A from you, they cannot hire ANY Helium writer without paying you. What you may intend by it is irrelevant. What matters is what the terms actually say.

    You may think you provide a “value add” worth $10k. I do not. Many writers working for Helium have already built their own platforms. They’re business owners as well. And in a freelance capacity, you cannot introduce blanket limits on who they may work for under what conditions. They aren’t employees. And because they’re not your employees, you do not serve the role of employment agency, which you’re trying to compare Helium to in order to justify an absurd fee. Personally, I don’t care what you charge buyers. I care that you’re overstepping your bounds by trying to exercise undue control over independent contractors.

    And really, I find it odd at best that you’re talking about a $10k fee when you admit clients can’t pay professional rates to the actual contractors in question. It sounds like there are some major market problems there or we have yet another company trying to make a buck off the backs of poorly paid creative professionals.

    To other folks saying the contract language didn’t mention writers not being able to contact publishers, that’s not the case. It’s just tucked away in there, set apart from other info. Even though the language clearly deals with freelance assignments, they stuck it away from the other freelance gig mention and put it under “stock content.”

    “You agree not to initiate a contact with the publisher directly. Publishers are working with Helium because they do not have the time to work individually with freelancers. Your contacting a publisher directly will not reflect well on you and will endanger the future of this publisher working with Helium to provide assignments to many of our writers.”

  13. Gary Davis

    I’m not an attorney but in my opinion it’s a clause that cannot be enforced. Helium is trying to create “cosmic justice.” The fact is in business there is risk and Helium is trying to take a business which promises risk and create their own safety net. Companies can find “matchmakers” who will not pull such a disgusting stunt. Helium’s position should put them out of this business but then what do you expect from a company who has site articles rated by other writers with no concern for their knowledge.