Home Feature Story ArticleBuff – Crowdsourcing Your Writing

ArticleBuff – Crowdsourcing Your Writing

ArticleBuff.com - An writer's online exchange.
ArticleBuff.com - An online exchange for writing talent.

Andrew Elliot is a self-confessed serial entrepreneur and, he readily admits, one who has ‘failed’ often. The founder of ArticleBuff – an online marketplace and resource site for writers – has previously started many other online ventures that have either spluttered to a halt or sold off at fire-sale prices, but he chooses to view those experiences positively.

“I do not see those past ventures as (true) failures,” states Andrew. “I use them to understand what I did wrong, and how I can better myself as a businessman and entrepreneur.” 

Learning From Failure

In fact, the inspiration for ArticleBuff  stemmed from a previous failure. One of Andrew’s ventures was an automobile blog, and he was looking for someone who could contribute an article or two to the blog. He found a self-proclaimed US-based freelance automotive enthusiast on a popular online freelance job-matching site, and agreed on a fee and key deliverables. When the deadline arrived, however, he found that the quality of work was simply not up to par.

So Andrew thought – what if he could have seen the writing before he paid up? “But I didn’t stop there and began thinking about a contest style format where I could choose from a range of entries, provide feedback and choose the one that best suits what I needed.”

“I later learned that this was called crowdsourcing.”

The idea for ArticleBuff was thus born, and funnily enough it began like how most ventures are rumored to start – on a napkin. “Clichéd, I know,” Andrew laughs. “However clichéd it may be, we have created a business that helps solve a problem for employers and writers.”

Sourcing For Writing Talent

Like most good ideas, the concept for ArticleBuff is inherently simple. Writers search for projects on the site that employers put up and submit their work, employers pick from the submissions and decide which one they will pay for. It’s crowdsourcing of writing talent like what CrowdSPRING is for creative ideas and Phokki is for digital art.

ArticleBuff‘s unique selling point is compelling – it alleviates the risk involved with normal freelance sites by allowing the user to preview a range of work submitted by talented writers before deciding on which to award the prize money to.  As for its revenue model,  it simply charges employers a nominal one-time fee to post a project. No commissions are taken. “It is absolutely free for writers to join and enter a project.”

“We target two types of users; writers and employers. The writers can be anybody, from well-established blog writers who want guest blog post work to non-established freelancers looking to make a little extra money,” Andrew explains. “On the employer end we are looking for blog owners who need something written as well as website owners who just need a piece of copy written or a full-blown press release.”

Andrew admits that signups on the site has been low to date, but in his defence, he says that they’ve only recently announced their public beta and has just begun their marketing.

Users Come First

To grow the site, ArticleBuff is already looking at improvements to its user interface and graphics. It is also looking to add a forum at a later date.

“For the most part, however, we just want to keep to the needs of our users first and provide a great environment for employers and writers to get work done.” In fact, Andrew says the biggest lesson he’s learnt throughout his entire career as an entrepreneur is that the user comes first, no matter what. “That’s why I love sites like UserVoice because the potential to listen to your users is amazing.”

Andrew declares that ArticleBuff‘s greatest achievement has been that they’ve not had outside venture capitalists or angel investors throwing money at them, and that’s how they want it to be.

“We want to be able to call the shots without having to answer to investors because, to be honest, investors don’t always do what’s best for the user like we want to. We understand and respect investors to the utmost, however it was just not for us. We personally wanted to be able to always make sure the user came first, which we felt would be in jeopardy if we took on investors.” 

The ArticleBuff team is a collage of different cultures and backgrounds, with coders based in Michigan and Vietnam while Andrew himself is based in Orange County, California. “By using freelancers and family connections we were able to keep costs down in a project that would have otherwise cost twice to three times as much.” The startup is currently self-funded with money from Andrew and some of his friends. He is unwilling to disclose the actual amount funded, except to say it totals less than US$500,000.

Views on Entrepreneurship

One lesson he’s learnt, Andrew says, is that when building a business it’s critical to work at solving a problem or illicit such a strong feeling from a person that they are willing to purchase your product, instead of focusing solely on money. It’s something Andrew learnt from MJ DeMarco, the former founder and CEO of Limos.com and current owner of Fastlanetomillions.com, and he urges anyone wanting to create a business online to think similarly.

“I view entrepreneurship as a way to ultimately give back to the community,” says Andrew. “The way I want to do this is by providing services and products that solve a problem or a need; the money is just a nice bonus.”

It’s also about passion, he adds, as he wouldn’t be just as happy if he just slogged away at a normal job. “The challenge of creating something out of nothing is a huge draw and coupled with the will to succeed can only mean this isn’t going to be my first Internet startup,” Andrew predicts.


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  3. I just went to their web site and it says…

    The domain articlebuff.com may be for sale by its owner!

    Guess it didn’t work out after all.

    • Hi Hun Boon,

      Yes it’s a valuable lesson to learn that even a good idea has a chance of failing if other factors are not in place.

      Many of the startups and ideas that I write about may not be around next year. It can be downright depressing, but c’est la vie.

      • I think the critical difference between crowd-sourcing articles and logos is that it’s much faster to design a logo than to write. Besides, you can always recycle graphics/ideas for future use.

        Articles, on the other hand, are highly specific to the topic and require a huge investment of time.

        On hindsight, this idea isn’t that good after all.

        • Hi Hun Boon,

          Designing a logo can actually take quite long as well, especially at the ideation stage.

          I think fundamentally ArticleBuff needed to position itself not only against the traditional copwriting services, but also other online matchmaking services such as elance.com. So the challenge was to provide a more efficient service and scale quickly, which can be very difficult.

  4. Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for the quick reply to Bob.

    Bob: In a market where supply far outstrips demand, the freelance writing industry definitely looks unbalanced. And yes, it does look like there’s a potential for abuse by employers. But in the end, we can hope that the wisdom of crowds will sieve out exploitative employers.

    In any case, freelance writers are free – pardon the pun – to choose whether or not to participate. 1% for $5 can be better odds than 100% of $0 for some writers.

  5. I completely understand where you are coming from Bob.
    However, we allow the user to use the site in many multiple ways. Users can use the site in a contest style format, or just as a simple freelance site. The upload feature to “enter” a project can be used as a contest or as a way for the freelancer to showcase a specific article sample that they feel pertains to the project at hand.

    A way that our users think of the site is to use it as a way to get experience. With that experience, whether they win the contest or not, they can use that as a sample for their freelance portfolio or on a future resume they will present to an employer.

    We are very open to user suggestions, please let us know if you have anything we could change to make the experience better. You can contact us here support[at]articlebuff[dot]com . All of our e-mails are answered personally by our U.S. based support staff. Thanks, Bob.

  6. To be honest, it seems useless for a real freelancer – I can’t see what the motivation is. From what I’ve read, it goes as follows:

    1) Find a posted job

    2) Spend time writing an article

    3) Submit the article for a 1% chance it’ll get accepted and you get paid $5 for it

    Sounds like an even scummier place than e-lance.

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