Freelance writing can be a bit of a minefield. For every great site to start, there are three that under-pay and under-value writers, and others that can be considered scams. It's always a good idea to research any new site you're thinking of using before you get into it.
One such site is Contena. Contena bills itself as "The #1 Site for Writing Professionals," but is it all it's cracked up to be, or is it just another in a long line of sites preying on the desperate and the ill-informed?
Let's dig in and find out!
Typically, when you read about a site aimed at freelance writers, it's one of three things. It can be a job board, attracting writers and clients in equal measure to produce content. It can be a content mill where clients post their jobs and writers fight for them. Or, it can be a "self-help" site, usually shilling an eBook or course that purports to help writers kick off their careers.
Contena (found at https://www.contena.co/) is sort of a hybrid of the first and the third.
One of the biggest red flags in freelancing is "if they ask you to pay, particularly up-front, they're a scam." Obviously, that's not universally true; there are plenty of paid membership programs, paid courses, and other frameworks where the money you put in covers the costs of operation and is magnified in the value you get.
Contena isn't a scam, in that they don't take your money and give you nothing but a bunch of free blog posts and white-label Indeed searches in return. They do genuinely offer value to writers and potential jobs that can't necessarily be found elsewhere. So, let's get into greater detail about what Contena offers. Generally, their offers can be split into four groups.
The first part of Contena, and one of the reasons they charge money, is their resources for learning about freelance writing as a career. Called the Contena Academy, it's basically a series of modules comprised of video tutorials and exercises you can do to learn how to be a better… marketer, essentially. The modules aren't about learning the skills, tricks, or techniques of freelance writing. Rather, they're more focused on learning how to promote yourself, pitch yourself to jobs, and win clients.
This is useful information, to be sure. More so to novices who need direction and aren't sure where to start than to pros looking to access a premier, paid job board. Overall, there are many much better academies out there (whether from HubSpot for the marketing angle or Coursera and the like for the technical aspects of writing). While this is one of the core selling points of the platform, it feels a little anemic. It can certainly be helpful to people who need the guidance for self-promotion, though, so I can't say that they're bad, just that they may not be what you're expecting from a freelance writer platform.
There's a "dark side" to the courses, too, which I'll discuss in a bit.
The second of the three major offerings Contena brings to the table is their job board. They pitch it as a heavily-vetted, exclusive job board where companies post listings they don't post anywhere else. Contena, presumably, reviews these job listings to make sure they're legitimate opportunities and that they aren't exploitative in terms of pricing or treatment for writers.
How many jobs do they have? Well, not as many as some of the larger public job boards, and it depends on the month. Their sample page has a bunch of genericized examples, but they aren't actual jobs and trying to learn more just asks you to become a member.
Some reviews also mention that Contena will aggregate jobs from other boards and will analyze them when you browse them to warn you if they have low rates or if the company has a poor reputation. Again, I haven't seen this in action myself, so I can't say for sure how well it works.
One scathing review claims that their job board really only has a handful of jobs available at any given time and that advertised figures of tens of thousands of available opportunities is more of a count of every job that has ever been posted on their site, even though 99% of them are no longer active. I can't confirm or deny this (but then, neither can anyone else who hasn't already paid the up-front fee, which is a problem in itself.)
Generally, positive reviews show around 200-300 active jobs, while the negative review above shows only 16. Maybe this is due to timing, search filters, or other factors; who knows? These things change from month to month and year to year, and no job board is perfect.
One common complaint with Contena's job board is that most of the jobs posted on it are also posted on other sites, including many which are free to use, like Indeed, ProBlogger, or LinkedIn. Again, I can neither confirm nor deny this, but it would be somewhat disappointing to pay for access to exclusive jobs only to find they aren't exclusive at all.
A third, often-overlooked part of Contena is their writing mentors. They have several people on hand who can offer suggestions and feedback on things like your writing portfolio, your pitches to various jobs, and your homework from their academy.
Contena Coaches seem to be a mixed bag. Some people get great advice from them; others say the advice is super generic. It likely depends on a lot of factors, such as the experience level of the coach relative to the experience level of the member. My guess is that, like many of Contena's offerings, they're aimed at the maximum benefit for novice writers, not experienced freelancers looking for another venue for work.
Another relatively new addition to Contena's roster of offerings is their community. This is, for the most part, their blog. On the surface, it's a community blog and resource made by other members of the community to help one another.
I can't dispute that there's a lot of good information on the blog. I wonder, though; were these writers paid to write for Contena's blog, or is it there for their own portfolio building? If you were to reach out to one of those writers, would they respond (you know, as a community would?), or would they ignore you? I also disagree with some of their advice, but that's neither here nor there.
It's also unclear how much you're able to participate in this community. If you sign up, can you write for this blog too? If not, what kind of community is it?
This is where a lot of people are going to hesitate, and I don't blame them. Contena is a paid membership site, and it's not a one-time fee, either. Nor is it particularly cheap.
Contena themselves are less than up-front with their pricing. They say, in their FAQ, that their pricing "starts around $40 per month when paid annually." That's an up-front payment of almost $500 for a year of access. They also have a premium membership that runs $800 per year. Of course, both versions can be broken down into 5 monthly payments instead of paying all at once, with the commitment. The monthly payments are $100 or $179 per month, respectively.
Remember, if you're not satisfied, you have a narrow window and homework to do to get a refund.
Is it worth the price? Well, that's entirely up to you. Some people need the marketing help, can use the mentorship, get value from the blog, and find jobs through it, and I imagine they're quite satisfied at the price. Others have experience writing already, want feedback they can't get from the mentors, and find all the same jobs freely available on Indeed and will find it quite a bit less promising.
There's one other issue: you can't simply pay and get into Contena. They're an invite-only community; when you sign up, you are put on a waiting list until they have an opening and decide it's time to pull in more writers. Now, obviously, you don't have to pay to be on a waitlist (that would be incredibly scammy,) but you do need to hope you get in. If you're in a hurry, desperate, or don't have the luxury of waiting around, it's not a good situation to be in. There's also no guarantee that whenever they get around to inviting you, you'll be in a position to sign up.
Employers can post a job for $99, which I assume has a pretty good hit rate of writers willing to apply.
One of the bigger elephants in the room, particularly with regards to Contena's steep pricing, is their refund policy. All across their website, they tell you that you have 30 days of a refund window if you pay for their platform and don't like what you get. However, they put a pretty big footnote on it that you "must do the work" to qualify.
The full text of their refund policy can be found here. Essentially, it boils down to this: you have to complete all seven modules of their Academy, including the homework, and submit it to them. They will judge it to determine whether or not you "put in the work" and will either approve or deny your refund from there.
There are a few problems with this policy. For example, what if you were only interested in the job board and didn't want to do their busywork? What if you did it, but they don't like how you did it? What if you signed up, realized you don't actually have the time to get into the career (or a personal matter comes up), and you need to cancel? Well, you're out of luck, it seems like.
One thing I want to touch on briefly is that some negative reviews of Contena seem to disappear, and others mention that they were threatened with legal action if they didn't. Since they're still up years later, that action probably never materialized.
Now, did this actually happen, or is someone just writing it to stir up drama? I can't say. I haven't been threatened (yet), and my review isn't particularly glowing. I'll certainly update if I am.
Contena is not a scam. While they may exaggerate and inflate the quality, volume, and availability of what you get, they do give you what they say they give you. It's just a matter of whether or not what they offer is worth it to you.
The way I see it, what Contena offers is primarily valuable for two groups of people. The first group is people who have savings and the money to throw around and who want to dabble in freelance writing but don't know where to start. The second group is people who are decent writers (but perhaps not pros) but who need help getting up and running with the self-promotion angle.
If you already have a personal website and a portfolio available, if you're used to pitching private clients and winning their contracts, or if you're an absolute beginner and don't have money to burn, you probably aren't going to get a lot from Contena. There's nothing wrong with that; there are plenty of other resources and platforms for people in other phases of their freelancing careers.
In the meantime, feel free to check out my job board or any of the many resources I'm building for this blog. Mine aren't gated behind a paywall, after all. There is a vast amount of knowledge ready and available for you to peruse at any time!