Contena: is it worth your money?

And is it a scam? The only Contena review from a paying member, not an affiliate

Image credit

For Freelance Writers Contena seems too good to be true.

  • Work from home options a-plenty
  • Jobs from multiple sources all in one convenient place
  • Online training to build your writing business
  • A “Contena coach” who provides feedback, industry insights and support

Outside of paying members, Contena is locked down like Fort Knox.

I’ve been receiving funnel driving emails from them for ages.. promising ‘open spots soon!’ but no mention of pricing, even when directly asking them. (comment on a lackluster Contena review, link removed)

All Contena reviews I could find were written by Contena’s affiliate partners.*

Do you notice how hard it is to find a less-than-glowing Contena review?

Until now.

Below you’ll find straightforward, unbiased details about Contena including:

  • Red flags and sales techniques: is it a scam?
  • Membership options, including pricing
  • Contena Scout, Contena Academy and Contena Coach
  • Alternatives
  • A brief explanation of affiliate partnerships, and why they’re more likely to write a positive review

You can understand the Contena experience without having to hand Contena your credit card.

You’re also given lots of free/ more affordable alternatives.

Given the refund policy, that’s pretty handy.

About a year ago I became a paying Contena member. All this information is first hand.

Because lawyers say write disclaimers

What’s not included here?

To provide a complete picture Kevin, Contena’s CEO, asked that I include these features in my review.

  • Company finder and Contena submissions: details of companies and publications to approach with your writing
  • Portfolio review: a review of your writing portfolio
  • Contena board of wins: members post positive comments about their Contena experience
  • Contena community (recently launched)

It’s important you are aware of all Contena offers. Please note these features aren’t looked at in detail here, but they exist.

Remote work

Contena focuses on remote work only.

In theory, being location-independent means no matter where you are, you can enjoy all Contena has to offer without having to worry about geography.

If you’re willing to travel for work, even just commuting for the interview (non-remote work), you’ll need another resource for that.

Many opportunities I saw on Contena Scout (the job board) only hired US-residents, even if the work itself was remote.

Still curious? Read on.

1. Membership Options

With the exchange rate, my membership worked out to around $1,000 Canadian dollars.

Membership at a glance

  • $500USD, basic 12 months
  • $700USD, 24 months, includes Contena coach
  • Prices vary by around 25% with discounts and promotions, payment plans are available
  • Option to freeze your account for 1 month (maximum)
  • 12 or 24 month membership only; no monthly options
You can claim a refund, but only if you complete all the exercises from Contena Academy, to their satisfaction, within the first 30 days.

Once you sign up, can you cancel your membership?

Say you hand over your credit card, then decide Contena’s not for you.

Now what?

You can claim a refund, but only if you complete all the exercises in Contena Academy, to their satisfaction, within the first 30 days.

But…what if you want to cancel because you don’t have time for exercises?

Or you decide you don’t like them? What if it takes you longer than 30 days?

Even if you do complete all the exercises, what if the good people at Contena decide they’re not satisfied with your effort?

Tough luck.

A writing program, in fact any program, willing to charge two years of membership fees without the option for a no-questions-asked refund, not even during a trial period… seems like a red flag.

Help on Contena’s refund policy, from my paid member account

Smartblogger’s paid writing services, even pricier ones like Freedom Machine, offer full access and a no-questions-asked refund for the first 30 days.

Universities don’t charge for your whole degree up front. You can drop out early or take a break (defer) if your circumstances change.

Even my local gym lets you cancel for $100, including people who signed a two year membership.

You’d be right to wonder “If Contena really is that good, why lock you in?”

Seems hefty compared to competitors like FreelanceWriting, Problogger and even Indeed, which are all free.

Is it worth it? What do you get for $1,000?

2. Contena Scout

What is it?

Contena claims to make your life easy by consolidating remote job openings from many sources into one convenient site.

“We focus on remote and location independent jobs because it is often very time consuming to weed out good *remote* gigs” — Kevin Fleming, Contena CEO

While Contena Scout looks like a job board, you don’t apply for work through Contena Scout.

The links in Contena Scout take you to a real job board (most links took me to Indeed.com), where you can read the full job posting, apply etc.

Contena Scout claims to save you time by consolidate opportunities from many sites into one easy place. Does it?

Does Contena Scout deliver opportunities?

I don’t want to say “red flag” again but…

According to the non-member preview of Contena Scout (image below), “Contena Scout has discovered 16,402 writing gigs.”

Holy smokes! 16,000+ jobs?

Clicking any of the jobs takes you to Contena’s sign in page. You can only get the job details if you’re a paying member.

For that many opportunities, surely it’s worth it.

Unless…

Screenshot of Contena Scout for a non-member, Feb 2018

Below is the same screenshot, but from my paid member account. Seems pretty similar, right?

Look at the smaller number just above the job listings.

Only 526 jobs.

The rest of the 16,000+ have either been archived or deleted. They’re not actual opportunities.

And that’s not all…

Same screen shot for paid member, Feb 2018

If you search for everything posted in the past 7 months, the number drops to a measly 110 jobs across all industries.

Imagine filtering for your field of expertise, or for more recent opportunities.

I was told this is due to a rigorous vetting process, where only the best remote jobs are kept. And yet…

When filtering for jobs posted in the past 7 days, LinkedIn (worldwide) showed 2,487 remote writing opportunities, Seek (Australia only) had 101.
And Contena Scout? Just 16 jobs.

The number of opportunities Contena offers seems a tiny bit exaggerated, in the same way the Titanic seemed a tiny bit sinky.

What if you find the job board to be less than stellar?

If opportunities on Contena Scout are far fewer than you expected, you’re advised to be less picky (use less filters, broaden your search etc.).

This is a huge risk for you.

  • You don’t see Contena Scout until you’ve paid.
  • During your first 30-days (if you want to qualify for a refund) you may be too busy with Contena Academy to even experience the job board

By then it’s too late. You’ve handed over your credit card. You’re locked in, jobs or not.

Is the job board user-friendly?

Image credit

Sometimes it makes sense to sacrifice a little quantity for convenience.

According to Contena’s CEO, “our mission is…reduce the number of hours you spend searching for work.

Personally I like the look of the consolidated view. You can easily run your eyes over job titles. The color-coding allows you to quickly skim through quality ratings, job categories and more.

But…

  • Salary information on Contena was generally incorrect
  • Most links I clicked on were straight from free, American job board Indeed
  • All openings were US-based
  • Many jobs required you to be a U.S.A. resident, even if the work itself was remote

Hardly a wide-reaching buffet of opportunity.

As a visually easy user experience, Contena is beautiful.

As a trusted source of work opportunities… try these free alternatives.

Alternative job hunting sites (all free)

  • LinkedIn: search for and save writing jobs, publish your work, as a social network you can connect with people of interest
  • BloggingPro: Comprehensive list of jobs, and blogging information.
  • ProBlogger: Excellent blogging information and writing work. High profile site, often attracting more competitive writing gigs.
  • Reputable career websites, where companies pay to post a vacancy. Mainly full time roles requiring a mix of writing skills and expertise in a specific area. As a start, try Seek (Australia), Workopolis (Canada) and Monster (worldwide, mostly USA)
  • 10 Online Gold Mines for Finding Paid Freelance Writing Jobs is a lovely list from Kelly Burnett.
Search results from LinkedIn U.S.A. (2,183 jobs) and Contena (16 jobs) on 2 April 2018.

Or simply try a quick online search for “Freelance Writing Jobs”.

In my experience there are better, far cheaper options out there.

3. Contena Academy

What is it?

Contena Academy is a set of 9 training videos, with exercises, to help you get started as a writer. Each video is around 5 minutes long.

The videos are mostly about self-promotion, and include worksheets and templates at the end of each module.

For any chance of getting a refund on your membership, all these videos and exercises need to be completed within the first 30 days.

After surveying our members we realized that most were either totally or relatively new to freelance writing. This is why we have such a big emphasis on Contena Academy.
— Kevin Fleming, Contena CEO

Exercises are typically simple, actionable and directly related to freelance writing.

I found this useful, since most writing courses focus on writing (as they should), while Contena claims to teach you the business side of things.

Contena Academy, at a glance

  • Some good points, albeit fairly generic
  • Emphasis on self-promotion, including referrals and being visible
  • Actionable exercises, like writing a pitch
  • Some links are outdated, information is very USA-specific
Contena Academy

Does Contena Academy encourage self-discovery?

A self-discovery helps you reach your goals by asking about obstacles, the time you can put in and related questions.

Contena Academy’s self-discovery mainly asks how much money you’d like to make, and what you’ll do with your oodles of cash after getting rich.

This struck me as unusual, since most writers, even successful ones, aren’t wealthy by any stretch of the imagination.

If money is your motivator, you may want to rethink your profession.

So why imagine getting rich?

By by prompting you to imagine a time when you feel wealthy, you’re likely to link that feeling to the product in front of you. Especially if you just paid a hefty fee for it.

And there you are, imagining wonderfully rich feelings while staring at Contena on your screen.

I‘m pretty sure that’s a sales technique called transference, not self-discovery.

Will Contena Academy make you a better writer?

Contena Academy is about how to sell your work by selling yourself. As a side effect you might become a better writer, but that’s not the focus.

I already knew how to write before coming to Contena. What I didn’t know how to do was market myself effectively. — Tim, Contena Wall of Wins

Contena Academy and self-publishing

Publishing your work online makes you “look like a big deal” to prospective employers, according to Contena Academy.

You’re given a handful of US-based websites like Medium, and a quick ‘how to publish’ tutorial.

Generally the links work, and the tutorials are simple, making it super easy for a newbie.

Because you‘re only encouraged to use these platforms as a way of showing employers your work, one question immediately springs to mind:

If you have a handful of articles with no followers, no comments, and no writing anywhere else… do you really look like a big deal to potential employers?

Will Contena Academy help you land a Freelance Writing job?

The Contena training modules encourage you to get out there.

You’ve given lots of templates, simple exercises, and tips for thinking like a sales person, which is useful for a new freelancer.

Without access to their database, it’s impossible to say what most Contena members experience.

One lackluster Contena review I found online also mentioned not finding work through Contena. The page has since been removed. Is it just me who finds it strange when negative reviews “disappear”?

According to Contena’s CEO, prolific bloggers Elna Cain and Lisa Tanner both started as paying Contena members, and were both happy customers before becoming affiliate partners.

On the other hand, while I have been paid to write, I have never landed a job using Contena.

One lackluster Contena review I found online also mentioned not finding work through Contena. I had a link to it here, but the page has since been removed.

Is it just me who finds it strange when negative reviews “disappear”?

Alternatives: learning and publishing

Udemy’s Complete Freelance Writing Course covers the same material and more. No expensive membership, and an unconditional 30-day refund.

To self-publish without creating your own site, try Medium or Svbtl.

Join a writer’s group, where you can share support, writing and industry information.

A basic career development course will walk you through pitching, writing a resume and interview techniques. You’ll get better information and more transferable skills.

4. Contena Coach

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What is it?

Your Contena coach is sold as an expert to help you launch your writing career.

In theory Coaches keep you accountable, give your writing a second set of eyes, and provide expert information to move you in the right direction.

Coaching experience, at a glance

  • Quality goes down significantly after your 30-day trial ends
  • Almost no technical or industry advice
  • Feedback is fast, mostly “I like/ dislike…”
  • You instigate all interaction

Most coaching relationships I’ve experienced begin with setting expectations and goals.

An initial conversation helps confirm what your coach will deliver (and what they won’t), and your responsibilities too.

My Contena coach and I never had this conversation. In hindsight I should have noticed this red flag before signing up.

Does your coach keep you accountable?

My Contena coach was very quick to reply, and supported anything I was thinking of publishing.

But… my coach has never suggested goals, recurring meetings, or any of the other standard tools coaches use to help you stay on track.

Unless I contact her requesting feedback, I don’t hear from her.

The short answer? No. You keep yourself accountable.

Does your coach provide useful feedback?

For the first 30 days (while you can still claim a refund) my coach thoroughly read pieces, and provided lots of comments.

Most feedback was “I like…” or “I don’t like…”, or suggestions straight out of the Contena training videos.

You see this a lot in English and Creative Writing courses. It’s not publishing advice per se, but still useful to see how someone consumes your work.

After the first 30-days, the number of comments declined significantly and key points were missed.

I asked my coach for advice. Could she recommend a few search techniques, or suggest any sites?
Her advice was “I don’t know. See what you can find”.

This was fine, since I had mainly hoped for expertise in Contena’s core offering — the business of writing.

Advice like “make sure your font is the right size” (it was) and “do a Google search” (I had) was hardly groundbreaking.

To be fair, a typical coach charges an hourly rate, while your Contena coach is yours for the price of your membership.

There’s only so much they’re paid to do.

Does your coach know where to publish?

Your first writing piece is always exciting.

For my initial idea, my coach suggested I find and approach a relevant local website. I had already tried this, but couldn’t find one in my subject area.

It’s tempting to think that you can guarantee success by shelling out $500 bucks. I’m just not seeing what they offer that other sites don’t for free

I asked my coach for advice. Could she recommend a few search techniques, or suggest any sites?

Her advice was “I don’t know. See what you can find”.

She not only couldn’t recommend relevant places to publish, but also had no advice around how to find them.

So no, your coach doesn’t know.

Does your coach understand publishing platforms?

Understanding a platform before you publish helps you avoid costly mistakes and deliver better work.

Before first hitting publish on medium, I would have loved any of this advice:

“Put it on medium, see how it goes” encouraged my coach after my article was ready, echoing the Contena training videos, which treat medium as a ‘catch all’.

This is a great first step because, again, you’re encouraged to get out there and write.

But if you’re selling your work (and yourself), isn’t it equally important to demonstrate you understand the platforms you publish on?

Alternative Coaching Sources (far cheaper, just as useful)

Writing Cooperative. Free to read. Join if you want feedback, options to publish etc. Membership is just $3 a month, no minimum commitment.

ProBlogger: Articles are insightful and incredibly useful. Courses range from just $7 to $200. Less than half the price of Contena, twice as useful.

Critique Circle: One of the oldest online writing communities. Relaxed discussions about all things writing. Totally free to join.

You can also learn a lot from

  • Publication editors
  • Writing groups (in person or online)
  • Acceptance/ rejection letters
  • Friends and family
  • Getting out there and writing

You’ll get a variety of perspectives, build relationships and discover a wealth of industry information.

Of course, try to give back as much as you take.

Contena and your network

Given that most jobs are found through networking, this really surprised me about Contena.

My coach advised me not to provide links to similar articles or writers in my work because “they’re your competition”.

I didn’t have access to other members, the companies were not super recognizable except that a few of them were also posted on other (free) job boards. — Less than glowing ‘limited access’ member review. Disappeared March 2018

My coach never refers to resources outside of Contena, even though there are some amazing tools out there.

For example, she helpfully suggested I create a provocative headline, but never mentioned this Headline Analyzer Tool, and these headline tips (both free).

I was frequently encouraged to publish to promote my brand, but engaging or giving back was never mentioned.

I feel like something’s missing here. Something important.

Do I like the alternatives because they’re free?

You may suspect I recommend alternatives because they’re significantly cheaper, and mostly free.

I’ve paid for my Contena membership, so don’t get any financial benefit by looking for resources elsewhere.

Given how much the average writer makes in a year (spoiler: around $50,000), I thought you might find these options more affordable, and more useful.

The verdict

Contena has a user-friendly front, and Contena Academy provides actionable tips on self-promotion.

The idea of training, a coach, and a job board all in one virtual place sounds incredibly convenient (that’s what sold me).

If job opportunities were sourced from around the world and truly remote, it would be a fantastic resource.

The idea is as beautiful as the many affiliate* reviews out there (what’s an affiliate review? scroll down a touch).

If only the product were as good as the promises.

Contena is not a scam, but for $1,000 I expected more.

I still have one more year of my Contena membership. If my experience changes, especially with the extra features Kevin mentioned, I’ll update this review.

But for now...

Thinking of signing up to Contena?

Try the free alternatives listed here instead, and spend your $1,000 on something fun.


*Amendment: Affiliate reviews

Originally I had said many Contena reviews I found were sponsored.

Instead, I should have said they were written by affiliate partners.

Is there a difference?

An affiliate partner is paid for people who click through their review (or use a relevant discount code) and buy a Contena membership.

Kind of like being paid a referral fee, or sales commission.

If a review has lots of links to one website, or offers a discount code, it’s likely they’re an affiliate partner to that website.

In both cases the writer is rewarded for a positive review.

Typically with sponsorship the company controls the content.

An affiliate partner controls their own content. Of course if they write a negative review they won’t get paid.

No one’s likely to buy from a review that says “this product sucks, click here”, but they have every right to say that.