What’s It Like Writing for Contently? Writers Spill Their Secrets

What’s It Like Writing for Contently? Writers Spill Their SecretsWriters are always looking for reliable ways to earn a good rate writing for great clients. And increasingly, online content agencies have emerged that say they will make that easier for us.

Contently is one such agency, where it’s free to create a profile on their site.

The theory is that the Contently team will search through these writer profiles to find writers for their clients, which include some impressive brands that any of us would love to have in our samples: GE, HSBC, and American Express.

Contently also produces their own content for freelance writers, so there are actually two types of opportunities through them — writing for their clients, and writing directly for Contently.

What’s it really like writing for them? Here’s what I learned from talking to Contently staff and to writers who’re working on this platform:

The pros

Good — and fast — pay. Freelance science writer Holly Martin has written for both GE and the American Society for Mechanical Engineers through Contently. She points out the first benefit: pay that averages about $1 per word for her niche.

Nicole Dieker, who used to write a weekly Ask a Freelancer column for Contently, reports she was getting 35 cents a word or more. She and Martin both love that you can cash out immediately upon submission of your article. No waiting around for content approval before you get paid.

The high pay rates are by design, according to John Hazard, director of Contently Studio, the agency arm of the company. When Contently first began in 2010, they were allowing writers to set their own prices.

They quickly realized this type of system is a race to bottom, as writers try to underbid each other get work. Instead, the Contently team created “a rate card that tries to cover all the bases,” providing set rates for articles based on work required and the amount of sourcing, he said. That rate sheet is proprietary, so Hazard wouldn’t share it, but the writers I interviewed get paid between $300 and $1200 per piece.

A great portfolio of clients. As I mentioned previously, Contently boasts a strong list of brands who use them to order content.

Martin was happy to add GE and ASME to her list of science and engineering clients. Alyssa Haak has written for TD Ameritrade through Contently, and Alaina Tweddale has written for American Express, Northwestern Mutual, and House Logic.

Hazard said these companies pay Contently for use of their software platform, which facilitates writer connections and manages the content writer relationships.

The cons

A long time to get “found.” Martin reports that she had her portfolio up for a year before the first reach-out from an editor at Contently. That one (and the second reach-out) never went anywhere, so it was two years before she got any paying work through them.

Hazard said the talent search team is looking for professional journalists with strong credentials: “We want to see top-tier publications.”

That requirement could be why some writers find it takes a long time to get any work through the platform. He also pointed out that they tend to have clients in very specific fields — in particular, technology — which can make it harder for writers to be a perfect fit.

Dieker got her gig through a recommendation, so her advice is to build a strong network. “Recommendations go a long way in this business,” she says.

A tough editing process. This is Martin’s biggest caution to other writers who might be interested in working through Contently. “Be aware,” she said, “that the editing process can be painful.”

Tweddale seconds that. “The Contently editors are more hands-on than some of the other editors I work with.” The number of revisions often required can cut into your hourly rate, so Tweddale says keep this in mind if you’re thinking about signing up with Contently.

Client volatility. Both of Martin’s clients through Contently quit working with the platform or changed focus very early in her work with them, so she estimates she only wrote a total of 15 articles in the platform. She works with other agencies, and they tend to have much steadier work for her.

A clunky communication system. Martin finds parts of the platform hard to use, in particular the system for communication between writer and editor. Although you’re supposed to do all of the communication within the platform, she said, she and her editor started simply using email because it was so much easier.

However, Haak said she has nothing but compliments for how accessible everyone is at Contently. “They reply to emails. The chat box in the CMS goes to a real person.” Because she is based in New York City, Haak continued, she’s even gotten to attend one of their live events.

Should you work through Contently?

Based on the experiences of the writers I spoke with, it’s not a bad gig. The pay tends to be good, they pay fast — Dieker has even been paid for pieces that didn’t run — and the caliber of brands you can add to your portfolio is high.

Tweddale likes working with Contently and similar agencies because it allows her to spend her time writing (and earning) rather than marketing. So if you hate marketing, agency work can be a good fit.

But the volatility of clients and the amount of time it can take to even get an offer mean that you shouldn’t put up a portfolio and think you’ll have it made. “It’s the luck of the draw” to be selected as the right fit for one of their clients, Tweddale points out.

To sum up…

Contently writers’ tips: Build a solid freelance writing business. Market yourself far and wide. Develop a strong portfolio of clips and use them to continually land higher-paying and better gigs. Don’t depend on only one client or agency to provide all of your work.

Keep your portfolios with agencies — both online and off — up to date with your best clips. Then if they do have a great client you’d love to work with, they can find you.

Have you written for Contently? Tell us your experiences in the comments below.

Jennifer Roland is a freelance education, healthcare, and technology writer — and the guest-blog editor here at Make a Living Writing. Her latest book, 10 Takes: Pacific Northwest Writers, was recently published by Gladeye Press.

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31 comments on “What’s It Like Writing for Contently? Writers Spill Their Secrets
  1. Aashika Jain says:

    Hi,

    I recently bumped into Contently, and quickly made an account. I am wondering if the website’s clients are solely looking for western writers or may also be interested in writers from India (I am based out of India). Any tip on how to use Contently effectively such that the work rolls in quickly?

  2. Lucia says:

    I need some help . I wrote two articles on Contently and I have not received any money yet. Moreover, my account has no dashboard .
    Can you give me some suggestions?
    Thank you!

  3. juan says:

    Hi I`m “working” with Triond. Anyone here know here if it`s worth i? Just making a few cents aevery day.

  4. Cat Johnson says:

    Very timely and interesting post, Jennifer. Thanks so much!

    I was poking around Contently recently, wondering whether it was a good option for freelance writers. This post answers all of my questions. Despite some of the drawbacks, it seems to be a good gig.

    Cheers,
    Cat

  5. Josh says:

    Great post. Sadly, I’m not there yet. I signed up for a writer account, but don’t have a byline to my name. All my clients are business blogs and copywriting gigs.

    Actually, a post I would love to read right now is one about great “entry-level” sites to get a byline for the purpose of building a portfolio. If it exists I apologize.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Josh — I don’t know that it does, on here! There are so many free places such as HuffPo where you can get a byline.

      But…there’s nothing wrong with ghosting and doing copywriting! You can still claim those clips, unless you’re under a nondisclosure agreement. Try to get a testimonial from the client to put next to those clips, to prove that you wrote them.

  6. Sarita says:

    I write *a lot* for Contently. While not everyone enjoys agency work, I’ve been fortunate to work with great editors, interesting clients, and get a steady stream of well-paid work through both Contently and Skyword. In the past year I’ve written well over 100 articles for Contently clients, most of which are household names in the business/banking/insurance/real estate industries.

    In addition, the Contently crew are genuinely caring people. When my daughter became very ill in early 2015 and I had to take eight weeks off from writing, not only did I receive emails of concern from all of my editors, my daughter also received a lovely care package of books and coloring materials from the Contently team.

    I did have my portfolio up for a few years before being contacted by one of their editors. I kept my portfolio current, and it’s actually a link on my main website (which is in sore need of an update). My best advice to others is to set up the portfolio, arrange it so your best pieces are up top, and update it regularly.

  7. Rob says:

    I’ve been working with an Australian content provider for about a year and a half now. They only take writers on referral and I got lucky. My daughter used to work for them. They have offices in Singapore and London as well as Australia. The pay is very good, but when I get a new client, I often have to edit my articles to get the tone right. So far, they’ve stuck with me through the teething process with new clients and I appreciate getting steady work from clients who are willing to pay decent rates. On the downside, sometimes I don’t get a byline, but I do have permission to share my articles, so it’s not that much of a downside. I might give Contently a shot as a backup — if they accept overseas writers.

  8. Williesha says:

    I have portfolios in both Contently and Skyword and heard nothing. I have had Contently for years and gave up. Plus the portfolio is a bit messy and you don’t have a lot of sorting options. I have connected with John on LinkedIn and he’s guided me to the right people for writing *for* Contently. My portfolio is probably too “fluffy.”

  9. Nicole Pieri says:

    I just had a friend recommend Contently to me, she agreed that the rates were good and that the editing could be a pain. It does sound like a good place for people with very technical knowledge, my friend found success writing based on her experience in the microbiology and veterinary science fields.

  10. Tom Bentley says:

    Hi Jennifer. I’ve been on Contently for a couple of years, and have had a few well-paying assignments, including for HSBC. For the past few months I’ve been writing 500-word pieces (or less) for Essilor, an international optical company.

    They did reach out to me from seeing my portfolio, though that was the first instance of that happening. So far I’ve written 13 pieces for them, which are fun to research and write, and which work out to around $100 an hour, so that’s dandy.

    Yeah, the interface is a bit clunky (but they have improved it a bit), but there’s no argument with getting the payment a moment after you submit the articles. HSBC stuff did require some post-submission tinkering, but I haven’t been asked to edit anything at all for Essilor. Thanks for the piece!

    • Jennifer Roland says:

      Glad to hear it’s working out for you, Tom! They really do seem to have a great client list — which looks great in our portfolios.

  11. Michelle says:

    Contently is one of the sites I looked into when I was considering agency work. They did have a responsive customer service team- there was a real person answering my questions via email. I just didn’t like the meat market feel of it all. Having my profile amongst thousands of others didn’t feel worth it to me. I’ve had more luck marketing my services directly to clients than looking into agency work. For instance, an LOI from the beginning of the year just led to $650 last month.

    Agencies seem to drive down the writing rates, hand off work I’m not completely suited for and their editing comments are practically illiterate. If it works for some people, great. I’ve had nothing but negative experiences.

    • Jennifer Roland says:

      Michelle, I say, keep doing what’s working for you. I always encourage proactive marketing, so I’m really glad to hear that you’re doing it — and getting gigs. Any tips for writers who haven’t tried sending letters of introduction?

      • Michelle says:

        What works for me with LOIs is targeting places I have exact experience for, seems to make people a little less likely to throw my letters/emails in the trash. Like I worked on staff for some home magazines, so I tend to target home industry pubs. I have a ton of other clips now, so I’ve been branching out more. We’ll see how that goes.

        Since I emphasize my past experience, I can see where agencies might be good for people with less experience, as long as you get a byline. Even I still vaguely consider agencies sometimes. Anything to build quality clips. And paying bills is nice 🙂

        • Carol Tice says:

          That’s what I did as well — I’d scan for someone looking for my exact background, and then focus on that, rather than applying to all sorts of vague ads.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I have to say that my few agency experiences convinced me it was worth proactively marketing and finding my own clients, to cut out the middleman. Agencies take a cut! That’s a reality. It CAN be worth it, if they’re a steady source of work you love for good clients, and the pay is at least decent. But often, it seems like it doesn’t pencil out.

  12. Ava Jarvis says:

    This is definitely an agency I would work with. I hope I’m suited for them—I know a lot of high tech topics, including distributed systems and Amazon web services—but lacking a journalism background will hurt there. At least I know where to focus my efforts on getting published vis a vis journalistic freelancing! 🙂

    Ah well. I opened up a profile with them regardless. I never thought I would for an agency, because the only ones I know of want to pay you $25 for 2000 words of SEO-stuffing content. (I was faintly insulted when I was told that was a good rate and I should be glad I was being offered it. Then again, it was SEO work, so whatever.)

    The prospect of a painful editing process is actually attractive to me. I want my best content out there.

    • Jennifer Roland says:

      Put some of your best clips in that portfolio, then keep marketing yourself elsewhere. When you get a great new clip, add it in. It’s pretty easy to keep that Contently portfolio up to date, and it might lead to some good paying, relatively steady work.

  13. Nice article Jennifer, thanks. I hadn’t heard of Contently until today, but after reading this article I think they are worth checking out. I won’t go in with any high expectations, though. I view this as another opportunity to get found by clients and the way I see it, the easier I can get found by clients, the less marketing I have to do.

  14. Thanks for this! I usually work for private clients, but was approved by Contently — and promptly forgot about it! It sounds like it may be worth checking back into; I appreciate the reminder.
    Keep up the great work!
    Samantha

  15. Alex says:

    I got started writing for “content mills” after researching them on this site over a year ago. I guess I found it easier to just go to a place where I could choose my work and get paid regularly. Now, I am looking to step it up. I should go back and read all those email I have been receiving lol.

    • Jennifer Roland says:

      Alex, You should find a ton of resources here for moving out of the content mills. Check the Content Mills and the Earn More from Writing tags.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I guess I don’t think of Contently as a content mill. I think of places like Contently and Skyword as “move-up mills,” — they’re mass platforms but standards and pay and client quality are all quite different. And there’s no dashboard full of topics you can just grab and get paid (little) on.

  16. Chelsea says:

    Interesting post! I remember setting up a profile a long time ago on Contently, but haven’t done anything with it since. (Might need to check back in and update it.)

    A similar platform to Contently that I’ve used and been really happy with is Skyword. I don’t have any clients through them at the moment, but the model is really similar. I don’t think their standards (or publications) are quite as high as Contently’s, but the pay is still pretty decent and if you get in on a project, chances are you’ll at least have a small handful of articles you can count on month to month. (Plus I thought the editors were easy to work and communicate with.)

    • Jennifer Roland says:

      I’m currently doing work through Skyword, too. Interestingly, when I researched Skyword for an earlier post here (it’s linked in the first paragraph), it was much easier to find writers with complaints. Everyone seems to be really happy with Contently.