Could This Lucrative Niche Help You Kick Content Mills?
Carol Tice | 35 Comments

By Sarah Russell

Creative agency team working togetherTake a second to think about your ideal freelance writing client. 

Chances are it’s somebody who pays well, who respects the value that freelance writers bring to the table, and who has a steady stream of projects (and, consequently, income) ready to send your way.

In fact, this dream client might not be a magazine editor or a business’s website – it might be an agency!

Although some freelancers hesitate to pursue agency work, fearing they’ll be paid lower rates, I have a different view.

Agency work has enabled me to go from content mill writer to well-paid, full-time business writer. 

If you’re curious about working directly with agencies, here’s what you need to know:

Working with agencies

First of all, recognize that agencies come in many shapes and sizes, including traditional advertising agencies, PR agencies and digital marketing agencies, among others.  Depending on the agency and/or client, you could find yourself handling any of the following projects:

  • Website marketing copy
  • Blog posts
  • White papers
  • Press releases
  • Print marketing materials
  • Ghostwritten trade publication articles

Typically, these projects will be paid in one of two ways: by the hour or by the project. 

For example, you might receive an hourly rate to complete a well-researched whitepaper for one agency (I’ve earned $75-$100/hour for these types of projects), while another firm might pay you a set fee to complete two blog posts a week for a client’s website (I typically make $75/post).

A quick poll of writers in the Freelance Writer’s Den indicates that my experiences aren’t unique.  Linda Formichelli shared that:

I’ve done some writing for the health marketing division of Edelman, the biggest PR agency in the world, for a few clients of theirs. The pay was stellar — on one project I earned $1,200 for one day’s work on a rush job. Fastest $1,200 I ever made!”

Erika Gimbel, of Fine Point Writing, shared similar experiences, stating:

“I’ve had agencies get in touch with me via my website and have done project work with others — all for $100/hour. Once I took a leap and quoted $125/hour, and the agency said yes without a beat.”

These experiences highlight a few of the different benefits of working with agencies as a freelancer:

  • Better pay than writing for content mills – Agencies tend to markup their client prices, giving them more wiggle room to pay you professional rates.
  • Clients tend to respect the value of freelance writers – Most agencies work with business clients, so they still value the skills and expertise that good writers bring to their projects.
  • Steady stream of income and projects – Frequent client turnover means plenty of fun opportunities to learn about new clients, their industries, and their products and services.

Of course, agency work isn’t all unicorns and sunshine.  Writer Jenny Schermerhorn found some agencies don’t offer spectacular rates:

I sent out an LOI to an ad agency in my area, and they just got back to me today.  They want me to come in and do some work for them (yay), but when I told them my rate (65-100$ per hour) they said ‘Oh, that must be your client rate, not your agency rate, that’s what we charge.’”

There are some definite downsides to working with these types of clients:

  • Middlemen can take a bite out of your pay – If the agency charges its clients low rates, chances are you’ll be asked to negotiate your fees as well.
  • Ghostwriting makes it difficult to build a portfolio – Taking on too much ghostwritten work for agencies may make it difficult to build the type of portfolio you’ll need to attract better clients in the future.

How to get agency gigs

If you’re interested in working with agencies as a freelance writer, there are two ways to find this type of work: apply to listings on popular job boards or contact agencies directly.

In general, applying via job board listings is the easier approach, as current postings indicate that the agency is actively looking for new writers. In the past, I’ve found agency work using the ProBlogger Jobs Board and Carol’s “Junk-Free Job Board” inside the Den. 

However, if you’d rather not sit around and wait for new job board listings, you can always contact agencies you’d like to work for directly. Choose your agencies carefully based on your background and the type of work you’d like to do.  Once you’ve attracted one agency client, leverage your experience to find similar well-paying clients.

Applying directly to agencies might not result in any immediate job offers, but having your materials on file with the right person can lead to calls down the line.  Over time – and with consistent follow-up – becoming an agency’s “go to” freelance writer can be incredibly lucrative.

Got questions about working for agency clients? Ask in the comments.

Sarah Russell is a full-time web content specialist and freelance blogging coach.  Get more of her powerful business-building strategies at Write Your Revolution or grab her “Escape the Content Mills” guide.

35 comments on “Could This Lucrative Niche Help You Kick Content Mills?

  1. Jim on

    Sarah,

    Freelance writing is a new idea for me. I’m working on my own blog, but needed some cash on the side. My first freelance gig just started yesterday. I was contracted to write 400 word articles for an SEO company. The pay is $8 per blog post ($.02 per word). Is this a fair rate? I’m new at it, so I don’t yet know how quickly I’ll be able to kick out the posts.

    What is a fair price per word rate for relatively new writers?

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    Jim

    • Carol Tice on

      Hi Jim –I’m not Sarah, but I’ll take a stab.

      That may be a fair price for “SEO writing”…but that’s not a kind of writing you can make a living at if you live in a 1st world country. There are lots of resources on here about how to earn more and find better types of writing and better clients. Hopefully you’re a subscriber and getting the Marketing 101 series, which will help you learn to market your services and proactively find clients, beyond the Craigslist ads.

    • Carol Tice on

      Not in the traditional sense…more like online marketplaces. And my sense is rates there are far lower than you’d find with a good agency.

      They are middlemen though, which is one reason rates aren’t great. Finding your own clients directly is always the best shot at good pay, but agencies can offer steady work. So it’s a trade-off.

  2. Lindsay Wilson on

    I got my start in editing by working for an agency! They are definitely worth checking out. I find that staff at agencies (PR in particular) are usually super busy. They were always glad to hand something off to me to check whether their grammar made sense – it was one less thing to think about. It worked really well for editing – I hadn’t even thought about them as a niche for writing.

  3. Amel on

    Thank you for this informative article.

    Translation agencies are another potential source of steady income. I work with many as a translator, but they are usually also in constant need of editors, proofreaders, and (sometimes) writers…in all languages, I might add.

  4. Joseph Rathjen on

    Thanks for this post Sarah, and all the good tips. I just finished (thoroughly) reading “White Papers for Dummies” and was wondering if you know of another excellent book or tutorials on the skill?

    • Sarah Russell on

      Joseph – I’m sorry, I haven’t ever worked with whitepapers. I believe there are some resources on them in Carol’s Freelance Writer Den if you’re a member. Anyone else have suggestions on this subject?

  5. Sylvia on

    One of my first forays into freelance copy writing just last year was with a marketing agency. I answered an ad in Craigslist (horrors!). They requested a 250 word sample on a specific topic (workman’s comp for CNA’s). I sent my sample that I completed in 15 minutes. They responded immediately saying they loved it and requested a full article. I shot that out in 30 minutes. I was paid and hired for ongoing work on the spot.

    The downside was it was ghost writing for various blogs (clients of the marketing agency) and the pay was only $20 per post. I was averaging $40 an hour so that was my justification for doing it.

    After being praised over and over for being able to work so fast and turn in stellar work I asked for more money. They said no. I quit.

    But at least it goes to show there is work to be had and there are still good markets in Craigslist. It is rare, but if you choose carefully they are out there.

    • Sarah Russell on

      Wow – that’s pretty low as far as rates go. Is there any way you could find similar agencies and contact them to say something like, “Another agency love this type of work that I do – are you looking to hire experienced writers?”

  6. Cat Alford ( on

    I’ve never worked with an agency before. Should we look for ones specific to a niche, i.e. “personal finance advertising agency” I hope this isn’t a stupid question!

    • Sarah Russell on

      Definitely not a stupid question! Whether or not you choose a niche should depend on your goals/preferences as a writer. In the past, I’ve worked with digital marketing agencies because my writing voice lends itself well to company blog posts. Choosing a narrower niche like personal finance will limit your available options (fewer agencies focus on something so specific), but that may be worth it to you if it means you’ll be working on projects you’re passionate about. Hope this helps!

      • Anthony on

        Hi Carol and Sarah,

        I feel like a child having a first ride on a bike today!
        My writing bench is almost empty and now I’m looking at a treasure of info I can use to hunt for more legit jobs. My light bulb lit up when Sarah mentioned digital marketing agencies. That’s because like Sarah, my writing voice blends well with what company blogs prefer. Add to that the fact that I have a strong marketing background.

        Question — is there a style or a certain way of pitching to these type of agencies that will increase my chances of clinching a job? Or perhaps you can suggest a particular way I can have a higher probability of meriting an attention. Thanks.

        • Sarah Russell on

          Hi Anthony! In my experience, it’s your samples that matter most when it comes to getting work with digital marketing agencies. Having killer posts live (whether on client websites, your own site or as guest posts) shows these types of clients what kind of work you do and whether you’re the right fit for their needs.

          Hope this helps 🙂

    • Carol Tice on

      I’ve never seen one specializing in personal finance..but maybe financial services? Certainly plenty of that work goes to agencies, and it’s related topics often.

  7. jordan clary on

    I really appreciate all the new information I’m getting on this site. I hadn’t considered agencies before. I feel incredibly grateful that I’ve managed to only spend three days with a content mill, and after all I’ve read here and elsewhere I know to stay away. However, sifting through all the different options can be both overwhelming and exciting.

    • Sarah Russell on

      Haha – I totally know what you mean about feeling overwhelmed by the number of options out there 🙂 I’d recommend picking one path (whether that’s agencies or something else entirely) and focusing on that until you either have success or determine that the path isn’t right for you. Dividing your focus in too many directions is an easy way to get nothing done!

  8. Jeffrey Trull on

    Very interesting post, Sarah! I hadn’t really thought of this before. My question is: Is there any easy way to tell on job boards like Pro Blogger which listings are quality agencies? Whenever I go on Pro Blogger Job Boards, I feel like I’m always sifting through a lot of muck to find worthwhile positions. Thanks!

    • Carol Tice on

      Anytime you’re on a mass job board, Jeffrey, you know it’s not a quality client.

      Quality companies that pay well don’t have time to wade through 300 resumes so they don’t advertise that way. They proactively research on LinkedIn and reach out for what they need…or you find them by proactively prospecting.

      In general, I think writers spend too much time worrying about whether they’ve identified a great prospect and not enough time pitching around. If you pitch a lot, it won’t matter so much if you hit one where rates turn out to be lower…you just move on to the next nibble.

      • Sarah Russell on

        I have to disagree with Carol on this one. I’ve found two great agency contracts via the Problogger job board that pay well for good work. Obviously, there are plenty of crap jobs there (and on most boards) as well, but if you’re willing to do a quick look-through every once in a while, you can find diamonds in the rough.

      • Jeffrey Trull on

        Thanks, Carol. That was my impression, especially since I’m a loyal reader of your work here. I was asking because it seemed like this post suggests using job boards including ProBlogger and others to find agency gigs.

        I am definitely guilty of not pitching enough, so I appreciate your advice and push on that!

  9. Erica on

    Hi Sarah, good post. Lots of good information.

    I’ve done a little work for agencies in the past and found that some of them require their writers to contract through an employment agency, which makes for two middlemen taking a chunk out of the pay. Is this normal?

    • Sarah Russell on

      Thanks for reading, Erica! To be honest, I’m not sure that there is a “normal.” Both of the agencies I’ve worked with, I’ve worked with directly – they paid me a very reasonable set fee per article, regardless of what they were billing the client. I’d keep calling around. Chances are you’ll be able to find an agency with better terms.

  10. Joyce on

    Thanks for this great article! I have been trying to work my way out of the content mills by looking for work through marketing agencies, so it is good to know I am on the right track. However, I do have one question. Is there any way to tell which agencies will pay better before you contact them? If they list their prices for clients, I can get a good idea of what they will pay writers. I was just wondering if there any other tricks to finding good agencies to work with or if it is just a process of elimination.

    • Sarah Russell on

      In general, I think it’s safe to assume that the higher level the agency, the more they’re charging their clients, and the more they can afford to pay you. But apart from guessing based on reputation, there’s no way to know for sure without contacting each agency directly.

  11. Vandana Singhal on

    Thanks Sarah for sharing your thought. It’s a good idea to contact agencies directly.
    However, apart from Pr and advertising agencies, what other kind of agencies may need such services? Reaching out to local businesses is also a good idea.

    • Sarah Russell on

      Thanks for reading, Vandana! To be honest, I think you could achieve the same type of results with any type of marketing/marketing related agency (pretty much, anybody who’s helping clients improve their business profile in some way). I’ve worked with web design agencies and digital marketing agencies, but any advertising firm should have a need for writers.

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