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7 Steps to Finding Good-Paying Web Content Clients

Writing Website Content is Hit and MissIn the big discussion of Demand Studios’ IPO last week, some questions came up about how to find better-paying clients. It’s something I’ve discussed before, but we can never talk enough about the many ways you can move up and earn more money here on MALW. So today, I thought I’d tackle one of the easiest types of clients to find — businesses that need Web content.

This niche is really like shooting fish in a barrel. Why? Because you can just look on the Internet at Web sites, find the ones that suck the worst, and call the company.

It’s really that simple. Here are some steps to take to identify good Web-content prospects:

1. Find local companies. Possible strategies for finding prospects: Get a Book of Lists for your town. Grab your local Chamber’s business directory, or visit the Chamber and grab one of every brochure in the rack. Or just drive through a local business park or your nearest downtown shopping district, and make a list of local business company names.

If you’re just starting out in copywriting, or in Web-content writing, I recommend focusing on companies in your town. You’re more likely to be able to make a connection with a company you can come down and meet with in person. If you have a special knowledge area — legal, retail, nonprofit, accounting, whatever — further narrow your search to companies in that industry. You may not have Web content samples, but maybe you have articles, brochures or other work in their industry, which would help pave the way to convincing them you’re the writer for the assignment.

How can you zero in on better-paying clients? Try to get a sense from their site of the value of what they sell. What do you think this company makes in a year? A medium-sized law firm, for instance, likely has a very healthy cash flow. A successful, growing retailer with multiple locations — same. You can also do Google searches to see if the company has gotten any press, and if so, if they mentioned company revenue. In my experience, business-to-business companies are more desirable targets than consumer-focused companies…it may be me, but they seem to more often have substantial marketing budgets. If a company sells $500,000 engines to automotive companies, they’re probably a better target than one that sells $5 toys at craft fairs.

Prioritize companies that are good candidates for ongoing work — they constantly introduce new products, or want to keep a blog updated weekly. Steady clients that will have work each month are always more desirable — and end up generating more revenue — than those seeking to simply add a few new Web pages to their site and call it done.

2. Look online. Now take your list and find all the company Web sites in your target geography and industries. Take a browse through them. Shortly, it will become clear to you that some of their sites are awesome and detailed, while some have real problems. The losers have important pieces missing — no strong “About us” page, no team bios, no details on what their products or services do and how they benefit customers. Reading the site, you can’t figure out what they do, how long they’ve been in business, who their clients are, who the people are running the company. These are your prospects.

3. Prepare a pitch. Take notes about the state of the Web sites. ABC company has no verbiage whatever on their home page, just a list of links! XYZ company has no media page with press contacts. RFQ company has a blog set up, but it hasn’t been updated in three months. And so on. Create a pitch tailored for each one that goes something like this:

“I’d like to introduce myself — I’m a local freelance writer. I was looking at your Web site recently, and noticed it doesn’t have ______. I’d be happy to take a few minutes to talk with you about how adding a ___ to your Web site would help drive more traffic to your site/get your company noticed/build your reputation and bring you more clients.” (If you haven’t pitched companies before, know that everything you say should tie in to the company finding more business. That is why they hire writers — they’re hoping your words will attract more customers.)

4. Call or email prospects. I’ve had good luck with both methods of reaching out, but do whatever you feel suits your personal communication style. Some writers give great phone, while some craft really catchy emails that get results. To start, identify the businesss owner (if it’s a small biz) or the marketing manager (if it’s a medium to larger one). Find their phone number or email address, and get in touch.

5. Have examples. If you don’t have examples of your own Web content work, just find a few sites that you think are well-done (by competitors of your target, ideally) so you can show them what effective content looks like and point up how their site is lacking in comparison. Business owners don’t like to feel they look lame when compared with similar businesses.

6. Be prepared to build a relationship. In my experience, your first contact with a small business about writing Web content will often not result in an instant sale (though sometimes it does!). More often, you may need to have several conversations that may string out over weeks or months as the company decides exactly what new content should be written. Start a tracking system for staying in touch periodically with these prospects. Send them interesting articles about why adding a blog would help their business…don’t necessarily hard-sell them every time you chat. Don’t invest a ton of time, as this may or may not pay off, but show you’re a useful resource who knows about how to use the Internet to help businesses grow. This week, I’m finally signing a lucrative contract with one financial-services consultant who I’ve been speaking with all year.

7. Quote a decent rate. Web-content rates are all over the map. If you’re new, start at $100 a page at least. And know that Web pages should be short — 300-400 words is plenty. If they have more to say, they should create subpages (which you should also charge $100 for!). They want blogs? Think $100 per. Pay can range up to $1 a word, $150 an hour, and more in my experience. Rates will depend on the complexity of the information you need to convey on the company site. Need to write about foreign currency trading or actuarial consulting? It’s probably going to pay more than writing about a pizza parlor.

But remember: If you quote a lowball rate, you’ll write for low rates. Try to get the client to mention a budget first, and then negotiate from there. Stick to your guns on what you think is fair pay.

Photo via Flickr user nickHiebert

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Staff Writing Job vs Freelance Writing — Which is Best?

The Difficult Writing ChoicesI recently got a question from MALW reader Dan Smith. He’s a cool guy (his URL used to be itsdansmith — great solution for someone with a common name!) living in the UK 300 miles from London, who’s built up a substantial freelance writing business on the side, while his full-time job is in business consulting. Here’s his story:

 

I’ve been a freelance writer for a few years now and I’m developing my career, so that the income I receive from writing can support my girlfriend and I comfortably, as well as in the future, any children we have.

Me and my girlfriend have been thinking about moving to London.  We have family in the city and every time we visit we love it and don’t want to leave. The problem is that with the cost of living substantially higher in London (for example, our mortgage on a 2 bedroom house is just short of £400 a month – the 2 bedroom apartments we’re looking at in London are around £300 a week), I need to increase my income.

I think ideally I’d like to carry on freelancing.  I’ve spent the past few years developing my career (although it has only been the last 8 months where I’ve really took a grip of it and pushed it forward) and it would seem a waste to slow this progression right down. However, doing a quick search on some job websites there’s a whole host of full time writing jobs available in London with salaries around the £30-35k mark (roughly $46-54k?), which would be a enough to live on, especially if my girlfriend got a job of around the same salary.

Yes, I could do what I do now and work during the day and freelance evenings, but the reason I’m moving to London is to enjoy the city.  I’ll probably still do some freelance work, but I don’t really want to be working from 9am to 9pm.

I’m just looking for a bit of advice really, Carol.  Should I develop my freelance writing career (I’d need to double my earnings) or should I take a full time writing role (and still freelance a little to supplement my income)?

Whew, lots of questions in there! But basically it boils down to: freelance, or full time? The answer depends a lot on your personality type and your ultimate goals for your writing career. On the freelance side:

Do you enjoy the hustle of finding clients, tracking down payments, the thrill of landing new accounts, the variety you get as a freelancer? The freedom to earn an unlimited amount and keep your own hours? Do you love working in your shorts?

Or do you hate networking, feel lonely in a home office, and feel nervous about finding enough work? Does the idea of getting out there and finding twice as many clients seem doable and exciting to you, or overwhelming? When you think about having kids around, would you like to be able to make your own schedule with them, or are you cool seeing them for dinner and on weekends while you work in town long days? Your gut reactions to these questions will give you some clues.

Also, could you maybe supplement your freelance writing with some freelance business consulting work like you do in your current full-time job? Maybe between the two you could have a full income from all freelancing?

On the full-time staff-writing side, my thoughts come from my experience having had two full-time staff gigs that lasted a total of 12 years.

First off, just because you see a bunch of full-time writer ads doesn’t mean you can get one of those jobs. Every employer I talk to who’s looking for full-timers tells me they get 200 resumes for every job. So odds are probably long on landing one of the gigs. Definitely secure a job before moving to London, rather than moving to London in hopes of lining one up! (And then your girlfriend also needs a good-paying a job in London, too, so there are a lot of ifs in that equation.)

A little insight on staff writing jobs: In my experience, they usually involve something like coming up with four story ideas, reporting them, writing them, and turning them in, each and every week, week after week, year after year. And all the articles are about one select beat. Or on the copywriting side, researching and completing a large volume of assignments each week for the company, about the same basic stuff.

I found over the years that there were a select group of people who could really hack it. Many came and went quickly, as they didn’t have that many story ideas, or lacked the work ethic and discipline needed to be that kind of reliable workhorse.

At one of my staff jobs, we were never fully staffed, and we even had one person go AWOL in the middle of a trade show the staff covered, who was never seen again. People with master’s degrees in journalism regularly threw in the towel.

Guess I’m trying to say: It can be a very intense grind…or you could love the challenge and the adrenaline of always having those deadlines looming. Your editor could be a screamer, or they could be an awesome mentor who’d take your writing to the next level. They could also be the type that thinks everybody should work 9 to 9. I had one editor who liked to begin ripping up the front page again around 6 pm and was never happier than when the whole staff stayed until 10. So a full-time writing job doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have so much time to enjoy the city!

Finally, ask yourself which sounds more secure to you — locking in one full-time writing job at a set salary (which may rise over time gradually, but generally won’t shoot up skyward)…or having a diverse portfolio of freelance jobs, no one of which represents a majority of your income, which give you unlimited earning potential, but likely fluctuating monthly revenue?

For me, in this era of outsourcing, layoffs, and economic uncertainty, I think having one employer sounds scary. They have all the power over my life. They fire me and poof! I’m losing my apartment in London. They also only pay so much.

I may be biased toward freelance in part because I earn substantially more now as a freelancer than I did as a staffer — and I was a well-paid staffer. Maybe you’re the kind of hustler who’d have a better income freelance…or maybe a staff job would pay more bills. Depends on how much energy you’d be willing to put into marketing.

If you take a staff job, I’d think of it not as losing your freelance momentum, but of that freelance work having paved the way to that point where you could land a full-time job in your new field. It built the experience and clips you needed to move ahead to the next part of your career. And as you say, you can freelance on the side, or can pick up freelance writing again later in your career if you hit the point where you want out of the staff-writing life.

For every writer, there are stages to their career, and different situations may be right at different times. You can learn a heck of a lot as a staffer, and it can reliably pay a lot of bills if you find a great situation. It might solidify your transition into writing as a career.

I had one full-time stint that was so awesome, such a great learning experience, and so much outright fun, that when they handed me my pay envelope I’d always say, “All this and a paycheck too!” (Thanks Don & Rami!)

Ultimately, Dan, trust your gut about which is the right way for you to go — and best of luck getting to London! Stay in touch and let us know what you end up doing.

What’s your thinking on which road is best for you right now — full time or freelance? Leave a comment and let us know.

If you enjoyed this post, you can subscribe to Make a Living Writing to get free tips twice weekly on how to earn more from writing. You can also send me a question about your writing career, and if I think it’s of interest to my readers, I’ll answer it here on the MALW blog.

Photo via Flickr user foundphotoslj

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7 Money-Management Tips for Freelance Writers

Manage Your Money as a Freelance WriterBy Carol Tice

In case anybody missed it, I was the subject of vilification on WAHM.com last week for daring to mention Demand Studios’ recent disclosure that it loses buckets of money. The discussion on WAHM turned into a long thread full of reasons people love writing for Demand. And the big one is that they pay so fast.

Some posters said they write for mills because of the “enormous” amount of time it takes to get paid by magazines and corporations — up to six months! And also that they felt a lot of uncertainty about whether they would get paid or not — maybe they’d only get a “kill” fee if an article didn’t work out.

I’d like to puncture these myths and say that it really doesn’t take forever to get paid from most of these types of clients. It’s also pretty rare to get stiffed, especially if you have a contract. It’s been a lot of years since I had an article killed, too — good communication with an editor can usually prevent stories going that far awry.

I have a pretty broad variety of clients, from major publications and media conglomerates to businesses large and small, and six weeks is the longest payment timeline I have, and most of my clients pay ranging from instantly on auto-deposit to net 15 days.

Still, I get the sense that needing to wait even two weeks to get paid is an insurmountable obstacle for a lot of freelance writers. So they need to keep writing for mills. They’re kind of stuck. Or as one of the commenters put it, “trapped on the gerbil-wheel of writing for pennies” because mills pay fast.

This brings me to my topic for today: money management. To be able to move up to better-paying clients and ultimately earn more, you’re going to need to be able to manage your cash flow so that you can wait a couple weeks for a check to come. It’s the only way to break the low-pay cycle. Once you build up a stable of better-paying markets, it’ll get easier to deal with a longer wait to payday.

Here are some tips on how to get your finances in order so that you have some savings — or at least access to capital you can dip into to tide you over — and can take on better-paying clients, even if you have to wait 30 days for their check. It may involve some short-term sacrifice, but it’ll be worth it, as having more financial resilience will unleash your ability to work for higher-paying markets.

1. Read Your Money or Your Life. This game-changing book has been around for decades, and it’s still teaching people how to live cheap and retire young while enjoying life to the fullest. The authors will ask you to write down every dime you spend for months, and then evaluate the data. Usually, you can find places to cut your expenses you never dreamed of as a result.

2. Evaluate all your fixed costs. The cable bill, health insurance, cell-phone plans, Internet fees, gym memberships — when’s the last time you compared prices? See if you can find a lower-cost provider. Then start banking the difference.

3. Examine your discretionary spending. I realize many people are living close to the bone these days. But if you’re not, add up how much you spend eating out, renting videos, or whatever your favorite splurges are. Could you not do them, just for a few months? If so, you could end up with a nice bit saved up. Get your family’s buy-in that a little short-term doing without could allow you all to be living better, soon. Then:

4. Create a rainy-day fund. This is one of personal-finance guru Suze Orman’s favorite mantras. We should all have three to six months of living expenses in a savings account. That’s the cushion you can draw from and repay later if a client is a week late paying. Savings equals power — the power to say no to low-paying writing gigs and spend that time finding better-paying clients.

5. Learn to buy cheap. When I did the grocery shopping around here (hubby’s currently the main shopper), I belonged to The Grocery Game, which can save you hundreds a month on the food bill. Clip coupons. Buy your groceries at Walmart, Smart & Final, or whatever discounter is near you. Stop buying junk food. Shop yard sales. Shop chain stores’ sales. At this point, my three kids are fully trained, and are delighted to get used stuff I find on Freecycle or my local community classifieds.

6. Clean up your credit. If you do not have access to low-interest or zero-interest credit-card offers, get a free copy of your credit report and see what’s on there. Then work on cleaning it up — call the agencies if there are errors. Make payments on time. Get a store credit card and slowly pay off your bill to build your track record of making payments. If you can improve your credit rating, you can get a bank credit line for your writing business, or a low-interest or zero-interest credit card offer that will allow you cheap or free access to money if a client is slow paying you. Another strategy: see if your bank will extend you overdraft protection to help smooth out any cash-flow bumps.

7. Manage your payment schedule. Look at when all your big bills are due, and if they’re all coming at once, see if you can shift them around. You can call credit-card companies and ask to change your payment due date. Also, look at each bill’s due date and don’t pay bills until they’re due, keeping cash in your pocket longer. Personally, I got my mortgage set so it pays in two halves twice a month instead of all at once — less difficult than making that nut all in a lump.

Have any more tips for managing money as a freelancer? Leave a comment below and tell us.

This post originally appeared on the WM Freelance Writer’s Connection.

Photo via Flickr user yomanimus

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When Copyright Infringement Goes Over the Top

Copyright Your Articles to Avoid PlagiarismLongtime MALW readers know that in general, I have a pretty laid-back attitude about my articles getting ripped off online. Since I have well more than 1,000 articles bouncing around out there, I see it as sort of inevitable that at some point, one or the other of them will end up being reproduced without permission. I aim to breathe and let go. I’m making a good living. In the great scheme, I feel, it’s not worth getting worked up about.

Or at least that’s how I felt until last week.

I do run a Google alert on my name, but I’ve found it only turns up a some of the mentions of me that happen in a day. And I’ve pretty much vowed not to worry about it too much. My energy is better spent writing more articles.

It hasn’t been a huge problem. It does happen occasionally, and I contact the blogger or Web site in question and gently let them know: Hey, this isn’t OK. Thrilled that you like my article, but you’re infringing the copyright. To be legit, you need to introduce it, then use perhaps a paragraph (considered “fair use” under copyright law), then link to the rest of the story back where it was first published.

I find most infringers are simply ignorant of the laws. They just wanted to share this great content! When asked, they are happy to take the article back down or turn it into a link to its publication site.

Then last week I found a mention in my Google alert on a site I didn’t know, clicked the link and…discovered one of the articles I wrote for Yahoo!Hotjobs was being ripped off by a free-article site. (Editor’s note: HotJobs has since been acquired and shut down, so the site is gone.) Below the article was an HTML-coded version ready to one-click free download the story to other sites, too! With a little quick search, I found it had spread to half a dozen different sites, several of them similar article databases which offered to share it with others free. I found yet other sites that had clearly copied the story from that site.

This pissed me off.

This was not a young, naive blogger who didn’t know the rules. This was a serious ripoff, and it was set to go viral.

I was surprised at how mad this made me. After all, this wasn’t even my copyright! It was Yahoo!’s.

But my name was still on some of the versions that had been mixmastered into junk and then posted on these sites. Some were titled “7 Great Job for Working With Your Hands,” while others had become “7 Great Jobs for Working with Your Hand” (which sounded vaguely porno to me). Some had chopped off the introductory paragraph. Some had no byline, some had someone else’s. I wasn’t sure which made me madder — the sites where I wasn’t credited, or the crappy sites where my name now appeared — places I wouldn’t ordinarily be caught dead writing for.

A lot of top bloggers take the attitude that obsessing on who’s plagiarizing from you is unproductive and generates negative energy. Some openly invite people to just rip them off, because they’ve made a decision not to care. And I thought, “Right on.”

Until this. I wanted these ripoff versions of my article taken down so bad!

I began contacting all the sites and asking them to take the post down. Some did. Some sent insulting messages back. Those that didn’t comply, I sent on to my editor. One by one, most of the sites have since taken the article down…though researching to write this, I found one more! This story may ping around the Internet in various permutations forever now. Even Yahoo!, with all the staff at its disposal, may not want to devote the energy required to stamp it out. They’d have to contact the Internet Service Provider of each site and make their case for getting the site shut down, which could be a lot of work in this situation.

So what did I learn? I found what happened deeply disturbing — it showed me the potential the Internet has to rip off writers and mess with their reputations.  It made me hope any business thinking about using article directories for cheap or free content to help drive traffic to their sites will look a little closer at those sites and make sure what they’re downloading is really available for their free reproduction. Do a quick Google search on some key phrases in that story, and see where it might have originated…you may be surprised.

And now, once again, it’s time to breathe and let go. This article may be ripped off 500 times, and there isn’t going to be a lot I can do about it — except go out and write more great articles. So that’s my plan.

Have you been plagiarized, or had your copyright infringed online? If so, how did you handle it? Leave a comment and add your perspective.

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Photo via Flickr user Horia Varlan

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Lessons From A Blogger’s Vacation

A Vacation for Freelance WritersSo I’m back from my vacation in the San Juan Islands now. As regular readers of this blog know, I believe writers should plan carefully so that they actually get to vacation on their vacation, so I took my own advice and worked ahead. I turned on my ‘out of the office’ notices, carefully managed my schedule, informed clients of my absence, and had nearly all my accounts tied up with a bow.

The problem was my blogs. This one in particular, and another one for a large client. For the client, I get paid in part based on how frequently I post, and found myself needing to do three more posts to make my nut…so that crept into the first three days of my vacation. Missed it by THAT much.

But even worse was this blog. I’d pre-written my posts and they were scheduled to go up twice a week as normal. But the comments have to be moderated. Why didn’t I think of this when I planned my vacation!

If I don’t moderate the comments, no comments go up, and then visitors feel ignored. I made it about three days before sweat beads started to form on my forehead. My blog! What’s happening on my blog? I couldn’t stop wondering what comments might be coming that weren’t posting because I was out. I always think it’s rude when I post a comment and days later, it’s not visible.

With help from my husband’s smart phone, I learned how to check email on a phone for the first time. It was kind of hellish, but I finally got onto my dashboard and was able to look through all the comments there. It was the usual — about 100 pieces of spam a day (thanks, robots!) and then the handful of actual writer comments and pingbacks.

I was glad I checked email, too — I ended up accepting $1,000 in assignments that I might have lost if I hadn’t responded for a whole week, plus got a lead on another $1,200 assignment I’m hoping to nail down shortly. Really helps pay for the vacation if you don’t lose too much work while you’re gone!

Then, I kept my blog going. I didn’t realize how loyal I felt toward the community that’s built up around Make a Living Writing until I tried to leave it behind.

So what did I learn on my vacation? A quick email check every couple of days is probably smart. Even with the email bouncer on, you may be missing out on some key messages. Some assignments won’t wait a week to get assigned — editors will move on and find another writer. But this sort of thing could be kept down to a few minutes every other day or so. The blog is what sunk my plan to really unplug.

Next time, I’ve decided I’m hiring someone to moderate my blog while I go on vacation. It would have been a lot more relaxing if I’d had this task truly off my plate while I was away.

Have you been on vacation this summer? Got any tips on how writers can really get away? Leave a comment and tell us how you managed it.

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Photo via Flickr user Akuppa


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Demand Studios’ IPO Reveals More Reasons Writers Should be Wary

Demand Studios IPO means freelance writers should be wary. Makealivingwriting.comIn case you haven’t yet heard, content farm Demand Studios is planning a $125 million initial public offering. This was not unexpected. We’ve already got the drill down — content mills pay freelance writers peanuts, and then go public or get acquired for $100 million-plus.

But there’s a difference here from Associated Content’s recent acquisition by Yahoo! An IPO requires a hefty public filing, in which the company has to disclose tons of facts about their business. (Since Yahoo is so big and AC so relatively small, Yahoo didn’t have to disclose much about the acquisition to its shareholders.) The IPO filing, known as an S-1, is long. But here in brief are a few important things the filing reveals about Demand Studios’ business that writers should know:

DS is losing money. That’s right, they pay you only $15 for an article, and they still haven’t figured out how to make a profit off you! Can you believe it? They’ve got 10,000 writers creating 5,700 pieces of content a day, but that apparently isn’t enough critical mass to make a profitable business model.

If I were staking my income on what DS does, I’d be seriously worried about that. Unprofitable companies eventually go bust, for the most part. Essentially, DS needs the IPO money to stay afloat! After all their executive talk about how they’re the new media model that’s going to flatten traditional media. Yeah, we’ll see about that. A lot of print publications are still making money, you know.

DS’s markup is 260 percent. DS pays you $15, and the filing reveals they make an average of $54 per article. Yet, they are still hemorrhaging cash. The company lost $14.2 million on $170 million of revenue in 2008; in 2009, it was a $22 million loss on nearly $200 million in income. They seem to have improved a bit in the first half this year, only losing $6 million on $114 million. Wow, I bet if you put content up on your own site and sold ads against it, you could figure out how to make a profit…and you could keep all the profit for yourself!

I’d love to know, with what DS pays editors, where the fat is in this business model that’s making it unprofitable. It’s kind of stunning that they’re trying an IPO with this profitability record, but surprisingly, about 40 percent of companies trying the public markets right now aren’t in the black. Sort of a weird return to the dot-com days going on.

DS is in danger of being branded spam by Google. They disclose this in the section on the possible competitive threats to their business. Hmm, if that happens and Google decides to screen DS out, poof! No more Demand! A lot of Internet-watchers believe at some point Google has to find a way to screen out these sites or users are going to turn to other search engines in their search for better-quality content.

DS makes much of its money from domain-selling and domain-squatting. Turns out more than 40 percent of its revenue is from eNom, not even from the content mill. People buy domain names from eNom, and eNom runs Google ads on empty Web sites to get revenue. Weird, huh?

DS’s timing shows it’s desperate. The IPO market has perked up a bit this year from its dead stop last year, but most IPOs aren’t doing very well. The majority have gone down after issue, which is bad news for company founders and backers. The down market means only companies that HAVE to get some money right now are trying an IPO. DS could no doubt get more money if they waited a year or two. But apparently they can’t wait.

The upside here — founders and investors may not end up with much. They have to wait three months after the IPO before they can cash any of their shares, and the way the market’s been going, they may not do very well.

As many people know, I have never written for DS or any of their ilk. But I still think it’ll be pretty sweet if we can watch the folks who perpetrate this crime against fair wages get hosed on their big IPO payday.

The other thing to know is just because a company’s filed an IPO doesn’t mean it’ll go — they still have to get enough big investors interested to price it and make it go. We’ll see, given its unprofitability, if DS can sell investors on the deal.

Ready to move up from content mills? Learn how to grow your writing income in my new community, Freelance Writers Den — get your questions answered by freelance-writing pros, take e-courses, attend live events, and much more.

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