How I Scored Great Clients Off My Low Paid Content Mill Gig
Editor | 47 Comments

Freelance writers need stepping stonesBy Angie Mansfield

We all know how Carol feels about freelance writing content mills, and I absolutely agree with her.

They’re not a way to make a good living.

But can you ever make a mill job work for you? I did.

Here’s how.

Find the “right” mill

I worked for Demand Studios years ago, but I escaped and never looked back.

Earlier this year, though, someone in the Freelance Writers Den asked a question about a mill called Media Shower. I’d never heard of it, so I decided to go through the application process, just to report back to the Den.

I found out that MS uses a guest blogging model to get its clients’ links all over the web. Writers get a bio with a link to their Google Plus profiles in order to establish Google Authorship. Pay is $25 per 500-word post.

I got accepted, then didn’t do anything with them for awhile because I didn’t want to get sucked into another mill. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder: Could I make that bio work for me?

Use it as a marketing platform

Specifically, I wondered if I could turn my posts into a marketing tool for my freelancing business. By writing high-quality posts and including my G+ link, I’d give potential clients a showcase of my skills and a way to track me down. I made sure to link to my regular website from my Google profile, and then I waited.

It took a couple of months, but then the emails started trickling in. One day, I even got three emails, all from different clients who’d read my MS posts on websites they visited.

Those posts turned out to be a decent marketing tool. They landed me two ongoing gigs (both for blog ghostwriting), along with a special request to write an article for the digital edition of Business Review Australia.

Not a bad return for my experiment. And I got paid for marketing my services!

Learn from it

I should make a disclaimer here: I still do not recommend writing for content mills. At all. $25/post works out to about $25 an hour (you don’t get to pick your topics at MS, so you’ll have to do some research). As Carol has mentioned, that’s not a livable wageΒ for a freelancer.

But if you’re going to write for a mill anyway, here are a few lessons I’ve learned:

  • Pick a mill that gives you a byline, and try to stick with mills that give readers a way to find you directly.
  • Always do high-quality work. You never know who’s reading those quick, piecemeal posts.
  • Keep marketing to real clients. Your goal should be to move up and not have to use the mill anymore.

Content mills aren’t a viable long-term option for freelancers. But with a little strategy, I managed to turn a mill gig into a decent marketing tool.

Angie Mansfield is a freelance copywriter, moderator-in-chief of the Freelance Writers Den, and “mom” to a chatty bird, a bratty cat, and a bouncing baby goldendoodle.

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47 comments on “How I Scored Great Clients Off My Low Paid Content Mill Gig

  1. Sorilbran on

    This is super helpful. It’s not just me. Over the weekend, I picked up Michael Port’s Book Yourself Solid. Reading the book really helped me to identify who it is I’m targeting, who my customers are and how to better position myself to pursue the clients with whom I want to work, not just the ones who accept my low bid. Makes all the difference in the world.

    In the past, I worked with content mills for a variety of reasons – as a newbie to build my portfolio and feedback, to learn new skills (one mill trained me in SEO), even recently to increase my writing and research speeds. But in the end, it always grates on me something awful. When I think about the dozens of books I’ve ghostwritten and the hundreds of articles I’ve penned to which I have no rights and no byline, it makes me sick. I now know better. I now do better.
    Sorilbran recently posted…Adventures in Content LicensingMy Profile

  2. Mary on

    I’ve sent out a few queries to some magazines recently. I’m trying to get away from the content mills as well. One problem I have is that when you’ve never written for a magazine, they naturally want some samples of your published work. However, most of my best content was ghost written. I’m afraid the few that were published in my name aren’t good enough to get the job. Would it be appropiate to give some links to articles that I did ghost write and explain that to the editor?
    Mary recently posted…Costa Ricans are Voted the Happiest People in the World – What Are They So Happy About?My Profile

  3. Fhionna on

    Hello. May I ask to clarify something? Is Media Shower a website that pays you to write for them? Sorry for this question. English is not my native tongue so I may understand things a bit off. I am a student and I’m interested to have an online writing job. Thank you very much.

  4. Kerrie McLoughlin on

    I don’t really see $25/hour as a content mill wage. More like $10/hour would be a content mill wage, wouldn’t it? I mean, I make about $25 an hour on all my projects (proofreading, writing, blogging, tweeting, etc.) and I’m thrilled with that. That’s $52K per year and where is that not a livable wage? I only work 20 hours a week, so I get to homeschool my kids, hang out with them having fun, AND make about $20K per year or so … I’m thrilled with that! Sure, I’ll move up in pay someday, but for now I don’t mind this wage at all, especially since I didn’t even go to college!
    Kerrie McLoughlin recently posted…“The Birth of a Business” by Cory Tsuhako (review)My Profile

  5. Troy Wiedeman on

    It’s nice to hear a “Win” story with a content mill subject. The $25 per post and a bio authorship link would be a great deal for a new freelance writer. Get a couple of those under your belt, then move on to the real clients.

    I’m not a fan of content mills and I actually called out three of them in a September post for paying writers only $5 per article. I ran the numbers and determined that working for Textbroker at a 3-star rating would require you to write 25 articles per day to make an average annual pay of $3815 per month.

    Personally, I would rather spend half a day on a masterpiece and only make $50, over slaving away over those 25 articles to make $125 for the day.

    The time spent writing the $5 jobs should be the time spent finding the $50+ jobs.

    Nice post, Angie!
    Troy Wiedeman recently posted…Build an Internal Link Structure to Increase AuthorityMy Profile

  6. Shauna L Bowling on

    Content mills suck. For a while I was writing for CrowdSource. They pay was low, but at the time they offered a $50 bonus for each week you completed 25 approved articles. I was able to earn the bonus each week. Then they did away with the bonus program, upped the word count and decreased the pay. I’ve been starving ever since, but I refuse to lower myself to such low pay. Not only that, but you have no rights to the copy nor any record of the articles to add to your portfolio. All articles are written directly into their template. Now, I’m on the quest for real clients that are willing to pay for quality work.

    • Carol Tice on

      Wow, a $2 per article bonus! And having to crank out 25 articles a week to get it. Hard to see how that made any big difference to the pay rate. All for work you can’t own or use in your portfolio.

      That’s the thing that gets me the MOST, that so often mill work doesn’t even build your samples. It’s like you’re in suspended animation, earning next to nothing AND not moving your career forward, either.

      And as you point out, there’s another big dark side to mills, too — the rules change. I know so many people whose income was devastated when Demand stopped offering so many assignments.

      You don’t want to put all your eggs in one mill basket.

  7. Jennifer Roland on

    Great post, Angie.

    For a while, I was getting leads from a piece I had posted on E-zine Articles. It really is amazing where people can find you.

    Although I don’t recommend writing for low or no pay as a general rule, I always love to hear when people use unconventional marketing methods to get good gigs.

    • Angie on

      Hi, Kevin!

      While I agree with you that content mills are a pain, I disagree that they drag the whole industry down. Yes, there are small business owners/companies who have worked with mills and think that’s what professional freelance rates should look like. There will *always* be businesses who look for cheap rates over quality.

      The key is in finding the companies with real budgets, who understand the value that freelancers provide and pay accordingly. Let the low-ballers get their content from mills and aim for the clients higher up the ladder. πŸ™‚
      Angie recently posted…Workplace Stress Series: Conflict Resolution with The DudeMy Profile

      • Jennifer Roland on

        The real danger of content mills is not in setting unrealistic expectations for clients, but in the negative attitudes about pay that the mills seem to foster in writers. Just because content mills exist doesn’t mean that there are not good-paying clients for writers. If writers see content mills as the only clients out there, they will soon start to believe they are worth no more than $10 an article. They will either give up their passion and squander their talent, or they will burn themselves out churning out copy.

      • Kevin Carlton on

        Angie, I 100% agree that you should be seeking out clients who understand the freelance market and have the budgets to pay.

        But I’m coming from a slightly different angle here.

        Recently, I’ve had a spate of inbound enquiries from prospects who only want work on the cheap.

        OK, perhaps I should do something to address this on my website. But the bottom line is that I still have to service each enquiry just like any other else.

        Even though I try and get the prospect to give an indication of their budget, I still find myself wasting loads of time preparing a quote for someone who’ll end up going for the cheapest price possible.

        In other words, even though I don’t have anything to do with content mills, they still drag me down.
        Kevin Carlton recently posted…Why reading books sucks if YOU want killer copywriting gigsMy Profile

    • Carol Tice on

      And that’s when you know you’re talking to the wrong kind of client. πŸ˜‰ When price is their whole focus, that’s not where you want to be.

  8. Lindsay Wilson on

    I write for Textbroker because, though the pay sucks, it’s the most professional of the “mills” out there that I’ve come across, and it’s reliable income. I carry on with it because I haven’t experienced professional rates so don’t have anything to compare it too (yet), though over the summer I got super-resentful and quit altogether for awhile. Then when I needed money and marketing in the real world wasn’t getting any better, I went back. I had picked up a few ad hoc things from real clients, and done a big editing job off the books for my husband’s dad, but I missed the steady pay. During nine months before I stepped out into the world of proper freelance writing and went after that scary thing called a byline, I did really well on Textbroker. I I did get a byline from one generous TB client, but really you aren’t going to get more than that since you are a ghost writer on there. I did one huge “direct order” from the awesome client who gave me a byline, but I remember being really depressed when I realized how much I could have billed if it hadn’t been a mill project!

    • Angie on

      Hi, Lindsay!

      Yes, that’s the most depressing thing about working for a mill — that moment when you step back and think about all the money you could have made if you’d written the same amount for real clients.

      Has marketing gotten any better for you? Are you a Den member? There are some great marketing resources in there to help you out. And either way: Here’s wishing you enough great clients to ditch Textbroker for good. πŸ™‚
      Angie recently posted…Workplace Stress Series: Organize and Prioritize Your Way to PeaceMy Profile

      • Lindsay Wilson on

        Not really, though I haven’t done nearly as much as I could. It’s just going slowly. The work I’ve had has taken a long time, and I got behind on the marketing, so now I have to catch up.

        I’m in the Den, but not sure how long I can stay because money is becoming an issue. I’ve read most of the resources though, so hope that once I apply that, things will start to pick up again! It’s just a bit of a stab in the dark getting started. It was going really well till I got behind on marketing. The work that came in was awesome. I just need to get better at time management and project/marketing balance, and be patient because I only have a few hours a day to work on things till I get enough work coming in to afford childcare! πŸ™‚

        • Carol Tice on

          Have you tried babysitting swaps with other moms? When my first was a baby I used to get a couple 6-hour days a week that way for work, gratis. We both got lots done and the babies got to play together…was a really great situation. And I love knowing another mom is with my kid instead of some bored teen anyway. πŸ˜‰

    • Carol Tice on

      Yeah — you want to hang onto that knowledge of what that work is really worth, Lindsay.

      Ghostwriting should pay A LOT because you don’t get credit…not pay a pittance and you don’t get credit. That is not a position for professional writers to be in.

      But that’s the part so many writers don’t get — mills aren’t for writers trying to earn a full-time living from their work. When you see interviews with people who own these sites, they say their typical person is a housewife looking to earn an extra $50 for mad money or something. And that’s how they justify ripping off writers to themselves…that it’s a lark for these writers, not an income.

      THEY don’t envision people trying to pay their bills off it…and neither should you.

      • Lindsay Wilson on

        Ha, that’s exactly what the earnings off those places are – mad money! I still don’t regret the opportunity to get paid to brush up on my writing skills when I started with TB (the anonymity was great because I could practice and not worry if it was crap because it didn’t have my name on it!), but it’s hit the point where I can’t do much more with it than keep a baseline pittance income while going for bigger and better things. But then, how cool is what Angie did with her content mill experience? πŸ™‚

        • Angie on

          Frankly, I’m in awe of those of you who stick with mills as your primary income for very long. I did Demand on a full-time basis after losing my job several years ago. I lasted for a month before getting to the point where I’d have preferred shooting myself in the foot over writing one more soulless article for them. Thankfully, my first referral client showed up around that time, and I never looked back at Demand.

          I think the babysitting swap Carol mentioned is a great idea! And have you checked out the Step by Step or Get Great Clients bootcamps? Both of those are excellent sources of marketing tips and information on finding/qualifying good prospects. I’d suggest going through at least one of them before letting your Den membership lapse. πŸ™‚
          Angie recently posted…10 Ways to De-Stress At Your Desk (Workplace Stress Series Finale)My Profile

          • Carol Tice on

            I’m with you, Angie — I couldn’t write 25 articles a day of dashed-off junk! Just. Could. Not.

            It’s really HARD work…too bad it doesn’t pay.

          • Lindsay Wilson on

            Yeah I’ve heard of doing baby-sitting swaps. There are definitely enough moms with young kids in this area!

            Wow, good on you for getting clients so quickly after starting with Demand, Angie. I couldn’t do 25 articles a day. Though there are a lot of people on the work at home mom forums out there that do and are proud of it. I lurked on one thread where one lady was amazed that she had made a huge amount for writing an article for a magazine, but seemed to be seeing as a one-off and was going back to the mills! Ugh, staying away from those forums from now on…

  9. Daryl on

    I agree – in some limited cases, a mill can be useful. While it’s not a mill (it’s a bid site) I had one similar experience

    I got one gig off of Odesk, which is notoriously low paying. Although now I probably wouldn’t take a job at that rate, at the time I was thrilled to be making that much!

    After doing the work for the client, he voluntarily decided to pay me extra! I ended doing several hundred dollars work for him, AND my name was bylined on all the articles that I wrote.

    It was one of the few jobs that I thoroughly enjoyed as well, since it was on one of my favorite topics!

    That being said, I avoid Odesk, Elance, and mill sites like the plague :P.
    Daryl recently posted…My Monthly Freelance Writing Income Report – September 2013My Profile

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