Writers 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:
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.
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.