Content mills have been a topic of hot debate on almost every freelance writing blog I follow at one time or another. While I haven’t written about them here, I did guest post over at Make a Living Writing about it last year.
What you might not know (unless you’ve read that post) is that I started my freelancing writing for content mills.
With no experience and no writing samples, they felt like a god send. It wasn’t long before I realized that writing for content mills wasn’t doing me any favours. Not only was the money crappy, but I couldn’t land any clients because content mill writing is considered inferior. No one wanted to hire a content mill writer so I stopped mentioning it in the jobs I’d apply for.
Then came the realization that freelancers didn’t respect content mill writers either. While everyone talked about their clients and pay rates, all I had was my content mill work and the few dollars I was earning.
You can bet your behind I stopped mentioning my association with them fast.
While it took me well over a year to break free from content mills, I learned a few things about freelancing along the way that paved the way for my freelance business.
1. Establishing goals & decision making
Any business, be it a freelance one or otherwise, can’t grow without having some goals or targets to meet. To achieve those goals, you need to make some decision that’ll help you do so.
There’s nothing like earning $5 an article to make you realize you’re never going to achieve your goals if you keep writing for these rates.
Whether you like it or not, content mills forces you to make a decision. Are you going to continue writing for low paying content mills or are you going to do something about it and change your life?
Once I figured out I would never be happy writing for such crappy pay, my ‘earning enough to cover the rent’ goal turned into another two-fold goal:
Land my first real client so I could get the hell out of content mills and earn more.
Making the decision to break free from content mills was the scariest decision of my freelance writing career.
All I knew at the point was that I wanted to earn more. With content mills, at least I was earning something. If I left them, there was a good chance I wouldn’t earn anything if I didn’t find clients!
No decision since has been as difficult or as scary.
2. Hard work
If there’s one thing content mill writing teaches you, its hard work. When you’re earning $5 an article, you can’t afford to slack off.
You need to write 20 articles just to bring in $100. And because you’re a good writer, those articles are going to be well researched and well written – which takes time and effort.
That’s not to say freelance writers who don’t write for content mills aren’t hard workers. They definitely are. Content mill writers just have an edge in that department – desperation tends to do that.
A note to prospective clients: If you’re looking for hard working freelance writers, content mill writers are the ideal choice. Not only will they work hard, but they’ll go above and beyond what’s required because they’ll be so happy to have an actual client. Their business growth depends on how good a job they do.
Content mill writers are one of the biggest hustlers you’ll see out there. Because they know they won’t find better paying work as content mill writers, they do anything they can – no matter how unconventional – to land a client and get work.
When I was trying to break free from content mills, I wrote free samples that I would send in without the client asking for it, I’d follow up on job applications after a week and if I got a rejection – which was often, I’d follow up after a month to see if the person they eventually hired worked out or not.
I used social media to project an image of a – if not successful then a well off freelancer. I’d talk about the articles I was writing and make it sound like really interesting work – no one needed to know they were for a content mill. I’d make a big deal out of taking some time off to go catch an afternoon movie or hang out with friends. Again, no one needed to know that the reason I was taking time off was because I didn’t have any client work.
In short, I hustled.
There’s no condoning writing for content mills. However, no experience goes without teaching us a few lessons.
What lessons did your early freelancing experience teach you?
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