Recently, I’ve been reading several discussions that debate (or just argue against) the legitimacy of low-cost content providers. Even though I believe cheap writers will poorly affect a business in the long term, I also think that content mills help freelance writers on a short-term basis.
The term “content mill” refers to a website that offers cheap, low-cost services for things like website content, logo design and data entry. And I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of the debate whether it’s good or bad for freelancers.
When I first started out, I stressed myself out by trying to query only the high-paying publications because I believed the hype that low-paying places were for bad writers. But you can’t immediately discard them because of the negative hype. Obviously, you need to evaluate the opportunities that are out there, but you don’t know if a content mill will lead you to better opportunities down the road. Although here’s what is more important..
Content mills help freelance writers earn a little cash, but YOU need to USE a content mill, not the other way around!
Don’t get used, abused and ask for more!
A content mill should give you the opportunity to boost your confidence and keep busy, but those should be the main reasons. A little financial gain is good, but only as long as you hold on to your dignity and self-respect.
So, before you start rolling your eyes some more, here are several reasons why content mills help freelance writers – even experienced freelancers:
1. They keep you active.
Alright, before we get started here, I know.. the pay scale may not be great – sometimes it’s putrid – but selectively choosing an adequate project for a somewhat decent rate will keep your mind flowing with ideas.
These projects may not have a lot of depth and shouldn’t require a lot of effort, especially if it’s for a few dollars or a handful of Euro coins. But it’s better to keep active with a business-related exercise instead of staring at an empty inbox, waiting for your next assignment from a client.
Spending too much time on social media or looking over statistics keeps you focused on other elements of your business instead of the money maker: your writing ability.
Think how the driver of an 18-wheeler handles freezing conditions. During the winter time, drivers usually don’t shut off the engine and drivers in arctic Canada definitely can’t shut them off. Why?
When you stall out for a few days without writing something for a paying client, even a low-paying one, you can almost remain in that state of mind for a while. Content mills help freelance writers by keeping the engine running and “fueled up” between major destinations – or better clients!
2. They temporarily give you material that’s not typically in your field.
Variety, baby, variety! I love the spice of life.
There have been times where all I did was write about a specific product from morning to night. Sure, the pay was decent, but it was just monotonous after a few hours – phrases like “I’m so $*%@ing sick of this” come to mind, right?
Content mills help freelance writers who get stuck in the monotony trap. Your regular clients pay well, but the material is so focused because of your specialty.
A quick content mill fix can be a temporary relief, where you can work on material in related industries or for completely different subjects. There are plenty of times where you will work on something new and you never knew about it!
For example, if you accept work to write press releases, you’ll definitely get submissions to write about some health pill, diet drink or something else that’s really just an advertisement. However, you also will find out more about fascinating topics or learn about new trends that can spark some new ideas for your freelance business.
But, most importantly, that break in the cycle will force you to refocus on your next assignment. Repetitive content can start to blur after a while, so disturbing and interrupting that monotony is one way that content mills help freelance writers – even better when that temporary break from your typical content helps improve your writing on the subject.
3. They help you get frustrated, stand your ground and say “Heck no!” to bad clients.
One of the biggest arguments against content mills and low-cost providers is the treatment and lack of respect for its key asset: the freelancers who work on these sites. And it’s disheartening to think that these companies try to recruit writers, but then refuse to support or assist them if there’s a problem.
Look.. it really doesn’t matter if you’re Craig from New York, Jane from London or Ahmed from Mumbai. We are all human beings – we all bleed, poop and eat, so our salaries/jobs/living costs should not define us to other members of the human race.
So don’t accept poor treatment from someone else who thinks he or she has a right to treat you like a lower-class citizen! It doesn’t matter whether he or she is paying you $5 per assignment or $75 per hour – accept constructive criticism or reasonable complaints, but not abusive treatment.
Content mills help freelance writers learn when people demand faaaaar too much for a small fee – and that’s when freelancers need to stand up for themselves. If the pay is far below a reasonable level, then move on to the next. If the client is an abusive fool, then tell him or her to shove it!
And walk away when you discover that someone just selling your work as his or her own. This is a sneaky, dishonest practice by lazy, so-called “professionals” who will immediately insult your true talent after you expose their pathetic games – where’s the integrity in that?
From my own encounter with one of these “writers”, your material is great and wonderful when they’re fooling you. But when you find out the game they’re playing, then your work suddenly turns to worthless garbage.
It just demonstrates that there are clients – from content mills to office buildings – who will criticize, verbally abuse and humiliate you.. but only if you allow it to happen. Even if they don’t stop this childish bullying, remember that you may not control what happens to you, but you can control how you react to it.
There are certain limitations that any human being should not allow from another. You can have a demanding client who may have minor prejudices, but make sure he or she knows when they’re crossing the line. If your potential client still acts like he or she is better than you, then don’t let it ruin your day.. it’s better to lose an abusive client than struggle to make them happy!
And this assertiveness is excellent for any freelancer, especially those who have writing businesses. Self-confidence and a flexible attitude are essential as a writer, but you should not sacrifice your dignity or ethics for a paycheck. Whether it’s a small assignment or a big project, you may need to remind your clients when they are giving fair criticism, when they are being unreasonable.. and when they can piss off. So content mills help freelance writers develop backbones – and we sure need them!
4. Content mills give you opportunities for small victories.. and a better portfolio.
Remember the first point that it’s good to be busy as a freelancer; if not, it can start bad thoughts about your qualifications, if you’re worth the price and so on. And content mills help freelance writers stay away from those occasional doubts.
For every assignment completed, you can easily add another hour, logo, article or website template to your personal “statistics”. And think about it.. even if you worked on 25,000 words or 25 logos for less than $10 per assignment, that’s still 25,000 finished words and 25 completed logos! That’s an accomplishment on its own, so don’t belittle yourself because it was done at a discount.
And, as long as you clearly state it in your offer or description (depending on the website), you should reserve the right to display the material in your portfolio. Even for material that’s completed on a work-for-hire basis where the rights go to the client, you should still be able to use it in your portfolio. I’m not a lawyer, but I would think that’s a reasonable request or clause in the agreement with your client.. come on, it’s only fair, right?
Just remember that these are valuable accomplishments, even if the pay scale is lower than what you deserve for your expertise. And these small victories can start to snowball into something bigger because…
5. Content mills give you the opportunity to catch bigger fish, but on your own terms.
Contrary to popular belief, content mills help freelance writers find reasonable clients. I’m sure several new freelancing businesses started with clients from content mills because some of us don’t schmooze with the decision-making executives or can’t easily get hired as a consultant.
Did you start earning $75 or $100 an hour after graduating from university.. or from your first freelancing gig? (Babysitting and mowing the lawn included.)
Come on.. ALL of us needed a place to start, even if it that “sucked” or “paid like crap” or whatever crude phrase you’d like to use to describe it. Think about all the unpaid internships out there.. how many of you have “worked” as an intern for college credit? I’ve been an intern in low-paying environments, like a radio station, a newspaper and a minor league sports team – it’s not always the best way to advance to a real job.
Sure, you can make contact with some key people, but that doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to get a paying job with them. Or even a well-paying job. Sometimes they assume that you “worked” for free, so you can just continue working at the minimum salary.. isn’t this similar to abusive treatment by a client?
People should be paid a fair, sustainable amount for what they can do for your business – full stop, period, end of discussion.
So this is a reasonable request to mention to your regular clients, especially after you’ve worked on several of their assignments through a content mill. They’ve seen what you can do and you’ve proven that your material fits their needs. If they truly value your skill, then you should be able to negotiate a deal to work as one of their freelancers.. but on your terms.
6. Content mills allow you to test the waters for less risk – for both parties!
Every completed assignment instills a little more self-confidence in your abilities, but everyone mentions how there are so many assignments that pay very well! And they do.. for the right person.
As long as you find reasonable clients who are willing to pay a worthwhile amount (even if it’s low), content mills help freelance writers connect with some people who really do appreciate the knowledge and skill of a professional writer. However, you don’t want to ruin your reputation or damage your pride by trying to leap too far into unknown territory.
You might be a new writer who is testing the waters with freelancing or an experienced writer who wants to change his or her specialty, but would you be willing to risk your future progress on a cheap gig or one that paid very well?
A simple $10 gig is relatively easy to do and you should be given a chance to fix it if you screw up, but the $4,000 gig will take more time and you’ll need to work with very demanding clients who have specific deadlines. Remember.. this is your first attempt in a new field – what would you do?
Established freelancers test new clients and established business test new freelancers.. that’s just the way it works in the industry. Many people don’t know what to expect and that creates a level of fear – your new hire may cover many ideas from one project, but nothing that fits what you are looking for. So content mills help freelance writers who might not know about a certain field, but it allows them to try it out and see whether it’s worth the risk.
And the same thing for small business owners who are looking for a professional, reliable writer. By having a “trial period” for a particular writer, owners can find a great writer that creates suitable material, but that freelancer must remember that he or she has the right to decline future assignments.
7. Content mills give you the chance to adapt to demanding clients, work on your negotiating skills to earn more money.. and when to trust your gut.
Sure, there’s a slight chance that you may not find a reasonable client to work with, but there’s a very good chance that you can work with a private client! I’m fairly certain of this, but there aren’t too many statistics to prove this – content mills don’t want evidence that shows how their freelancers work independently from the website.
There are plenty of reasonable business owners who appreciate professional and reliable writers, even if they cannot pay a substantially higher fee in the beginning. Sometimes the owner is going through a rough time, maybe it’s a new business.. but there are clients who intend to pay more as business picks up.
In this case, your personality, tact and patience can create great results, but being naïve or delusional will hurt you. It really comes down to your constitution and which reasonable limitations you are willing to accept before your instincts start to warn you.
For example, I worked with a client – through a content mill – who paid for a few pieces of website content. Because I produced reliable, efficient writing with a fast turnaround time, he was willing to try an off-site arrangement. Unfortunately, as a small business owner, his own budget was limited, and he could only afford a few dollars more per hour as a private client.
At first, I almost turned him down immediately because a professional writer should be paid much more – maybe that was the brainwashing message from all those money-hungry websites – but I trusted my gut and accepted the offer on a temporary basis.
Perhaps it would lead to more projects or bigger connections, so I mentally created a 30-day trial period – for the client. If future projects would sound too good to be true or if there was an argument over payment, then I’m finished with him.
By waiting for key moments to remind him how I deserve a reasonable rate, this initial arrangement started to gain momentum for his business and my own. He could rely on quality writing with quick turnaround time, and he used that as a significant selling point in his website development proposals. Eventually, as his projects increased in value, so did my rate for each assignment – it was definitely a smart move to be patient and see what would develop in the future!
Nicole Colwell, owner of Colwell Creative Content and a fellow freelancer who has gained additional writing experience through content mills, started working with a few private clients after providing some outstanding material over a “trial period”.
But the best part? She closed the deal with one of these clients to work on a $10,000 project over three months! Quite a jump from five or ten bucks an assignment.. just because she trusted her gut and remained patient while negotiating better deals.
7 (a). Some advice to freelancers in countries with lower costs of living.
Obviously, common arguments against content mills don’t matter to freelancers where ten dollars or 20 Euro can pay for a week’s worth of groceries or utilities! These content mills have been able to significantly help your family’s household income, but you should still learn to hone your writing skills and improve your abilities.
It may not matter where in the world you live, but clients rely on a reasonable turnaround time and effective materials from any freelancer. If you are truly reliable and efficient, then you may be one of the few professional freelancers in your country.
Instead of letting a content mill take commissions from your regular clients, consider working with a few clients on your own terms. Think of how those commissions could pay for dinner at a local restaurant or a visit to the local theatre. As long as you provide original, high-quality material that’s similar to the writing of professionals in the U.S. or the U.K., then you are no longer just a writer on a content mill – you can start calling yourself a professional freelancer.
7 (b). And advice to freelancers who aren’t making thousands of dollars per blog post.
Guess what? Neither am I.. no big deal.
Many freelancers want to earn a sustainable amount of income, although who knows what that is – only you know that amount. It’s not an unreasonable expectation to become wealthy with your craft, but it is unreasonable expectation if that’s your only goal.
For some freelancers, earning $40,000 a year is a reasonable and realistic amount. For others, depending on where you live, $55,000 will make you happy – actually, that’s right in the “happiness” sweet spot, according to Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert.
Sure, it’d be great to earn a six-figure income as a freelancer or a guest blogger, but not if it means that I need to go on a never-ending hunt for clients who are swimming in their bank vaults.
I like writing, so I don’t mind cutting deals and making trades with clients, even if this may cut into potential profits. It makes me happy, convinces clients to continue doing business with me, and I get a positive feeling about the whole exchange. If a content mill offers you a few bucks per assignment and you’re happy with that, then what’s really the problem?
Of course, you should be compensated a fair amount for your skills, but there’s no need to rush around and beat people down just to achieve a six-figure income. You can call me a dreamer, naïve or stupid, but I think that becoming too greedy is starting to erode the concept of happiness among some freelancers. You need to put it all in perspective..
8. Finally, as mentioned above, content mills provide pocket change.. but that can easily cover some monthly costs in your business.
You have a website, right? What about a blog? What about an automated email subscription service? OK, maybe two out of three.. but I’m sure you’re paying a monthly fee to use them, right?
In the time that it’s taken to read this long post (and thank you for doing so!), you might have finished a content mill assignment that could easily pay for your monthly hosting fee – a simple $5 assignment can pay for nearly two months at iPage under my hosting plan.
Or it can pay for 25% of your email subscription service. Or that really strong coffee you just ordered.
The fact is content mills really do help freelance writers when they focus on the possibilities and not merely on the financial elements.
Remember that penny-pinching clients and unreasonable wages are present in offline transactions as well – being a freelancer, a consultant or a paid employee doesn’t matter. But when it comes to assignments online, you need to stand your ground, flip the script and use content mills, but don’t let them use you.
“Take advantage” of these websites to gain more self-confidence, learn more about new topics and build your portfolio. “Use” them for positive gains in your freelancing business, but only temporarily – a week or two at a time – then “dump” them! Are you noticing a pattern here?
Once you’re back into the groove with your regular clients, or when your marketing efforts land a new client, suspend your content mill offers.. until you need to use them during your next dry spell. Content mills help freelance writers – not harm them – when these sites are part of your extended arsenal. Think of them as cheap, generic tools you might only use in an emergency, but you wouldn’t rely on them.