Freelance Friday: Content Mills & Shady Clients


I’m not one to get fired up by much, but if there are two things that grinds my gears, it’s content mills and businesses/people that exploit unsuspecting writers. In my opinion, marketing is the hardest part of freelance writing for new writers. They’re not sure where to start, who to target, and if they even want their services. So it’s not surprising that a significant portion of writers spend all of their time working with mills or people that pay subpar rates. So here’s a list of reasons why writers who are looking to freelance long term should avoid these types of endeavors.

The Problem with Hourly Logic

So the content mill/client you write for has assigned you 500 word assignments at $15 a pop. They tell you that “great writers” can do 2 each hour. $30 an hour, not bad at all right? Nope it’s way wrong… wayyyyy wrong. If you’re a writer who is freelancing full time slowly but surely, you’ll realize that it’s not sustainable. No one can churn out (well-written) articles of that size for 8 hours a day. You’ll end up hating what you’re career.

No Benefits, No Problem… PSYCH!!!!

As a 1099 worker, you bear the responsibility of taking care of your benefits, 401k, healthcare, vacation, etc.. You must also factor in that you are not accruing paid time off and that health insurance premiums are not cheap. So while you may believe you’re being offered a “steady supply” of work, when you’re not writing, you’re losing income in more ways than one.

The Burnout Struggle is Real

One thing that is for certain is that you will experience burn out and you’ll want to stab your eyes out. If this is your only means of income, you’re stuck running the rat race until something better either falls into your lap (if you’re lucky) or you start marketing your writing services and get better prospects.

The Quality of Your Writing Diminishes 

Perhaps the biggest problem of all is that the quality of your writing will diminish. Imagine, the very thing you’re doing all day is hurting you simultaneously, the irony is not lost on me. Anything worth writing takes time. Plus half hour puff pieces do not hold up as solid clips to send to publications. Lastly, you’re so burned out from writing all day to even want to try and improve your skill set.

What to Watch Out for

Steer clear of businesses that say “great assignment for those starting out (unpaid), “you’ll get great exposure” (i.e. you should feel grateful to be writing for me, let alone even think about getting paid, nope!) or my favorite “great writers can do this in “x” amount of time” (if that was the case, why aren’t they doing it)

The Takeaway

Bottom line, you’re seldom (if at all) going to find the writing clients you want in content mills and job board postings. Why? For starters the market is so saturated that companies/clients put out lowball prices knowing full well that some poor schmo will gladly take the assignment. Moreover, let’s not forget about the dozen of other unsuspecting writers waiting to take your place. It’s a fantastic crap cycle.

Well that’s my content mill rant. If you’ve learned anything from this, it’s best to put in the work of marketing yourself, pitching clients/editors, etc. You’ll have better pay and work with clients that understand your time and worth. So that’s it for this week. Anyone out there that wants to share their content mill experience? Let me know!

4 Freelance Writing Beliefs You Have to Ditch

I love being a freelance writer. From the pitch, to the final edit, to the submission; this is what I live to do. Of course, my writing career has certainly not been without its bumps and bruises. I’ve made some faux pas, questioned my abilities, and have failed on occasion. Yet, here I am, still alive to tell the tale! One of the things I have learned is that there are many emerging writers who have had similar experiences like myself. As I progress in my work, I can’t help but notice a lot of my fellow writers hold on to beliefs that I once held, but discarded as they were toxic to my career. In my perfect utopian world, I want all writers to be able to do well in their respective niches, so I’ve compiled a list of ideas that you need to run from as if they were an unpinned grenade.


1. You have to “pay your dues” by taking low wage jobs for an extended period of time

So you’ve just started out and you don’t have any samples. It’s ok, we all have to start somewhere. My best and earnest advice is to do some  pro-bono work for a company in exchange for a byline and recommendation. It is a win-win situation as you get to build your repertoire and reputation, while they get some free work. For some reason freelances think they have to go the “starving artist” route and work for low pay. This is absolutely untrue. When you first start out, yes, you won’t be making six figures, but the whole point is to gain experience and then move up the totem pole. Don’t get stuck slaving over low paying gigs because you feel you have to “earn” the right to write. This brings me to my next belief.

2. Content Mills are a reputable and a great source of income

Every time I hear someone raving on about a mill they write for, my soul cries. Why? Because mill writers are literally paid pennies on the dollar (actually less than that) for their writing. Yes, it’s easy to join them and it takes the fear of marketing yourself out of the picture, but it also takes an astronomical amount out of your earning potential. Most mills pay no more than .03 cents a word, and that’s at the higher end of the spectrum. Most writers can knock out a 500 word article in an hour so, $15 an hour isn’t too bad, right? WRONG! Look at it this way, if you are “lucky” enough to earn .03 cents a word, even if you churn out five 500 word articles a day, that is still only $45 a day. Let’s not forget about the burnout, because, eventually it will happen. Yet some writers will defend mills to the death, saying “they’re really nice and treat me well”. Well, if I was having you do all the work on an article that I charged $100 for and paying you $15, I’d be nice to you too. I get the appeal of mills, it’s “steady work” in an unstable work climate. However, mills will burn you out, teach you terrible writing/research techniques, and will keep you in a rat race to stay above water financially. Not to mention whatever you write for them you either can’t use as a sample due to an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) and the fact that the article isn’t worth using anyway. I could go on incessantly about content mills, but trust me, I care about your career and want you to succeed! So stay the hell away from content mills! 

3. You have to be well-versed in a subject 

I freely admit that I had a lot of trouble on this one. Then, one day, I found the power of Google and research! If you’ve attended college, then there is a big chance that you’ve done a research paper. Writing for industries you aren’t all too familiar on just takes a bit of research, and trust me, you can do it! As long as you do your due-diligence, you can write about anything you’d like. So in short, you don’t have to be an expert however, be willing to put the time in to do some solid research.

4. You aren’t good enough

This is another heartbreaker for me. Too many writers are not confident in their abilities so they either turn to mills or don’t get started altogether. Honestly, I suffered (and sometimes still do) from insecurities with my writing. The psychological barriers that we set for ourselves are incredibly detrimental because they hinder our talents. When I get nervous, I look in the mirror and face the reality that: I HAVE to have a Starbucks fund, therefore I need to write. Ok, I’m kidding (not really), but in all seriousness, being nervous is part of the process and it does get easier over time. You are capable of having a successful writing career, you just have to get in there and get after it!

The best way to combat these beliefs is by doing your research and learning from successful writers in the niche you want to write for. I personally enjoy Carol Tice as she has such a wealth of information and knowledge. I stumbled across her site a few months ago and have been passively reading it ever since. It’s helped me tremendously even though I’m not an actual member (this is not an endorsed post, I just admire the lady. 🙂 ). If you’re beginning to write or are not sure where to start, I hope you learn a bit from my mistakes and make a smoother transition into writing. So my fellow writers I wish you much success and happy writing!