How Writing for Content Mills Can Hurt Your Career in the Long Run

writing for content mills

You all know how much I hate content mills.  Today, guest blogger Sarah Li Cain explores all the reasons these clients really, truly suck…

When I started freelancing, all I wanted to do was get paid right away and never thought of much else. Unfortunately, writing for content mills was probably the worst decision I’ve ever made.  Yes, I didn’t get paid much, but that’s beside the point. Writing for content mills had an impact not only on me emotionally, but creatively too. I was setting myself up for failure in the long run!

I’m here to tell you how content mills hurt me so that it doesn’t happen to you.

Getting Burnt Out

I wrote a lot of articles in the beginning that paid pennies. All I did was stress out over how many I had to complete to make a decent living. A week and half into it I was already burnt out.  My brain literally froze at the thought of writing another article. During this time I didn’t even bother setting up a portfolio, trying to make contacts, or even coming up with a plan on how to grow my business. I was so tired all I wanted to do was park my butt in front of the TV and watch cartoons all day.  If I wasn’t so persistent I probably would have given up.

Don’t get burnt out. It’s not good for your physical or mental health.  That kind of stress can easily spill over to your personal life. You don’t want to risk jeopardizing any relationships just to make a few bucks.

No Creative Freedom

I never had a real conversation with clients of content mills.  All they did was gave me the number of words they wanted and a few keywords they wanted me to include. They didn’t care about my ideas or my style of writing as long as I could produce articles.  Many just wanted anything written quickly so there was no time to fully develop any ideas.

I found out very quickly that if I wanted to be valued for my writing I needed to find clients that want my ideas.  I needed to have creative freedom in order to pitch great ideas that can help my clients’ businesses grow. If I was not able to help them, then these clients could easily move onto another person who can.

Decreased Quality in Your Writing

I remember getting an assignment for an article that needed a certain number of keywords. I was not allowed to alter the keywords so they could fit better into the sentence.The client didn’t even allow me to change a singular noun into a plural so it would make grammatical sense!  What ended up happening was that I inserted the keywords without care and rushed through the job.  I didn’t even look it over before I submitted it.

What really drove me bonkers was that the client actually approved the article! How could that horrible piece of writing be ok to post? At the end of the day, all they wanted was for my article to pass Copyscape.

I was really ashamed of myself after this and I swore I would never do it again. I wanted clients that had high standards and I wanted real feedback on the quality of my writing. If I continued to write for content mills, then the quality of my writing would only get worse. If you don’t take the time to perfect your skill, then how could you possibly aim for more lucrative jobs? Would you rather earn a reputation as an excellent writer, or one that can just write articles quickly?

Not Learning the Value of Patience

I completely ignored the advice that good things come to those who wait. Content mills take advantage of people who want to get paid to write right away. They promise daily work immediately. I fell into that trap once, but not anymore.  Many beginners fail to recognize that it takes time to secure regular well-paying work. Some clients might ask for a trial run to decide if you’re a good fit, or they may take a little longer to get back to you because they’re interviewing so many writers.   When I was ready to give up, I landed an awesome gig after doing a trial run for two weeks. I also landed another client through weeks of email conversations. It takes time my friends. If you are persistent it will all work out in the end.

If you are seriously considering a career in freelance writing, don’t let your primary focus be money. Yes, it’s nice to get paid right away, but you need to change your perspective on how your actions will impact you in the long run. Be patient, cultivate your skills and make connections to help you in your career. Trust me, content mills are NOT the way to go.

Got any good content mill horror stories to share?  Post your experiences in the comments section below!

Sarah Li Cain is an international educator and freelance writer. She blogs to document on how she is reclaiming her fearlessness in life and wants to help others do the same.  You can also follow her on twitter @slicain

Image: Pixabay

Comments

Rob
Reply

This is an excellent point. Content mills have killed the careers of many a budding freelancer. Like yourself I started writing for pennies, the sad thing is I was actually quite good at it!

It didn’t take long realize that I was under selling my work, in fact I was stifling my future rate card. Needless to say I stopped writing crap and started writing for myself, its the best decision I’ve ever made.

Many newbies take the mill route and justify it by saying ” this is where I’ll learn the craft”, stop right there because you won’t!

By it’s very nature freelance writing is a creative activity, if creativity is taken away it’s just meaningless words on a page.

Great post

Rob

Halina
Reply

I actually had much better outcomes with my content mill clients; some of them found me outside the mill and started sending me work directly. In that way, I was able to gain real live clients who gave me feedback and a much higher pay rate. My content was largely ghosted, so I still had no viable clips to show off. But, it was way better than strict mill work.

I still recommend content mills to writers who are just starting out; however, the issue with writing for mills is that they make you lazy. You lose all incentive to go out and pitch to clients directly, you don’t build up clips and thus credibility, and you often languish in mediocrity for years because no one is editing your content. That’s why content mills might be OK for a starting writer who needs to learn about deadlines and keywords- but staying in content mills any longer than six months is overkill.

Sarah Russell
Reply

That’s a great point, Halina – and I’d be lying if I said I don’t owe my own start to the mills. Glad to hear you were able to translate that work into something more lucrative, and I definitely agree with your suggestion that six months be considered a “Get out of Dodge” time limit on that type of work.

Gracie
Reply

This isn’t so much a question about content mills, but I did have a question about article-writing companies. I tried to search for answers via Google and got nowhere–and if someone could answer my questions, I’d be grateful to you:

How do article-writing companies work? I know they take on clients and pay a team of writers a set price to churn out a number of articles each week. I’ve worked for at least two within the last few months as a new freelance writer–at $5 per 500-word article. But I can’t churn out articles quickly enough to have payments that add up to enough to survive on.

What is the fair price to receive per article? And do article-writing companies make profits by charging their clients a lot and generally paying their writers a low rate? Like I said, I’ve relatively new to freelance writing…

Thank you.

Sarah Russell
Reply

Hi Gracie,

The type of article-writing companies you’re describing are pretty much synonymous with content mills. They pay writers between $3-10/article and charge their clients little more than this for the finished work. Their margins aren’t huge, but because many of their workers are based outside of the US, these rates are sustainable for people in areas of the world with lower costs of living. Don’t worry that you can’t churn out enough to survive at that rate – it’s pretty impossible to do so in the US.

As far as fair rates go, $35-50/article should be a bare minimum for new writers (and yes, these rates are both possible and out there, as some companies really do value well-written content). I typically earn between $75-100/article, but have made as much as $250/post.

Hope this helps!

Gracie
Reply

Ah. So that’s how those article-writing companies work!

Thanks for answering all my questions. Freelance writing has been kind of a live-and-learn experience for me so far, and it’s great to speak with an expert.
Hearing that $35 to $50 per article should be the minimum is an eye-opener. Most of the writing assignments I’ve gotten have tended to come through Elance, and the posted rates for the article-related jobs there are usually that very low.
Do you have any suggestions for places I could go to find good article-writing work that pays well?

Gracie
Reply

Oops. I meant, “…and the posted rates for the article-related jobs there are usually very low.”

😀

Thanks again!

Gracie

Thank you so much for these great resources, Sarah! I just subscribed to your mailing list and look forward to learning more from you about a successful freelance writing career. ^_^

You’re the best!

Gracie
Reply

Ooh. Thank you! This is such a comprehensive list. Hey, you’re right. The first site listed looks amazing (and obviously one of the best ever made for beginning writers). I’ll have to try submitting something. ;D

Wow. This site is definitely life-changing. Before coming here, I was beginning to wonder how I’d ever make it following my passion as a creative writer.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Sarah Russell
Reply

Thank you so much for your kind words! So glad to hear you’re finding the site helpful, and please feel free to shoot me an email if you have any specific questions I can answer.

Best of luck with your writing career 🙂

Gracie
Reply

It’s an honor, and I will. ^0^

Tom King
Reply

Life is a marathon and not a sprint!

Patrick
Reply

Great post, Sarah! I tried content mills at first, but I quickly realized I’d have to do ridiculous amounts of work for a middling return. I did read those success stories, but I needed work that paid better, paid faster, and that I could proudly show off!

Sarah Li Cain
Reply

That’s right Peter! I am still coming to terms with work I’m proud of. It’s hard when you’re starting out and worrying how this type of career can sustain itself in the long run. This is truly the first time I’m running a business and it definitely hasn’t been easy.

David Hood
Reply

Content mills encourage writers to write quantities of articles that quality is compromised. For a budding writer, it does hurt the career because instead of being challenged on the depth of the articles, speed of completing one is the name of the game.

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