If there’s one subject that gets freelance writers fired up, it’s the subject of content mills. It can be hard to find unbiased information that gives an inside look into what it’s really like to write for one.
Newbies usually don’t know about them — or enough about them to share first-hand insight — and frequently, established freelancers have a negative opinion about them. They feel that sites like Guru, Freelancer and Upwork are geared more towards beginners — beginners who don’t know any better.
In this post we’ll be exploring whether content mills are worth it in 2016. It’s all based on my personal experience, of course. Yours may be better, or worse.
The #1 Complaint Against Content Mills
One of the most common hesitations I hear about content mills is that they are simply full of low-paying jobs. So, I’m going to delve into more detail about whether these can be beneficial, and how you can use them to your advantage even if you already have a stable of other clients.
A $50,000 Editing Contract
As a precursor, I have been using content mills since I got started as a freelance writer in 2012. Within several months of being on Elance, which has now merged over to Upwork, I landed a $50,000 editing contract that stretched over five months. The client was amazing, easy to work with, and obviously the project was well paid.
What Is a Content Mill?
This term means different things to different people. I mean it in terms of any marketplace where someone posts job opportunities and people apply or respond to those listings.
There are also content mill sites like Textbroker, where the price is usually set by the job poster on what they’re willing to pay. It’s often “per-piece” work, and it’s typically quite low, sometimes $7-10 per article — or even less.
This second type of content mill can lead to burnout much more quickly, as you have little to no say over the price. You have to produce very high volume in order to make any money and that can be exhausting, even for a new, excited writer.
The Benefits of Having a Profile … Just in Case
Although sites like Guru, Freelancer and Upwork definitely work more for you if you are going and submitting bids and communicating with potential clients, there is no harm to having a profile set up on these sites for a very minimal cost.
This is because when someone Googles your name or is looking to check you out, they can land on one of these pages to verify that you are in fact an experienced freelance writer. It doesn’t hurt to have additional pieces from your portfolio and a little bit of information about your background out there.
I am regularly contacted by clients who found my static profile sitting on Upwork, even when I had the availability settings turned off and a note at the top of my profile indicating that I only had space for one more client at that time.
This means that there is no harm done in having your profile set up even if you don’t have the time to regularly commit to marketing. That being said, regularly committing to marketing on these sites can be beneficial and this is true even for more experienced freelancers.
Why New & Experienced Freelance Writers Can Benefit from Content Mills
In the rest of this post, I am going to break down my advice based on beginners versus experienced freelancers to show how both can make online job board sites work to their advantage.
How to Make Online Job Boards Work for You: Tips for Beginners
One of the most common reasons that content mills are so popular for beginning freelance writers is because they offer an easy way to get your foot in the door. With no experience and no referrals to rely on, these sites allow you to connect directly with potential clients with very little hassle.
1. Know that Most Clients are “Pre-sold”
These sites serve as an intermediary. They charge you a fee and typically hold the funds in escrow, or have some form of payment protection in place for hourly work contracts.
One of the biggest advantages of using a content mill to obtain business early in your career as a freelance writer is that the clients are already pre-sold on working with someone. They don’t arrive on a site like Upwork without having thought about the benefits of working with a freelancer already.
A lot of the marketing and sales conversation, therefore, is already completed by the time they get there. This means that if you can convince them that you are the right person for the job, you can land that client within five minutes.
2. Learn How to Market Yourself Quickly
When you are a new freelance writer, it’s unlikely that you’ll have a large collection of potential clients, so content mills take a huge part of the marketing work out of the equation, which means you cut down on the time it takes you start earning as a freelancer. Beginning freelance writers find these sites so easy to use primarily for this reason.
There are plenty of clients posting bids every single day and it is easy to respond and submit materials. Spending just one hour submitting bids can bring in some new business if the client is ready to already pre-sold and ready to move forward immediately.
3. Realize that Lack of Reputation is Not a Massive Barrier if You Offer Value
Some new freelance writers have expressed frustration that it is difficult to land jobs on these sites without a reputation, which can be a catch-22 because you don’t have a reputation when you just start out. But, don’t give up.
Earning Six Figures in Less than 18 Months
I got started on Elance in 2012 with no professional writing experience and became one of the top 1% of their writers in just three months. My freelance writing income quickly surpassed my day job income.
I was a featured freelancer on the home page for Elance.com in my third month and I surpassed the six-figure mark in less than 18 months. This goes to show you that you can come from nowhere and rise very quickly using the help of the content mills.
The reason my writing became so popular was because I presented a tremendous amount of value and expertise to clients who were willing to take the gamble on my lack of reputation.
When Elance first merged with Upwork, none of my history transferred over for three months. By all appearances, it looked to the client like I was a beginner. I was, in essence, starting over, so I used the same tactics — showing potential clients how I could solve their problems, and I started landing business immediately.
How to Make Online Job Boards Work for You: Tips for Experienced Freelancers
Individuals who are used to higher rates may complain or argue that content mills frequently feature lower pay jobs. I can’t argue; this is certainly true; the majority of jobs you’ll come across on these sites are low-paying. Following is how I sniff out the good ones.
1. Look for Hidden Gems
There are hidden gems on the site, and there are even more hidden gems if you find yourself in one of their private elite groups, such as Upwork Pro. Upwork Pro, for example, only features about 250 writers and pairs these writers with potential job opportunities of the highest tier in quality requirements.
2. Take the Invite to Upwork Pro, if It’s Offered to You
Once you establish a reputation, you might even receive an invitation to participate in the Upwork Pro freelance group and this can open even more opportunities. Upwork Pro is a highly select group of top tier writers (there are only around 250 in the group presently.) Good feedback will help you get there!
3. Understand that What You See is Not All of What’s Happening
Remember that many of the jobs that you see on sites like Freelancer, Guru and Upwork are not indicative of all of the private jobs that are being handled between clients and freelancers who have already worked together before. This is just one reason not to write off content mills a source of business.
Because content marketing is maturing and businesses are spending money on it, the sites that provide the workers for these assignments are maturing as well, and well-paying assignments can be found on them, if you know how to look.
4. Say No to Poor Fits
As an experienced freelancer, you have a lot of leverage in your ability to say no. If someone invites you to a job with terrible pay, decline it. Like I mentioned above, you have to sift through some garbage sometimes to get decent jobs. People will either step up to the plate to pay what you’re worth, or move on and run the risk of a bad experience with someone cheaper.
5. Use the Site to Get You Through a Lull or Drum Up Business Quickly
The biggest reason that content mills can be helpful for established freelancer writes is that you can drum up business quickly.
When you are anticipating a slow season or when you realize that the business you booked for this upcoming months isn’t enough, it is very easy to head on over to Upwork and land a couple of jobs to keep you busy. For example, in an experiment I conducted last month, I booked more than $2000 worth of business on Upwork in just four days with a few hours of marketing effort.
I later expanded that effort to book myself out for a six-week period with $11,000 worth of additional work as well.
6. Use the Site to Spur You On
As an experienced freelancer, most likely you will not have to rely on content mills like these sites completely, but it can be very beneficial as something to fall back on when you feel like you have no other options.
One freelancer I know even uses Upwork to challenge herself. For example, if a new business coaching opportunity she wants to take advantage of is outside her current budget, she challenges herself to book the business to pay for the coaching on Upwork, usually landing a job that fills the gap in a few days or less!
So, Is Writing for Content Mills Worth It in 2016?
The answer is, like most things in life, “it depends.” If you know how to use content mills and to make them work to your advantage, they are most definitely worth it in my opinion.
If you’re already booked with business or getting leads elsewhere, it might be worth throwing up a static profile and ignoring it unless an amazing lead comes in.
What’s been your biggest content mill coup? Do you use them as an experienced freelancer? If you’re a beginner, do you use them or have thought about using them? Please share in the comments section below.
Next Time …
Next time, I’m going to talk about my biggest lessons learned from hiring other writers. Having your business expand to the point of needing backup is an exciting time, but it can also be a disaster if you’re not ready to handle managing other writers! You’ll get my insight from having managed a team of writers producing more than 400 blogs a month on a big project for 8 months last year. See ya back here next Monday.
About the Author: Laura Pennington is a former inner city teacher and corporate employee who fled the grind in 2012 to work at home. Since then, she’s focused on SEO content for law firms and insurance agencies, writing everything from ebooks to blogs to video scripts. She now blogs at www.sixfigurewritingsecrets.com.
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P.P.S.: I’m Ready to Start My Freelance Content Writing Career
I hope all is well! I just wanted to let you know that this month marked the first month that my writing income surpassed that of my day job.
Thanks to your help and inspiration, I have more work than I know what to do with and have successfully landed a number of clients that give me recurring work. Thanks again for your advice!
SEO writing changed the trajectory of my freelance writing career. It can do the same for you!