Shortly after I started freelancing a fellow writer told me about this website that had thousands of article titles to choose from, paid every few days and was guaranteed work whenever I wanted it. I jumped at the chance. That was in 2009. Fast-forward six years and I’ve moved on. As a recently reformed content mill junkie, I’m going to share my thoughts on why this is NOT the place to create your career.
1. The pay sucks -- seriously. When I started, I was writing $7.50 articles. Eventually I was making $25 an article. But, in the grand scheme of the online writing world that really isn’t a decent wage. Private clients will pay you more. How much more? It depends. It could be $50, or it might be $500. I have blogging friends who won’t write a guest post or a sponsored post for less than $150. So, why on Earth is it ok to pay someone $7.50 for the same amount of work?
2. There’s no negotiation. I’m a terrible negotiator. That said, I’ve managed to get a fair price from almost all of my clients through the process. With content mills the pay is standard across the board. You accept it, or you don’t.
3. It’s boring. My topic of choice is ‘kids’ art activities’. Second to this is ‘parenting’. I actually started my blog out of frustration brought upon by not being able to write about what I truly loved. If you don’t particularly mind writing a dozen articles about emergency dental procedures one day, decorating tips for middle-aged men the next and fascinating facts about oak trees after that, content mills might be a perfect match. On the other hand, if you want to use your professional or educational background, don’t do it.
4. It’s kind of weird. Some mills use a computer-generated titling or keyword selection tool. This makes the content somewhat off. I’ve written stupendously stupid titles such as, “Places to Hang My Purse” (um, if you can’t figure this one out on your own, you’re probably not smart enough to google it either) and, “Is It a Beaver in My Backyard?” (maybe, I mean if it looks like one). Some companies won’t give you titles. Instead, they give you keywords to work with. These too can be odd, and while they do make sense as search terms they don’t flow naturally. For example, “outdoor activities summer kids”. What am I going to do with that?
5. You’ll get lazy. Complacency is not a good thing, especially when you’re a budding freelancer. You’ve got to get out there and really sell yourself. No one will hustle for you, and if you’re not hustling you’re not getting any work. I had steady work through a content mill giant for a few years. I had enough work that my student loans went from an economic hardship deferment to the income-based repayment plan to full repayment. In other words, I was making a pretty great full-time income while I was sitting on my couch, watching the Real Housewives of some place or another and writing about purses and beavers (among many other things). I completely stopped looking for clients and tossed out the idea of starting my own blog. Why mess with a good thing, right? Nope, na-ha, now way, couldn’t be more wrong. When the mill fell apart, many of us lost some serious work. I went from a steady income to nothing. After years of what I know realize was wasting time, I had to start over and build a client base.
6. The cookie cutter-ness of it will make you crazy, stupid or both. I got so used to writing in one format, with one style that I forgot to be original and use my own voice.
7. Rushing work will become the norm. I have blogger buddies who spend hours on one post. Had I done that while working for content mills I would have made almost nothing. At my work-load height I was writing between eight and ten 600+ word articles per day.
8. Real publications might not respect your work. When I submit online writing samples to potential clients I never, ever use my mill work (some of it is published under my name, while others were ones that I had ghost-written).
9. There’s no real client-freelancer relationship. I enjoy the online interactions that I have with my private clients. I like the friendly emails and sometimes we even talk via phone or FaceTime. On the flip side, unless you’re emailing the tech department of the content-producing site because your editing window refuses to accept changes or you can’t log into your account, you may as well be working for the same computer program that’s picking those weirdo titles.
10. You want a career. Content mills rise and fall. They overflow with an abundance of work for thousands of writers, and then abruptly shut down. Instead of putting your faith and talents into one of these sweatshops for writers, put it in yourself. Build your skill, confidence and brand – and contribute to your own success!