How Freelance Writers Can Ditch The Content Mills – And Get Paid What They’re Worth

So today turns out to be a great day for a guest post, since I’ve got a sprained wrist – time to rest my hands and arms. Without further ado, here’s freelancer extraordinaire Tara Malone on how to ditch the content mills!


You’re sick and tired of your day job and you’re ready to do something about it. You’ve thought of becoming a freelance writer for months, but now you’re finally taking action.

You turn to Google to find some freelance jobs and before long you stumble on a content mill or bidding site promising an abundance of work. You sign up, build a portfolio, and start looking for jobs – only to discover tons of gigs that pay $0.01 per word. Well, everyone has to start somewhere, you think, determined to soldier through.

Fast forward three months, and you’re constantly churning out dozens of 500-word articles for a measly $5 or $10 each. You’re burned out, broke, and ready to quit.

If this sounds like you, listen up. I was in the same boat until I learned an important lesson that helped me launch a full-time freelance career. I learned that you can make a living as a freelance writer if you ditch the content mills. Taking this step sounds daunting, but it’s not as hard as you think. Ready to free yourself from the content mills and find better-paying writing jobs? Here’s what you need to do.

1. Give Yourself A Reality Check
Before you can get away from the content mills, you need to confront the harsh reality that content mills are no place to make a living writing.

While some writers may tell you otherwise, the vast majority of freelancers will never be able to make a living writing for them. The pay is usually very low, your chance of getting a bylined piece is remote, and you probably won’t even get quality writing samples out of it.

Many new writers start with content mills, but there are far better ways to launch your freelance career. The truth is if you want to make it as a freelancer sooner rather than later, you’ll need to find another way.

2. Understand What You’re Worth
It’s time to set aside your new writer insecurities and understand your worth. A major problem with content mills is they enable people to exploit talented writers by paying them next to nothing. Even worse, some low payers are incredibly nitpicky, demanding round after round of revision before they pay their writers.

Now take a deep breath and acknowledge that you can do better than content mills, that you have the writing skills and the drive to find quality clients. Then begin to consider what you need to earn to make a living as a freelancer.

After figuring out your yearly income needs, it’s useful to set an hourly rate, as well as project rates for the services you plan to provide. Once you have this figured out, you’ll be ready to consider who your ideal clients are.

3. Set Your Target
There are a few considerations to keep in mind when figuring out who your ideal clients are. It’s often helpful to choose a niche to help you narrow down your search for writing jobs and to establish yourself as a specialist.

The most important rule of thumb is to choose a niche that both interests you and is profitable. Begin by researching profitable freelance niches such as technology, B2B, finance, or real estate and selecting the ones that interest you the most. If you already know something about the niche, that’s an added bonus, but it’s not essential. In fact, most freelance writing niches are accessible to you if you’re able and willing to learn about the field.

Once you’ve figured out your niche, you’ll need to research companies in your niche. The best companies to target are on the larger size, with 100 or more employees. As you do your research, compile a list of promising companies to target.

4. Ready, Set, Market!
After you’ve figured out your niche and built your list of targets, you’ll need to develop a marketing plan. This is much less intimidating than you may think.

The first step is to prepare two or three writing samples geared to your ideal clients. If you don’t have suitable samples, it’s perfectly fine to create them. The samples should align with the kind of writing you intend to do. For example, if you want to create content for a tech company blog, write a blog post geared to tech companies. Once you have your samples, you’ll need a place to display them. This may be on a website or online portfolio, but when you’re starting out, you can also house them on your LinkedIn profile or on Medium.

Then it’s time to start reaching out to prospects. One of the most effective ways to market your services is to prepare a Letter of introduction (LOI). In the letter, you briefly introduce yourself and your services and ask whether the company hires freelance writers. To increase your chances of getting a response, address the LOI to the person in charge of hiring freelancers. This is most commonly a marketing or content marketing manager, a blog editor, or a head copywriter. It will take time and patience at first, but in the long-term, this is an extremely effective way to find quality clients.

5. Show Content Mills The Door
As your marketing skills improve, you’ll gradually begin to build up a client base and can start dropping the content mills. My advice is to break out of the content mills as soon as you possibly can to move your freelance career forward. This can seem like a risky move if you’re a new freelancer and you’re worried it will take a long time to find clients.

But think about it this way – the time you spend toiling away on content mills for pennies can be much better spent marketing yourself to quality clients. Remember that marketing is a numbers game, in that the more marketing you do, the better your chances of getting new clients.

In other words, the more time you spend marketing your services, the faster you’ll be able to grow your freelance writing business and leave the content mills for good.

Ready To Break Free Of The Content Mills?

If you’ve been languishing in content mills with little to show for your efforts, there is a way out. You can begin by acknowledging you’re not achieving your dream of being a full-time freelancer by writing for content mills. Once you admit that to yourself, you can develop a plan for getting out of the content mills. It might be scary to take that first leap, but the rewards will be great. Just imagine yourself as a successful, in-demand freelancer doing what you love – and making a good living, too. Now go ditch those content mills and start building the freelance career you’ve been dreaming of.

Tara Malone ditched corporate America to start a freelance writing business. Now she helps talented but underpaid writers earn a living doing what they love on her blog How To Win At Freelance Writing. She regularly publishes blog posts with practical advice and easy-to-implement tips on how to establish a profitable freelance writing business.

Guest Blogging: To Post Or Not To Post

Guest Blogging: To Post Or Not To Post

So it’s Monday, and as always my calendar says “New Blog Post Due.” My mind, on the other hand, says, Add a quick blog post. This is slightly different, because I have a couple afternoon appointments, and not enough time to write a post between them. Can you say deadline?

Of course, it’s my blog, and I’m the boss of the company. So the employee who’s going to write the blog post (me) could tell the owner (also me) to go pound sand. And with no fear of consequences! I promised myself a long time ago that I would never, ever fire myself.

Still, knowing I have a tiny window to write something useful and compelling and worthwhile is kind of a lot of pressure. So maybe Go pound sand would be the right response.

If this all sounds like one of those quaint conversations where the person says, I told myself, “Self…,” well, it probably should.

The topic I chose for today is hardly original, and it’s not likely that my take on it will break any new ground. But hey, self-deprecating is my middle name (in invisible ink, right next to Joseph). So what the heck.

Blogs With Benefits

Last week I sent out my monthly newsletter. If you’re subscribed, thank you; if not, just send me your email and you’ll start getting it next month. In the newsletter, I mention that I’ll be launching my next novel, Whizzers, later this year. I also talked a bit about the launch team: I’m looking for designers and vendors, but I’m going to want lots of readers and reviewers, too!

When I did my last launch, one of the best things I did to raise my own profile was guest posting on the wonderful Anne R. Allen’s blog for authors and their followers. My guest post on Anne’s blog was the rocket fuel for the last launch, and I’m going to build another blog tour for the upcoming launch.

The reason I’m writing about it on my own blog is twofold. If you’re reading this but not subscribed to the newsletter, you might be interested in joining the list. Secondly, you might be interested in having me on your blog, or you might want to guest post here.

If you’re looking for authors to guest post or interview on your blog – or in guest posting here – let me know in the comments below or email me at I promote every blog post to my 25K Twitter followers, so it could drive a lot of new traffic to your blog, too.

Interestingly enough, Anne’s blog had a timely post about this very topic last month, appropriately called Guest Blogging Is The Best Free Publicity For Writers. You can check that out here.

Happy Monday!


6 Twitter Tips for Authors

Those of you who follow my blog probably connected with me via Twitter, whether you’re a fellow author or not. Now that I’m closing in on 25K followers, I feel like I’ve got a little experience I can share that will be helpful. And with that, here comes today’s blog...

Does Copyright Still Matter in the Digital Age?

One thing about working as a full-time freelance writer: it’s usually feast or famine. That means exactly what it sounds like. Sometimes you’re so busy that you almost forget to market your business, and other times, you’re looking for more projects. This month is one...

Instafreebie and The Perils of Evil

Most of you who read this blog know that I'm not a big one on writing about the perils of least not at the same level as the serial killers or the kings of genocide. Sure, I've got some pretty bad people in my books: Johnny, the doper and rapist in Brothers'...

Five Ways to Relax During Quarantine

​I thought a good blog post this week would be on how to unwind—not just during our current era of quarantine and “social distancing,” but on any day off. What my wife calls a holiday. That could be any time, right? I’ve been running so hard lately, I've barely had...

Self-Care for Creatives

Today's post is not about coronavirus, because—let's face it—aren't we all sick of being bombarded with news and info about it all day, every day? The situation is getting worse, and will be for a while before it gets better. Duly noted. However, I do want to give...

Nightmare On Acid Street

In my mind, I flash back to a time years ago, and the image strikes me with peculiar clarity—the dismal boarding house where I lived when I was newly sober, the shattering acid flashback with its neon cockroaches skittering across the dirty ceiling. Then, further back...

Rolling With The Changes

I’m back on the blog today after a two-week break, which hasn’t really been a break at all. At least, it hasn’t felt like one. But the topic of today’s post is change, and for good reason: I’m dealing with some major changes in my family, as my parents move past the...

Dreams, Memories, And Growing Up One Day At A Time

We use up too much artistry in our dreams—and therefore often are impoverished during the day. - Friedrich Nietzsche, The Wanderer and His Shadow   Boy, ole Nietzsche really had it right, didn’t he? Last night I went through mental movies that ranged from being...

The End of a Good Run

I’ve had a pretty good run the last five or six weeks: last week’s blog post, entitled What Books Cost Their Authors: A Tale of Blood, Sweat & Tears, had the best “headline quality score” I’ve ever attained (yes, I run my headlines through an analyzer for SEO, to...

Roll With The Punches, Baby!

Today is just one of those Mondays. I got a letter from the IRS that said they "believe there's a miscalculation" in my return. So that big $300 refund I was planning on receiving? Fuhgeddaboutit. But hey, at least I don't owe them anything, and they're not auditing...