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

by | Feb 25, 2019 | Articles | 0 comments

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.


What’s The Problem With Shameless Self-Promotion?

While I still find it somewhat hard to believe, I've been on Twitter for almost eight years. I know this not only because Twitter shows Joined March 2015 on my profile but also because, even if they eliminate that feature, I use a tracker called Who Unfollowed Me? If...

MLK Day 2023

Here’s wishing everyone a safe, sane Martin Luther King Jr. Day. For many of us, today is always something of a day of mourning: not only mourning the loss of a great civil rights leader, but also mourning the turn our great nation seemed to take in recent years....

Twitter Tips for Authors in 2023

If you follow my blog, you probably connected with me via Twitter, whether you’re a fellow author or not. In 2020, I wrote a post about Twitter for fellow writers that got a good response. Three years later, the landscape has changed, but some Twitter best practices...

Going Off The Rails (But Not On A Crazy Train)

Last April, I wrote a blog post called Back on Track With a Work-In-Progress. Part of that post was to talk about the difference between a “plotter” and a “pantser” (and to describe myself as a hybrid of the two, a “plantser”). Another, less obvious motive, was to...

Those Tricky French Authors and Their Obsessions

Today’s blog post was originally going to be Write Whatever the @#$% You Want, Pt. III. However, after seeing parts I and II lined up, I decided to call an audible and make it something less repetitive. Somehow the SEO gods have gotten into my head. As I’ve mentioned...

Write Whatever the @#$% You Want, Pt. II

In last week’s post, I mentioned a pretty well-known author who has publicly reported his publisher “wouldn’t touch” a new release, in part because a character in his novel referred to herself as “fat.” I heard this story on a podcast, and I remember thinking, “Wait...

Write Whatever the @#$% You Want

I’ve been stewing on this for a while. It’s been brewing for quite a while. I could probably write a song about it (how about a rap?), but I don’t think I will. This is more of a blog post topic, and it might even deserve a series. And that’s the title and topic of...

Should Every Month Be Gratitude Month?

When I was a kid, I loved Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz. I read it daily and collected nearly every paperback volume of the cartoon, so I could see what I’d missed since the comic strip’s inception in 1950.  Certain things stuck: quotes like “happiness is a warm puppy”...

More Thoughts On Robot Writers and The Tech Dystopia

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blog post here called When Will the Robot Overlords Replace Us? Apparently, I’m fairly obsessed with this stuff, because every time I come here and empty my brain, it seems to come up again. Today is no different. Part of the reason,...