Content mills get a bad rap.
If you read the popular freelancing blogs or the freelancing subreddits, you probably think that content mills are the dregs of professionalism, where the wages are a joke and your work does nothing to advance your career. Well, nothing could be further from the truth, especially when you’re just starting out.
The fact is that content mills are the most common opportunities out there for freelancers, and if you dismiss them out of hand you’re doing yourself a grave injustice. With a little patience and a good work ethic, you can easily make a great supplemental income while getting your feet wet in the freelancing world.
Content Mills are Great Practice
If you want to be a freelance writer, there is one thing you must do everyday: write. It really is that simple. If you can write something everyday — a fully formed paragraph, a great lede to an article you have in mind, a few hundred words for the short story you’re working on — then you have an advantage over a lot of other “writers.”
You’re only a writer when you write, and there are plenty of people who consider themselves writers but who haven’t written anything in weeks. Content mills require you to sit down and pound out words. And what better way to hone your skills than to be forced to write a few thousand words everyday? Before you know it, those two or three thousand words will become as easy to get through as a few hours at an office job, and you won’t even have to sit in traffic to do it!
On a good week, you can write as many as ten thousand words. If you can sustain that pace, that means around forty thousand words a month. That’s a lot of practice. That’s a novel in four months.
But it’s paid practice because…
Content Mills Provide a Steady Paycheck
“Steady” can be a very relative word in the freelancing industry, but if you can find the right company, you could have a constant writing job for months at a time. If you can say no to a gig like that, especially when you’re just starting out, you better have a great Master Plan to justify it.
Where the blogs and freelancing experts are right, though, is the pay rate. You won’t find any good per-word numbers when you’re clicking through the job sites looking for content mills. If you can find five cents per word, jump on it. Usually, you find one to three cents per word with a scattering of four centers and the rare five-cent unicorn. With superficially dismal numbers like that, you should be right to thank those who know better than you for warning you away from content mills.
You’d be wrong, though.
While it’s understandable to shy away from mere pennies, let’s do the math: three cents per word for an average five-hundred word content mill article equals fifteen bucks an article. Two cents an article equals ten dollars and one centers give you five dollars per article. Even if you land the easiest-to-get one-cent job out there, you’d still stand to make about ten dollars an hour (assuming one thousand words an hour), which, breaking into a new industry, isn’t too shabby.
You can also see that there are two ways to increase your paycheck when it comes to content mills: more words per minute or more cents per word. One of those is easily within your grasp with practice, and the other just takes time. This makes it easy to jump around from mill to mill until you find the right fit.
And finding the right fit won’t take long because…
Content Mills Give You Structure
“Man,” you say to yourself one day. “I don’t feel like writing. I’d rather go to the beach.”
That is the single-most wonderful thing about finally achieving a successful freelance life: when you’re a successful freelancer, you get to work when you want.
But to get to that level, you need to have structure. If you have that same beach sentiment too many days in a row, you’re going to backslide. Content mills provide the structure you need to stay focused and keep trucking along toward your ultimate freelancing goals. That’s what the experts tend to forget: when you’re first starting out in any industry, you just need structure so you can learn.
With the daily writing requirements that content mills provide, you can quickly jump around from mill to mill if you need to. That’s the beauty of these jobs: they are plentiful and they are always looking for writers. If you want, you can find several of them at a time so you can match any financial goals that you have. Just look around at all of the job boards you frequent and find the Mills that sound good to you.
And once you land the right gigs…
Content Mills Can be the Base of a Career
Think of freelancing as a pyramid: at the bottom, you have your steady content mill gig and at the very top is…what? A one-hundred thousand dollar blog? A collection of poetry? Publication in your favorite fiction magazine? The smooth, rich life of a consultant? A career at a magazine? Whatever your ultimate writing goals are, content mills can give you a base from which to grow.
When you have your base income perfected, you can start reaching a little higher. Maybe there’s a quarterly magazine in your town that’s looking for writers. Maybe one of your business cards found the right person and they need a few hours a week with editing or content creation. Maybe you’ve had an idea for a short story, but you’ve never had the confidence to write it. Working with a steady content mill allows you to pursue other freelancing interests that will help your career and get you a little closer to your ultimate writing goal, whatever it may be.
All because you were just starting out and took the chance on a content mill gig, the dregs of the profession. Imagine what else you can achieve by ignoring the experts.
A bit of a postscript here. As a freelancer, you — and only you — can protect yourself from bad gigs. Do your research on any company you will be dealing with and always make sure to know the relevant freelancing stats: how long and how much?If you ever find yourself dealing with a client that will not pay you, cease all work until you are paid and, afterward, proceed with caution.