Whether you’re just starting out as a freelance copywriter or you’re a seasoned pro looking for a side gig, you might be wondering if joining a content mill could work for you.
What is a content mill?
A content mill works like a digital noticeboard for freelancers. Businesses list any web copy jobs they need doing – from blog posts to product descriptions, one-off jobs to full projects.
There are two main kinds:
- Free-for-all platform (where you may be ranked according to your quality – e.g. between 1 to 5 stars – and jobs are posted on a forum on a first-come-first-served basis)
- Bidding platforms (where clients list their brief and freelancers bid what they’re willing to work for; or the client sets a fee and freelancers pitch to win the contract)
Content mills aren’t for everyone. They don’t pay well and they aren’t a substitute for networking and getting to know clients on a one-to-one basis. However, they work well to get you started if you have zero experience and/or need a little short-term cash.
Pros of content mills
- A good way to build a portfolio when you’re starting out
- A crash course in working to a client’s brief (including familiarity with language, keyword requests, and formatting)
- Flexibility over when you work and what work you accept
- Casual earnings when you need it
Cons of content mills
- Compared to working directly with clients, content mills are very poorly paid (typically as little as a penny a word)
- On bidding platforms, you run the risk of wasting your time and not being picked for jobs
- There can be a wait to receive payment
- Work is not guaranteed – sometimes mills can run dry
- They can be a dead end in terms of networking and finding prospective clients
Some sites to check out
Because of the potential for ripping off naïve and earnest writers, there are a lot of scams out there. When you’re looking to join a mill, run a Google search and see what others have to say about it. In the meantime, here are my top content mills:
- Great Content
The best content mill in my experience. You submit a short 2-300 word article to register and they grade you on that. Your rating will improve the more you write and the more positive feedback you get.This mill gets a lot of good and regular clients. I have written for an international fashion website, a cosmetics company, and online opticians to name just a few. Clients often add you to a group of similar writers if they have jobs coming up they’d like to work with you on, and group orders pay better. I’ve also had a number of even better-paid direct orders (you set your own fee) and bonuses for working on long-term projects. It’s a good, friendly platform to help get your portfolio off the ground.
Jobs posted on this first-come-first-served (FCFS) board range from articles on marketing, fashion and legal topics to landing page content for boiler repairs. Pay is no less than £0.01 per word and sometimes more. However, deadlines are often the same day and it can take up to 30 days for your work to be approved and you to get paid.
This platform was one of the big names in FCFS content mills but has failed to keep progressing. It’s pretty badly paid and again you will submit a piece to be graded. There’s the possibility of moving up the ladder but I eventually gave up on it. There’s also a LOT of competition for those lower-graded jobs (which are also lower paid) because everyone usually starts out as a level 3 writer before being upgraded.
- Pure Content
Pure Content is a little different to the standard models. You can register as a writer and/or editor and the company email out jobs for your taking on a first-come-first-served basis (meaning smartphone notifications are essential regularly). Jobs can be few and far between (and pay terribly). The writing jobs aren’t worth the effort in my opinion, but the editing ones are quite quick to get through.
OK, so this isn’t a content mill. However, it’s a great place to set up a free portfolio where you can post any work you’ve done, list your specialisms and include your contact info. When businesses go to Contently for help finding a freelancer, they assign them to one of the writers on their database, so it’s a good way to get noticed and is especially useful for journalists.
Make content platforms work for you
Starting out, a content mill or platform is an easy way to get a bit of experience. But don’t become complacent.
True, you need to stick at them to maximise your return (such as getting better grading, pay and more repeat work) but use them as a go-to, a little something on the side. If you’re serious about getting into copywriting, they should not be come your sole earner. Keep your eye on the prize and always work towards a clear plan for building your freelance copywriting career.
Next week: I’ll show you how to write a business strategy.