How Hiring a Freelance Writer Compares to Using a Content Mill


There are pros and cons to using a freelance writer versus a “content mill” for your writing needs. Content mills, such as CrowdContent and Guru connect freelance writers to potential clients. A freelancer who works outside of a content mill works as an entrepreneur who must find and negotiate projects directly. There are benefits and challenges with either approach.

I continue to learn about the ever changing freelance industry. To keep up to date with industry, a freelancer must know current cultural trends and read voraciously. He must also climb the steep and ever-changing learning curve of the writing industry.

In the beginning, with all my experience in other fields, I sat down at my computer and searched “how to become a freelance writer.” With no “experience” to cite directly, I started my journey via content marketing mills. In the meantime, I also began to devour a plethora of information about freelance writing. I have experienced some of the best and the worst of both approaches to making a living as a freelancer.

A quick start for newbies

Office desk

The upside of content mills is that a freelance newbie can gain experience—stick his toe in the water and get a feel for the industry. A new writer can begin writing the day she registers on a content mill by claiming projects from a job board, bidding on available jobs or by posting articles on a board for purchase. With content mills, the writer does not necessarily have to pitch an idea or convince a potential client.

The client may return a project for revision or accept it on first submission. They provide a rating for work accepted. Writers build a reputation on this type of content mill and move up the pay scale. This format allows for new writers to cut their teeth while learning about a variety of writing topics and industry standards.

I have written anything from 50-word product descriptions to short blog posts to long form pages on B2B websites. I learned about meta data on a content mill. Content mills also gave me an understanding of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I owe much of my early experience and knowledge base in the industry to content mills.

For clients, the content mill offers a forum where professional tasks are completed at an affordable (read “bargain basement”) price. Clients avail of a pool of writers, each vetted by the content mill. The content mill moderates payments and disputes (to varying degrees). Both the client and the writer, have some protection. Clients can focus on other aspects of their business while their content needs are met. They hope to have quality content for a low price.

The Down Side of Cotton (oops – Content) Mills

Image: Kelly Short6 via Flickr

Paying for quality writing on a content mill can be a gamble. The main problem from a writer’s point of view is that content mills provide notoriously low paying gigs.

Had my original Internet search to get started as a freelance writer/editor connected me to established writers and mentors (e.g. Philippa Willitts), or useful resources (The Write Life), I would have become successful sooner, providing quality work for reasonable rates.

Like a child living in the late 19th and early 20th century, who did not bite the proverbial hand that fed her family, I will say that I am grateful for the opportunity I found to learn from my work with content mills.

Making a living from content mills is difficult. It seems the average that mills pay is somewhere between $0.03 to $0.08 USD per word. The Holy Grail of writing as a freelancer appears to be $1.00 USD+ per word. Many in the industry encourage writers to accept nothing less than between $0.15 and $0.40 USD per word. It is difficult to get a clear sense of freelance rates. Often pay stats are quoted in hourly rates, but freelance writers generally get paid flat rates or by the word. Hourly pay is difficult to assess where research and other important tasks are required as part of the writing process.

There is no “going rate” for freelance writers. Many freelance writers charge a flat rate based on project requirements. Whatever the means of negotiating payment for writing, one thing remains constant: content mills pay writers significantly less than a freelancer could negotiate independently.

Every writer builds a portfolio. It is important to be recognized as an author by name. Writers on content mills often ghostwrite, where they can not claim authorship. The writer might not even know the publish URL for work done. There are reasons to ghostwrite as a freelance writer, but the restrictions placed by content mills can create obstacles to success.

“Whatever the means of negotiating payment for writing, one thing remains constant: content mills generally pay writers significantly less than a freelancer could negotiate independently.”

Content mills may prevent writers and clients from connecting outside the content platform. There is no exit strategy in place (say, where a client might pay a fee the content mill to establish a relationship outside the mill format). Of course that makes sense for the mill, which cultivates long term quality writers, but it prevents the writer from moving forward and clients from negotiating their terms more freely.

Writers from all over the world compete for jobs on a content mill. That means that writers in developing nations, who might afford working for low content mill rates, have an advantage. However, if there is a large pool of writers who can work for low rates and make a modest living, it reduces opportunities for writers who can not. Further, writers working at low rates are being underpaid from a global perspective.

For clients, the available writer pool might not be a native English speaker. Of course, I generalize. There are excellent writers in developing nations. Mridu Khullar Relph is a successful writer and mentor who started her career in India. However the presence of content mills that pay low rates internationally has an important negative effect on the freelance industry as a whole, including in developing nations. Low rates paid by content mills ultimately ghettoize the writing industry.

“As a client, consider the value of the content you seek.”

As a client, consider the value of the content you seek. A great writer, wherever they live, is an important asset for building your brand. As a writer, consider your goals for income and for career growth. In either case, content mills provide a valuable service. Freelance writers are professionals who can negotiate and communicate freely with specific attention to the client’s vision. With rapid change in the freelance industry, content mills may need to adapt quickly or they may fail. They have the potential to provide a useful service. A quality freelance writer/editor is in business to address your needs. The choice for your business can have a great impact on success.

For more information about freelance writing and how it can help your business, contact Tekla Luchenski at WireBird Writes.