Why you never want to work at a content mill.
You want to quit your day job and work from home, right? You know, live the life that other writers do sipping margaritas on the beach.
I wanted to live that life too. As someone with chronic illnesses, even working part-time was drained me. I had no social life and was tired of never earning enough to make ends meet.
When I started looking for ways to work from home and stumbled upon freelance writing, I knew I found my ticket out of the dreary 9-5 and into living the writer’s life.
I certainly never thought I’d end up in a content mill working for clients with high expectations for the minimal amount they paid.
So, I’m breaking down the never-ending cycle of poverty that keeps people stuck working in places like content mills. I’m going to tell you how to break that cycle and start working for the clients that will pay you what you’re worth.
For this article, I’m going to talk mostly about Upwork since it’s one of the most popular content mills for new writers, I have experience working the platform, and it embodies the spirit of a content mill perfectly. But what I’m saying applies to most other content mills as well.
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Here’s What You’ll Learn in This Post:
- What a content mill is
- Why you should run like hell from content mills
- Does anyone actually make money working at a content mill?
- If they are any good content mills out there
What is a Content Mill?
Basically, a content mill is a slang used to refer to a website, operation, or company that provides businesses with cheap content created by low-paid writers. These opportunities are the easiest because these mills pay way below the best rates. Many of these platforms require you to bid for jobs or are considered short-term gigs.
There is a lot of turnover at these mills because of the low pay. Many writers can get a bad reputation working for content mills, which is really sad since most new writers don’t know any better.
Plus, there are the unicorns out there making good money working just a couple hours a day for a content mill. That is certainly a rarity, but you may see one of those stories and think you can do it too.
However, there are several factors to consider. They must be able to write incredibly fast and aren’t really earning a full-time income from it. These writers may use it to supplement other writing income. And I’m pretty sure they have a different definition of content mill than the one I showed the same one most writers know.
Luckily, there are many successful writers out there just like me helping educate new writers that there are better ways to make money. The writing that content mills churn out is often shallow and doesn’t connect with readers.
Writers can spend time writing an article that’s not accepted, and there’s not much interaction between the client and the writer, or if the content mill has editors, the writer doesn’t interact much with them.
Also, Google doesn’t tend to favor these articles so the companies trying to get inexpensive content can very well damage their own reputation.
How Working at Upwork Kept Me Poor and Miserable
I decided to try to look for writing jobs at this content mill first because it seemed like an excellent place for beginners to start their freelance writing career. I set up my profile and learned how to write proposals on Upwork. (That’s how you apply for writing jobs on Upwork.)
Thankfully, I wasn’t on Upwork very long, but the experience still traumatized me. But like many new writers, I didn’t know any better. I mean, after all, I Upwork is one of the first places that show up when you search for freelance writing jobs.
It didn’t take me long to find a client that accepted me, but I had no clue what good pay was, and I was okay making peanuts if it gave me experience and taught me the basics of freelance writing. I think I made $10 for 1,000 words or something ridiculous like that.
The jobs were fairly easy. I worked for a business that provided website content and blog articles for businesses. I wrote blog articles on an endless number of topics; luckily, I was already an expert researcher, thanks to my many years in college.
They did have guidelines like their writers needed to write all articles in active voice. That’s when I first realized that all those years of writing academic papers taught me to write in passive voice a lot. It’s when I first starting realizing the importance of writing in active voice.
But one thing that they said really stands out to me. Their tip for writing these articles was to essentially “reword” the sentences of other articles on the topic. That should have been a clear warning sign.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to do with Upwork’s dumb fees that bleed you dry for very long. They connected with me off the platform.
Eventually, I became their superstar writer which wasn’t very difficult, and I started editing for them. I asked them if they wanted me to make people re-write mostly passive articles, and they were like, nope, these people don’t even know what passive voice is. ?
My experience editing with them was horrendous. When I was writing, I worked for the husband mostly, and he was a retired FBI agent, so we got along well.
Once I started working with his wife, it was a nightmare. Taking the editing job required me to have a semi-set schedule. But the whole reason I wanted to work from home was to have the flexibility to go have lunch occasionally with my aunt or a friend. Or if they could work around my doctors’ appointments.
I got so many messages from her; it was ridiculous. And set hours? HA! I got messages from her all day with things she wanted me to do. They were only paying me $300 a month, but she wanted me to put the full-time hours in that they did.
Um, no. That’s not how this works. It got to the point that every time I heard the notification that I got another email, I cringed. I found another writing job that paid me much more than my Upwork employers (but still not enough). However, it allowed me to escape them as soon as possible.
When I told the woman that I was leaving for a job that paid me $0.05 a word (see, not a lot), she didn’t believe me. Then they told me I would never make more than that EVER as a writer. That’s was tops for blog writers. Plus, I gave them three weeks’ notice, and she screwed me by cutting me loose right then.
Hmmmmm, let me say since that I’ve made more than 16 times that a word for one article. It’s true, and you can too, but not by working at low paying content mills.
The best thing I can say about the experience is that I did learn a lot about writing blog articles online versus academic papers. And I learned never to write for cheap-ass clients I found at a low-paying content mill.
Here are the top reasons why you shouldn’t work for a low-paying content mill.
1. The Job Success Score Holds Your Right Over a Barrel
I understand that places need to have ways to measure client satisfaction and separate the great freelancers from the mediocre. But Upwork’s job success score system makes it almost impossible for even excellent freelancers to avoid a less-than-perfect reputation.
Your score can be found under the” Find Work” tab on your profile. Many factors affect your score like feedback, time on the platform, higher-value jobs versus lower ones, jobs you completed in the past but no longer count, or lack of feedback. Plus, it takes a while to even get a score, which makes it harder to get jobs.
2. Ridiculous Fees Reduce Your Income Even Further
Content mills such as Upwork and Fiverr automatically take 20 percent from each job you make, and now you don’t get any connections with the free plan. You have to pay a monthly membership fee if you want free connects.
As of May 2019, the Freelancer Plus plan rose from $10 a month to $14.99, and you get 70 connects with that. You also get membership perks, and you get more information on your competitor’s bids, which is helpful.
If you still want the Freelancers Basic plan for free, you have to spend $0.15 for every job you apply for.
The 20 percent fee applies to the first $500 billed then there is a 10 percent lifetime billing for clients from $500.01-$10,000. After that, Upwork charges you a 5 percent lifetime fee for clients you’ve made over $10,000 from.
That’s just working with one client. Those fees apply separately to the income your make from each client. So, let’s put this into perspective.
If you’re just starting and you have five new clients, and your first project for each one pays you $20, you only make $16 from each client for a grand total of $80.
Worse yet, that maybe one 2,000 word article for each. It’s ridiculous, right. Wouldn’t it be better to keep ALL the money you earn?
3. It’s All Work and No Play When You Work for a Content Mill
Remember that work/life balance you were looking for when you left your 9-5; you won’t find it here. After you send those proposals out, once your profile is visible, you may receive other job invitations too. Clients can hire you from anywhere in the world.
Your response to those messages affects your job success score, so you need to respond to everything immediately! So, time zones are a huge problem. Looks like it’s no sleep for you.
Plus, when you command higher rates, clients expect a lot, so you burn the candle at both ends, writing and editing all times of day and night. Forget about holidays and vacations.
I remember one Thanksgiving; I was on my laptop making last-minute changes an editor wanted right at the table as my mom and aunt were clearing it off.
Most of us choose to be freelance writers so we can have more time with friends and family for a better work/life balance. That’s not possible at a content mill.
4. Scope Creep is Wicked
Clients expect a five-star service at one-star rates. A small project can quickly morph from two hours to four, six, or even more because the client wants “just a couple” edits.
You finish the first, and they’re like, “oh, can you tweak this?” Next thing you know, they want a fourth round of edits. Congratulations, you’ve now become a victim to scope creep.
You don’t dare say no because it affects guess what? Your job success score! If your job success score creeps below 90 percent, it can significantly affect your ability to apply for jobs on the platform.
Before you know it, you’re afraid to say no to anything a client asks. Your scared to do anything because someone always monitors your jobs and messages. All it takes is one unprofessional response (in their eyes), and your job success score plummets.
5. You’ll Work Yourself to Death and Still Won’t Be Able to Pay Your Bills
You work hard to get up to those high fees, but you still aren’t making adequate income. Many writers at content mills report walking away with far less then they earned.
Then there’s the fact that many clients have you sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). That means you can’t use any of the writing projects for that client in your portfolio, and it stands as a giant wall between you and better-paying jobs.
I love ghostwriting, but it’s one of the reasons my portfolio may seem thin based on the number of years I’ve been writing. Upwork and these clients make it worse.
Writers that work here can eventually charge $150 per hour and more if they work hard, but they will tell you they don’t actually get paid near that, and it’s certainly not worth all the work.
In fact, some report that when you compare the income with the hours worked, your rates slide well below $20.00 an hour.
6. Content Mills Don’t Value Their Freelancers
Freelance writers deserve to make more than cents per word as a pay rate. Platforms like Upwork make it crystal clear that high-quality writing and incredible writers aren’t a priority. They get to pick the lowest bids as writers compete, each one underbidding the one before.
It does nothing to your self-esteem as a beginning writer at a time when it’s hard to value yourself and your services anyway. And in the long run, this hurts every writer out there.
7. You’ll Never Really Be Able to Unplug-The Anxiety is Crippling
There’s always work to do. When you’re not writing clients, you’re looking for them. Writing and sending proposals wears on you constantly. It’s a lot of work.
Since you need to answer messages promptly, you may start dreading checking your messages as much as I dreaded hearing the email notification sound. I swear I still have PTSD from it.
You really are chained to your computer all day every day.
8. Are There Any Freelancers that Make Good Money at Content Mills?
Like the unicorns I mentioned earlier, very few become wealthy working for sites like Upwork. Danny Margulies is one of the few, and he makes BIG money on Upwork. He makes six figures a year on the platform, and it’s the only place he freelances.
He’s the only reason I gave it a try, and I quickly figured out he must be some kind of odd genius, and it would take me until the day I died to make half of what he did. So, after my first experience with an Upwork client, I said hell no and wasted no more time looking for jobs there.
But he has taught other people to be successful and make a decent earning at content mills like Upwork. You can check him out at his site over at freelancetowin.com because he’s probably the only person on the planet who can teach you how to make gobs of money on Upwork.
9. Are There Any Good Content Mills Out There for Freelancers
The short answer to that is no, not really. There are much better ways to make money freelance writing and better places to find writing jobs.
But the answer directly relates to the definition of a content mill where cheapskate clients buy content from poverty-stricken writers. (That may be slightly dramatic.)
Some people think of any large writing platform as a content mill, but the low-paid part of the definition is important. There are high-quality “content mills” and usually they have some type of application process.
But there are some other great websites and platforms where clients go to get HIGH-QUALITY writing from well-paid writers. Remember, I mentioned that I made 16 times more than the measly amount that my Upwork client paid me?
That was at ClearVoice, and some people will say, well, ClearVoice is a content mill. No, no, it’s not my friend. When a famous brand pays me hundreds of dollars for a 500-word article, that’s good pay. I’m a ghostwriter, so I can’t tell you the brand, but it is well-known to most people.
Here are some other brands that go to ClearVoice for great content:
And many more.
In February 2019, famous content mill Fiverr bought ClearVoice, and every experienced writer who makes money there feared it was the end of good wages. But Fiverr has now made ClearVoice the elite alternative to Fiverr.
They have kept that reputation. I’ve made $2,000 recently there, and that’s only from 9 short writing projects that were mostly under 400 words. The average I made is about $0.43 a word, but for some of these projects, I made much more.
I should probably do a review on ClearVoice because while I’ve made good money, I had fewer job opportunities.
So, are there other places like ClearVoice that make it easier for freelance writers to find jobs. Even beginners? Yes, some include:
- Constant Content– This is a popular place for writers to make money, and they pay around $0.10 an article, which is more than true content mills.
- Crowd Content– This website is for writers of all experience levels. They pay around $0.08 per word.
- Content Gather– Pay for pre-written articles here is $0.02 to $0.12 per word. This company is a little different. You can claim custom jobs or post pre-written content that people buy in advance.
- Writers Access– WriterAccess divides writers into two categories. New writers start in the Basic Marketplace, and the average pay is $0.03 to $0.08 per word. Then you work up to the Pro Marketplace where you can make $0.11 to $2.00 per word.
- Scripted– Scripted is quite picky with who they hire. They only 2 percent of the writers who apply with them, and the average pay per word is about $0.10.
There are also a few high-end writing platforms, such as Contently, Compose.ly, and eByline. ClearVoice falls in this category as well.
You need to know that you can make an excellent living writing and live the writer’s life you’ve always dreamed of. I invite you to check out my FREE eBook on how to make money as a freelance writer.
- Value yourself and your work to charge what you’re worth.
- Don’t buy into the myth that you can’t make more than $0.05 per word as a freelance writer.
- There are much better places for freelance writers of all levels of experience to earn good money writing like job boards. Here’s a list of the best places to find freelance writing jobs.
Freelance writing is a lucrative job that allows you to work from anywhere in the world, whether that’s from home or a beach somewhere. Where’s your dream place to work as a digital nomad?