Are you churning out writing pieces for a content mill? These low-paying freelance writing sites are notorious. They draw people in with the promise of making a living as a freelance writer. And they do pay – often frequently.
But their rates are terrible, often in the $0.01-$0.03 per word range. That means for a 1,000 article, you’d make $10-$30. Ouch.
Even if you can knock out something of that length in an hour, you’re still not making enough money to pay all the bills. And often, those pieces take more than an hour to write and submit. So, your hourly rate isn’t even minimum wage.
And while creating content for a mill can be a simple way to test the waters and see if you really like freelance writing, it is not a sustainable plan. To make it as a freelancer, you need to find your own personal clients. Clients that pay you directly, eliminating the middleman.
If you’re wondering how to move beyond the content mills, here’s an eight-step process for you to take. Along the way, remind yourself that you can do this. That your writing is valuable, and you are worthy of being adequately compensated.
And remember if you absolutely hate having your own clients, you can always go back to churning out content where you are now. But I have a feeling that you won’t look back…
1. Make the Decision to Move On
This step might seem redundant, but it is necessary. Until you decide to market yourself as a freelance writer, you will never leave the content mills. It is a choice, and you are the one who has to decide.
You may decide to stop writing for content mills cold turkey. Then you can just pour all of that time into finding your own clients. You will have more time to make progress if you go this route.
But you may need the money from your current assignments to pay the bills. If that’s the case, it can be harder to stop completely. Consider cutting out a couple of articles a day at first. Then, you will still have a little time to grow your own business and a little income from the work you do. Or, burn the midnight oil for a few weeks and spend that extra time on marketing.
Decide what route makes the most sense for you and your situation. And then, move onto the next step.
2. Get Some Bylines
Many articles you create for content mills are ghostwritten. That means your name doesn’t go on them, and you can’t use them in your portfolio.
However, potential clients will want to see samples of your work. They want to know that you can write. So, work on getting some bylined clips if you don’t have any. These are articles that are clearly attributed to you. You can send them to potential clients and let them see your writing in action.
To get bylines, you can:
- Submit a guest post to a blog that accepts them
- Create a blog of your own and start generating content
- Publish an article on Medium, or a similar site
- Look for sites that pay for articles upon submission
What makes the most sense for you? Do that. And remember, you don’t need a ton of samples to get started. One or two well-written ones can get you started. Then you can add to your portfolio as you publish more — more on that, next.
3. Create a Portfolio
Once you have some clips, it’s time to build your portfolio. That’s what you can send clients when you are marketing, to show them you can write.
Your portfolio doesn’t have to be fancy. You don’t need to start your own website right away. Here are three super quick ways to build your first portfolio. Pick one, and then make it happen.
- A One-Pager – use Google Docs and create a simple portfolio with relevant links. Then, send potential clients the link when they’re ready to see your samples. I recommend Google docs over Word, so you won’t be asking clients to download anything. They can just click the link and view it in Google docs.
- A Portfolio Site – you can create a profile on a free portfolio site and begin adding your clips. Sites like Contently, Journo Portfolio, and Clippings.me are great when you’re first getting started.
- A Pinterest Board – begin creating Pins for your clips and pin them to a personal “Freelance Writing Portfolio” board. Then you can send your clients the link to the board and they can check it out.
Now go create your portfolio. And remember, you can always change it later. Eventually, you will want to create your own professional website and have a page dedicated to your samples. But you don’t need to start with that.
4. Start Marketing
If you want paying clients, you need to drum up some business. You have to tell people who you are and what you do. When you’re first getting started, they aren’t going to just magically appear to you.
The marketing process keeps many great writers from ever moving beyond content mills. They just freeze up at the thought of having to land their own clients. The good news is that you don’t have to let this step be a stumbling block for your business.
Take it slow and build new routines around marketing. Check the job boards for freelance writing jobs and send two pitches a day.
Research companies you want to write for and send them a cold pitch.
Put yourself out there on social media and tell your followers you are looking for work. You never know where a referral will come from.
Who in your community might need writing? Do you have an active Chamber of Commerce? Consider joining it and attending in-person networking events. Or go to a professional conference in your area or your niche, if you have one. (Having trouble settling on a niche? Check out this list of 200+ ideas.) Make it a point to network with others. Many times, you can land great recurring work through a networking connection.
Also, don’t be afraid to network with other writers, either in person or virtually. They may send their overflow work in your direction. Or pass your name onto clients they know are in the market.
Other writers are not your competitors. You do not need to stay away from them. Instead, embrace them. Learn from them. Help them when you can.
You can join freelance writing Facebook Groups or connect with other writers on LinkedIn. Then spend some time building relationships with others. It doesn’t have to take long, just a few minutes a day. But this time can pay off greatly.
6. Do Great Work
Here’s another step that should go without saying. But, it’s essential. If you turn in junk, you aren’t going to make it as a freelancer. Your reputation matters. So, protect it.
Do the best you can. Then edit it and make it even better. Always turn in quality work.
And meet your deadlines. Don’t make the editor come looking for your content.
Turning in good work and turning it in on time matters. Editors talk to each other, and you don’t want your name to be associated with subpar content.
7. Send the Invoice
As you land work and turn it in, money isn’t going to magically show up in your account. You are no longer working at a content mill that has your payments set up to automatically transfer based on the number of jobs completed.
Nope. You need to send your clients invoices. No invoice, no payment. Stay up to date on your paperwork to ensure you get paid for your services. Some clients may ask you about it, but many won’t. They just assume that if you want to be paid, you’ll send them an invoice. When you’re first onboarding, talk to your client about the frequency of your invoices.
This article has helpful content on what your invoice needs to include:
8. Get Testimonials
Once you’ve had some paid gigs under your belt, it’s time to ask your clients for testimonials. Typically, it’s best to wait until you’ve done a couple of pieces for one client, and you know they are satisfied with your work.
Take time to ask. Most clients will say yes, especially if you make it easy for them.
When you have testimonials, you can add them to your website or portfolio. Social proof helps you gain credibility as a writer, so share that others enjoy working with you.
Do It Again… and Again and Again and Again!
When you land your first freelance writing client, don’t stop there. One client may not be enough to pull you out of the content mills. Instead, keep going. Keep pitching. And turning in great work. Keep networking and updating your portfolio. Never forget to send an invoice for work completed.
And then do it all again. And again. With every new prospect, try to quote a higher per-word rate so your income is steadily increasing. Don’t work for hourly rates if you’re writing — aim for a per-piece flat fee. Consistent progress will help you transition from low paying content mills to higher-paying clients.