In a previous post about knowing when to take the next step in your writing career, I told you that freelancing sites where you create a profile and apply to the site’s personal job board were sometimes referred to as content mills. While some people do define these sites as such, I have just come across a narrower and more concrete definition of content mills in The Essential Guide to Freelance Writing (a book I will be reviewing when I’m finished) that has caused me to edit that previous post.
A real content mill is a site run like a giant blog, news, or how-to site—like Examiner or ehow—that promises contributing writers exposure and “big bucks” through a pay-by-click method. They pay rates like $3 an article or nothing at all upfront. You submit work to an editor, but those editors are known for being terrible. Worst of all, anything you write on those sites will not serve as a real sample. If you want to write articles for a real magazine or reputable site and you link to an article on one of these sites as a sample, it won’t help your chances at all and it may really hurt them. I have never participated in one of these sites, and I wouldn’t recommend it.
I suppose the reason some people label freelancing sites like Upwork as “content mills” is that you can find people offering rates as low as a content mill on the site. The difference? There are better paying jobs on there. I may not have been paid anywhere near a professional rate while working on Upwork (especially not in those first few months before I got wise), but I didn’t get paid in “exposure” because I simply didn’t apply to those jobs. Getting a job on Upwork is mostly about being one of the first to apply in a professional tone that proves you actually speak the language requested by the client. So, you can score the higher paying jobs just as easily as the dirt-cheap ones without any prior experience. Also, I worked for individuals and small businesses that will give and have given me glowing recommendations and nice samples that won’t be frowned upon because of the name they are attached to. That’s why I don’t regret working on Upwork. It helped me find my niche, brought jobs to me, and secured my payment. What I do regret is staying on it so long, as I’ve already discussed.
Don’t ever write a whole article for $3. I accepted a job for a dollar once, but that was just to help out a guy who was getting paid per download of a game. All I had to do was click a few buttons, and I helped someone out. That requires no skill. If what you are doing requires skill of any kind, you should know $3 isn’t enough.
If you have no professional background in a niche to build off of, and you decide to try a site like Upwork, make sure you go for the higher paying (which can really only be labeled “decent”) jobs, and get off there quick with a sample or two.