Of all the questions I get about freelancing, two come up more frequently than any other.
- How can I make money right now?
- How do I get started on [Insert Content Mill Here]?
Those two questions make me cringe.
If you’re looking to make money “right now” and you’re hoping that content mills will help you do that, you’re taking a dangerous gamble.
Let me explain.
Fast Money is a Rabbit Hole
If you’re strategic about finding quick work that pays out fast, you could potentially be okay. But just like Alice didn’t take a whole lot of time to wonder what kind of trouble she could be getting herself in before jumping into a rabbit hole, most people who are looking for fast money don’t think too hard about signing up for a content mill and writing away.
Similarly, just as Alice was following a panic-stricken rabbit, most desires for fast money are rooted in desperation.
Following your panicked self down a rabbit hole of fast money is a terrible way to start or build a business. Why? There are three reasons you don’t want to do this.
Quick Money Creates the Need For More Of It
So you have to make $300 this week, right?
You find a writing site, you sign up, you do a million articles and barely make your goal, you’re exhausted, but hey you got your $300!
But now you need more money.
So you think, well, I’ll just do a few more of these articles.
And another soul-sucking week later you’ve got your next $300.
But here’s the problem. All you’re doing is earning what you need, meaning you have zero time or energy left for much of anything else.
Including building a profitable, sustainable business.
Digital Sharecropping is a Terrible Idea
The term “digital sharecropping” refers to building your business on someone else’s digital land.
When you’re depending on a site like Textbroker or Zerys or BlogMutt for your entire existence, you’re absolutely screwed if they go down.
Or their structure changes.
Or your clients leave.
When you’re depending on a small number of (or, worse yet, one) source of income that you don’t own, you’re setting yourself up for catastrophic failure.
You’re Not Building Anything
When you rely on quick money, not only are you constantly forced to chase quick money working tireless hours on somebody else’s digital property, you’re doing absolutely nothing for your own business.
Most things you write for content mill or bidding site clients will be ghostwritten.
Meaning you don’t get to claim them.
And even if you do, serious clients will be able to smell content mill work a mile away, and it’ll be really hard to get them to take you seriously if you include it in your portfolio.
Hear this if nothing else: the only thing you accomplish by writing for content mills is earning cash; you will never build a business that way.
If all you need is money, get a job.
Get a part-time job that allows you to clock in, get paid, and go home.
And then build your writing business.
You do not want to build a business with an ax hanging over your head. If you HAVE to make your business work in a certain number of weeks or months in order for you to pay bills, you won’t have the mindset, the resources, or the time available to truly build your business.
Content Mills Are Hamster Wheels
Once you’re down the rabbit hole, the hell has only just begun.
Then you have to do the work.
And trust me…that’s all you’ll be doing.
Content mills are nothing more than hamster wheels.
You’ll write and write and work and work and submit and submit and barely make enough.
Meaning you’ll have to repeat the whole process over again to barely make enough again.
And before you know it, that’s all you can do because you’ve created a situation in which you have to do it.
It’s a neverending cycle with zero growth potential, and it’s no business plan at all.
So What Do You Do Instead?
Now that I’ve dashed your hopes and dreams of making your laptop life by means of content mills, let me give you some tips on what you can do instead.
- Write an eBook. At the very least, when you write an eBook it’s something you can put your name on. It’s yours. It can further your career. And it will be a career. If you want to be a freelance writer that focuses on travel, write an eBook discussing how to write about your travels. Write something that demonstrates your ability to do the thing you want to be hired for. You can earn money and build your content library.
- Start a Blog. Yes, I blog because I love it. But I also blog because I find clients that way. You might think that writing a blog almost exclusively for freelancers would be a terrible way to find clients. However, most clients just want to know that I can write and that I’m a professional, and this blog (apparently) demonstrates both. Clients who read my blog know what they’re signing up for, and that’s all most clients really care about.
- Make a Website. In this day and age, you’re not in business until you’re website official. Get a website, make it look nice (or hire someone who can), and write every bit of content for your site as though it was a million dollar project. Because it just might be.
- Set Up Your Social Media. Don’t go crazy. You don’t have to be everywhere. Just pick a couple of the big ones, like Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and get started. Remember: content isn’t about selling, it’s about informing and helping. The faster you have a social media presence, the better.
- Create a Portfolio. I don’t want to hear any more about how it’s so hard to get clients because you haven’t had clients before. That’s literally where everyone started. Give yourself assignments, create the things you’d like to be hired to do, and use that as your portfolio. Hell, even if you have a blog and a website with decent content you can probably land a client. Clients don’t care nearly as much about a prestigious record as you think they do. They just want to know you can DO the job. (Jerry Maguire reference, in case you didn’t get that.)
- Get a Job. I don’t know what it is with freelancers, but we all tend to feel like if we have a job that isn’t freelancing we’ve failed as freelancers. That’s just ridiculous. If anything, getting a side job is sometimes the most strategic decision you can make FOR your business as a freelancer. It’s not forever, it’s just until you’ve built up a safety net and you’re earning enough from your freelance endeavors to go full-time without having to stress about finances.
The most important thing you can do is build a business that’s yours, that demonstrates your skills, and that’s constructed on your turf.
Oh, also…get that email list going. Create something like a whitepaper that you can offer for free in exchange for email addresses, and then write a monthly or bi-monthly newsletter offering helpful information to your audience.
Your email list is a gold mine if you do it right, so don’t overlook it.
I hope you’ve found this helpful, or at the very least feel like you have something to think about.
I know it feels like taking fast money is the best way to “kickstart your career”, but the only thing you’re kickstarting is a business death spiral.
Yes, you can use mills and bidding sites strategically to add to a solid business plan, but if you’re relying solely on those avenues and you don’t know when to jump ship, you can be in for a world of hurt.
Let me know your thoughts, and please do tell me if there’s anything I can clarify further in a future blog post.
See you guys in the next one. Until then, happy writing!