When I first had the idea of creating a blog for writers, by writers (namely, myself), one of the things I wanted to focus on was breaking away from content mills.
Why? Because there are tonnes of amazing freelance writers out there who aren’t maximising their potential, and that is — to a great extent — caused by content mills.
So in this post, I’m going to get started on explaining the tough topic of breaking away from content mills. But first, a little on why content mills suck.
Why content mills suck
There are two big problems with content mills, which together are significant enough to warrant these businesses “sucking”.
First of all, boy do content mills take a hefty commission. No, not a 3% fee like most payment processors. Not a 6% fee like most real estate agents.
Content mills take a fee of above 20%, in most cases.
Now on its own, that’s something you can work with. But:
Second of all, content mills neuter the direct link between you and your work.
That means you can’t build a professional relationship with (what are effectively) your clients, nor can you develop an identity as a writer. And that’s really bad for business.
How to break away from content mills
Right, we’re clear on why content mills suck. There’s more to it than that, but this is supposed to be a guide, not a hate-post.
Let’s talk about how you can actually break away from content mills and take your business elsewhere.
The most important part of breaking away from content mills is learning to find clients on your own.
(Trust me. Everything else, like taking payment, just falls into place.)
If you can find clients on your own, you’ll always have someone to write for. And then it’s just a matter of finding better and better clients, so you can earn less money, work fewer hours, and deal with less shit (like erratic schedules or thousands of edit requests).
Seriously, you just need to go out there and find one client. Close the deal with them, and it’s sorted. Repeat that a couple of times and *boom* baby, you got yourself a living — you can worry about improving on everything later.
A process for finding clients
Thankfully, finding clients isn’t all too difficult. I mean, if you asked me to find enough clients today to pay all of my bills for the foreseeable future, I might struggle.
But finding a couple here and there, and slowly building up a client-base/network, really isn’t difficult.
With that said, let’s focus in on the process of finding a single client. You’ll just repeat it over and over again. Here’s how it works:
1) Decide what you’re good at and what you can do.
The first step is deciding what you’re good at (e.g. a particular niche, like fashion, or a particular facet of writing, like proofreading), and what you can do. I know that right off the bat you might be thinking this is highly unspecific advice, but this step is really important. You’re going to openly advertise everything that you’re good at, and you’re going to just look for people who need anything you can do.
So, right off the bat, decide what you’re good at when it comes to writing, and what else you can manage with.
2) Get the word out there about what you’re good at.
Next, you need to get the word out there about what you’re good at. If you’re looking for clients, you need to broadcast a message that you can do X to as many people as you can. And in this case, that X is the things that you’re good at. You only advertise the things you’re good at because prospects like specificity. They want to know you have the right solution for them. It’s why I don’t advertise myself as a virtual assistant, but instead a writer, and why many successful writers don’t advertise themselves as writers, but instead experts in a particular niche.
So, get the word out there about what you’re good at. I know so many of you reading this want to know what the perfect medium is, but it really doesn’t matter. You can advertise this in forum posts, in blog comment sections, on social media, with classified ads, online or print. Just try to think of where prospects might be hanging out.
Personally, I’ve had a lot of success advertising myself on Reddit, creating an engaging profile on LinkedIn, and telling my existing clients that I’m looking for additional work.
3) Look around to see if there’s anything you can do.
Step 2 should be the core step in finding clients, most of the time. However, sometimes you’ll need to put more effort into this step, which means looking around to see if there’s anything you can do (within reason). Instead of offering the ideal service and operating in your 5%, you can branch out and operate in your less effective areas, and go hunting for the people that are in need.
So, keep your eyes open and look for prospects — even in a wider range of things than you’re good at — and you’ll make yourself some clients. Sometimes, you might even find people who need services that you are good at, but that didn’t see your broadcast (as in step 2) for whatever reasons. You can look for these jobs and these prospects in similar places to above.
Personally, I review classified listing sites every week or two, and occasionally have a look at lists of writing jobs.
4) Get in touch with prospects or let them get in touch with you.
Here’s the fun part: you get in touch with prospects or they get in touch with you. It’s as simple as it sounds, and this step is as limited as it sounds.
So, send your prospects an email or a PM on social or whatever, or wait for them to get in touch with you. All of a sudden there’s less noise in the market; it’s a quiet place for you and the prospect to discuss all the details.
Here’s an example of an email I might send:
I saw your ad on Craigslist looking for a writer to create a promotional text for your company.
My name’s Thomas — I’m a freelance writer from the UK with the best part of 10 years’ experience. You can find my portfolio along with customer testimonials on my website at http://thomasbush.co.
I’d really like to take on this job. Before we agree to anything, could I perhaps take a look at your website to evaluate how we might proceed with this text?
My rate is $0.10 per word, which would put this at $100. This might exceed your expectations, but I’m certain my writing will do likewise.
I look forward to hearing from you.
5) Close the deal and off you go.
The rest is simple — just close the deal. Discuss the technical details of the project, plus all of the administrative stuff (like price and deadline), have the both of you agree to it, and off you go. Please don’t worry about whether you need contracts or NDAs or tax forms: it really will work itself out!
So, turn your lead into a client by closing the deal.
Just before we close off, let me add an important note. I say not to worry about contracts and NDAs, but you should look out for yourself! Always take payment first or sign a contract. If you can’t work this step out alone, you can come back here in a few days’ time and leave me a comment — I’ll explain how I deal with the bureaucracy.
Anyway, that’s it. You’re done. You have a client, outside of a content mill! All that’s left is to rinse and repeat…
The next steps are easy, and like I explained previously, fairly straight forward. To start with, you want to repeat this process a few times to build up a client base, and then you simply won’t log onto content mills anymore.
Also, you want to be constantly improving on this process to find better clients and close better deals. The arts of marketing, negotiation, and such will come to you with practice.
I’ll be writing some more thorough content on how to move forward after you’ve found your first clients outside of the mill, but for now, you do just that, and leave me a comment all about the experience and any questions you have.
A disclaimer: I wrote this entire article in one sitting, so there’s bound to be some mistakes, broad comments, and out-right wrong statements, but I hope the article as a whole has provided some benefit to you.
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