Inside 4 New Content Mills: What Freelancers Need to Know

Inside 4 New Content Mills: What Freelancers Need to Know. Makealivingwriting.com

You don’t have to look far to find content mills paying freelance writers ridiculously low rates these days.

It’s a reality—one that isn’t good for your writing career, portfolio, bank account, self-confidence, or sanity.

Does anyone actually make good money writing for content mills?

Well, here’s the news: Not all content mills suck. Wait, what?

There’s an emerging breed of content mills that may be a game-changer for freelancers.

According to some writers who’ve worked on these platforms, you can earn big coin if you do it right. But there are some pitfalls you’ll need to watch out for.

Are these content mills just a new take on the lowest-bidder game?

Or do some content mills actually provide value and pay pro rates?

Here’s what you need to know about an emerging class of content mills that may offer better opportunities:

Content mills: In the beginning

When I started freelancing about 10 years ago, content mills were just getting rolling. I set up a profile (soon to be abandoned) on the content mill site Guru.com. It seemed like an easy way to find clients.

The same year I picked up my digital pen, a former MySpace executive teamed up with a private equity investor to launch Demand Media—the mother of all content mills at one time.

Their specialty was trading table scraps for low-quality content from freelancers, and gaming SEO to rank their content high in Google.

After Demand’s CEO cashed in big with a public stock offering, many more content-mill sites started up, whose founders dreamed of a similar payday. A series of Google algorithm updates nearly killed the industry. And now, Demand Media has changed its name to Leaf Group. But renaming this company is like that old joke about putting lipstick on a pig.

Just as content mills were dying, though, a new breed of mass writer platforms began popping up. Now, there are at least a handful of sites where pro rates and pro writing go together.

Here’s a rundown on the top contenders in the emerging field of ‘move-up mills’:

Contently – Founded 2010

Contently defines itself as a “technology company.” The home page states their audience is brands in the market for content services — and Contently’s service offerings go beyond writing. They offer videography, photography, and infographic design, too.

Billing themselves as a content marketing platform, Contently is a place where brands can log in and manage their content marketing from one dashboard. Their network of freelancers are paid by Contently upon completion of their individual contributions.

Rates

Jordan Teicher, a senior editor at Contently, said their average freelance writing rate is $1 per word.

“There are other factors that go into deciding what tier a story falls under on our rate card,” he said. While he wouldn’t share details, he did say blogging typically pays less, while other projects such as white papers pay more. Technical projects also tend to demand more pay.

Tom Bentley, a 25-year freelancing veteran, confirmed this. He said he made $250 for a piece that required one hour for research and as little as $100 for a 700-word article.

“I don’t pitch unless I get a minimum of 40 cents per word,” he said. “I try to hit 50 cents.” What he likes about Contently is that they pay immediately upon completion of each assignment. No waiting.

How Contently connects clients with writers

The process of finding work at Contently differs drastically from that of content mills. There’s no job board, and no project bidding. That was one of the few things Bentley said he didn’t like.

“It’s understandable that writers want the ability to apply for jobs,” Teicher said, “but that system requires a balance. If anyone can apply to any job, then you’re talking about platforms like Craigslist where quality varies wildly. Our approach is more controlled, to ensure the right writers are recommended for publications that suit their skills and experience.”

Build your own portfolio

You get a public-facing portfolio at Contently, which you can update at any time (you can see Bentley’s right here). However, to get an assignment, you must wait for Contently’s talent team to contact you. Depending on the writer’s skills and breadth of experience, that could take a while.

Opportunities to earn more

Contently also has two publications of its own that freelancers can write for. Teicher said writers usually earn $300-$400, depending on the piece.

When asked why a writer should use Contently if they can earn top dollar through their own marketing, he said, “By all means, do it. I don’t think it has to be either/or.” He added that paying writers a fair rate was an important part of their service.

While Bentley likes that Contently does the legwork in finding clients for him, he still does his own marketing and works directly with other clients.

ClearVoice – Founded 2015

There are two clear differences between Contently and ClearVoice: The manner in which you’re selected for assignments, and the way in which each service pays. At Contently, you know what you’ll make before taking an assignment. At ClearVoice, they quote you the rate, then take out their finder’s fee — and it’s substantial.

“It’s frustrating that they take 25 percent,” said freelance writer Ronda Swaney, who’s only received one assignment from ClearVoice. “I wish they’d send more work.”

How to find gigs

When you sign up for ClearVoice’s service, you select a minimum rate for receiving notifications about available projects. When a brand offers an assignment, you are sent the ones that match your criteria, and can raise your hand if you want to work on it.

“We then present five to 10 writer options for the brand to choose from,” said ClearVoice CEO Jay Swansson. The brand then chooses the writers they want to work with from that writer pool.

Rates

Swansson said the range of pay writers can expect starts at 10 cents per word and goes up to $1 per word. Bentley said he joined ClearVoice, but hadn’t received any assignments so he emailed support. He received an email within five minutes with the following message:

Bentley had listed his minimum at 75 cents per word. After receiving the customer response email, he changed it to 50 cents per word. One month later, he received two offers but turned them both down because “neither of them were suitable for me.”

ClearVoice is proud of its customer support and responsiveness, and writers appreciate it, as well.

Done-for-you portfolio

According to Swansson, writers have a public-facing portfolio. The site crawls the Web to find writers with bylines at top publications, then creates a portfolio for them, even if they haven’t joined the service.

Swansson said I had one, but I had difficulty finding it. He mentioned a few publishers I’d written for, so I knew he wasn’t bluffing. After Googling it and coming up empty, I stumbled upon another writer’s portfolio and reverse-engineered the URL to find my own. (To see a sample portfolio on ClearVoice, check out Swaney’s.)

Tools and communication

“We built a messaging system into the app,” Swansson said. “We encourage as much communication as possible between clients and writers. They know who each other are.”

Swansson also mentiond that brands have access to an editorial calendar. When I asked if there’s one for writers, he responded, “That’s a good idea. I’ll see about adding a calendar to that side of the platform.” And when I suggested a tool that would allow me to keep track of all assignments in one place, even those not acquired through ClearVoice, he got excited about that idea too.

When asked about the ease of using the platform, Bentley said all of the services he’s tried are a little clunky. “The interfaces can always be improved,” he said.

I can vouch for that. I signed up for ClearVoice, Contently, and eByline, just to try them out. While I found ClearVoice’s dashboard to be the most attractive, it’s also least user-friendly, with eByline a close second.

The one thing Bentley, Swaney, and Swansson all agree on is that writers using the ClearVoice platform want more work. At least, the happy ones do.

Skyword – Founded 2010

Skyword’s browser tab reads “The art and science of content marketing,” and its official tagline is “Moving stories. Forward.” They attract brands with a quiz on where they stand on the “content marketing continuum”

Agency-style content marketing

One subhead reads “Content marketing works.” In our interview, Community Manager Molly Berry described her company simply as a “content marketing company.”

“We work with a wide array of clients,” she said, “from short blog-like articles to in-depth e-books and whitepapers for very well-known tech enterprises.” And they’re even venturing into videography and video design.

Brand journalism

What all three companies have in common is they target their services toward brands looking for content, and see freelance writers as core assets. This might be a defining distinction between these so-called content agencies and content mills.

That and the fact that content mills paid beans and existed primarily to feed search algorithms. Compare Carol Tice’s $400 experience with ClearVoice to, say, Writer Access, whose top-paying writers earn a whopping 7 cents per word.

Nice rates — and big brands

At Skyword, writers can earn $150 to $800 per article, Berry said, “depending on the type of content and length.” They pay twice a month through PayPal for all projects a writer works on in that period. The good news? “The client pays the PayPal fees.”

Skyword really does act like an agency, going so far as to plan the content strategies for its clients. Bentley got an assignment from Google and Swaney worked with Hewlett Packard. She said she’s never earned less than $350 for a blog post at Skyword. Her gigs have primarily been ghostwriting and tech writing. “Those two areas seem to have a hard time finding experienced writers,” Swaney said.

The editing process

One thing both Bentley and Swaney agreed on is the editing process isn’t ideal. Some clients have their own in-house editors, where others rely on Skyword staff. That’s true of Contently and ClearVoice, as well, but Bentley mentioned a particularly irritating experience at Skyword. An editor (an employee of the client’s, not Skyword) said one of his assignments was “crap.”

While Swaney has had a good experience with her editors, she mentioned that one writer friend had a different experience. “There seems to be a lot of turnover in companies like this,” she said. “You don’t know who you’ll be working with, and there are various levels of experience. Some may not be experienced working with writers.”

Despite that headache, however, both writers said they like working with the agencies.

How Skyword connects clients with writers

Skyword has two ways of operating. They offer the full-service setup for clients where they plan the content strategy, set the writer pay rate, and act as intermediary between the writer and client. Skyword also allows brands to search their writer pool and select writers.

eByline – Founded 2009

Like the other platforms, eByline sees itself as a connector between brands that need content marketing and writers who provide content. Their goal is to meet the needs of both audiences.

Rates

eByline founder Bill Momary says their freelancer pay at eByline is all over the chart.

“It’s an open market,” Momary said. “Buyers dictate rates. The rate for a 500-word article in Pennsylvania might be different than in L.A. or New York.”

Journalists wanted

One reason for this is because eByline works with a lot of journalists and news agencies. Momary said the platform has more than 17,000 freelance journalists registered, which makes it unique among the freelance marketplaces in this article.

In fact, Momary recounted, eByline was started when he and a colleague left the L.A. Times when newsrooms were laying off staff. “We asked ourselves, ‘What if we built software that kept people in one environment?’ We decided we’d cover sporting events, the courts, business, everything a newspaper would do.” Companies looking for content marketing services came later.

Formula for pricing projects

Today, Momary is the senior vice president of content at Izea, the company that purchased eByline last year. Izea is a publicly traded company and bills itself as “The Creator Marketplace.” Three factors that determine writer pay at eByline, Momary said, are:

  1. Assignment scope and complexity
  2. Content type
  3. Volume

“We’re seeing more freelancers willing to offer a discount if they can get more work,” he said.

How to find work

There are two ways to find work at eByline. If a brand is familiar with a your work, you can be offered a direct assignment. The other option is to use the platform’s job board, where brands post jobs for the marketplace. Writers set up alerts for the types of jobs they want. If a writer sees a job she wants, she creates a pitch and the company chooses from among the pitches received.

One plus to eByline is that the pay you negotiate is the pay you receive. If an assignment pays $100, you receive $100. eByline charges companies extra for making the connection and keeps the difference. That’s one of the things Bentley said he likes about the platform, where he recently earned $200 for a 700-900 word article.

The application process

Momary also said eByline approves only 1 percent of the writer applications they receive. It took a little more than a month for my application to get approved, and only then it was after contacting them and inquiring as to the status of my application.

From the time of my inquiry to the time of approval, I lost an assignment that was available that would have been right up my alley, for a significant fee.

However, less than a week after approval, I landed my first gig, a 600-word blog post for $225. That client also added me to their Favorite list.

The reason most applications are rejected, Momary said, is an incomplete profile. In terms of criteria, what eByline looks for is quality of work, recent publication credits, and whether a writer has worked with “quality publications.”

“We also look at subject matter expertise,” he said. “If we have 3,000 travel writers and not enough demand, there isn’t enough work for another travel writer. So we look at that.”

The new content mills: Worth your time?

Are there any downsides to writing for this new breed of mills? Consider these:

  • Pay rates vary. While top writers can earn 50 cents per word or more, most writers shouldn’t expect that kind of pay. Experience, skill, availability, and ability to persuade a brand to choose you over the competition are all factors. Some of the spokespeople I interviewed admitted openly that some writers earn as little as 10 cents per word.
  • You need more than a profile. Getting a profile does not guarantee work. Sure, you have another channel through which opportunities may come, but don’t think this replaces your own outbound marketing such as your LinkedIn profile or writer website.
  • Keep up your own outbound marketing. If you decide to work through freelance marketplaces, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Do as Bentley does and use them as supplemental income. Work on getting the majority of your income from other sources—like your own website.
  • Communication and editing process may vary. As noted by Bentley and Swaney, you may run into frustrations with assignment editors. In the interest of fairness, however, I’ve had similar frustrations with clients I’ve worked with directly.
  • Work can dry up easily, or not come at all. Both Bentley and Swaney mentioned they’ve gone weeks or months without an assignment at one or more of the marketplaces they signed up for. If you want to eat, you shouldn’t rely solely on the marketplaces.

Ultimately, you have to decide whether it’s worth your time to pursue work through these emerging content agencies.

5 Rules for writing for the new content mills

If you want to write for content mills, go for it. On the right platforms, it’s possible to make some decent money.

But after 10 years of online marketing that started with a freelance marketplace profile, I’ve learned that my best customers come either through my website or through my own content marketing.

That’s not to say you can’t, or shouldn’t, pursue business through a content mill. Especially for young writers just starting out, these could be a starting point.

However, if you do, follow these 5 rules for writing for content mills:

  1. Set yourself a minimum pay rate. Make no exceptions.
  2. Establish a niche and seek work within that specialty. You’ll be perceived as an expert and can command higher pay. In fact, choose a marketplace that’s the best fit for your specialty.
  3. Never compete on price. Compete on quality.
  4. Take some time to understand each marketplace. Learn to write an effective profile, choose the best clips for your portfolio, and make use of customer service if you need help optimizing your marketing channel.
  5. Do quality work and always meet your deadlines. It’s the best way to keep your existing clients and get referrals to grow your business.

The bottom line: Setting up a bunch of profiles on content-mill sites might earn you some extra money. But it’s not a reliable way to market your services and find enough clients that pay pro rates to pay all your bills.

Your best marketing tools are still likely to be an effective website, a social media presence, great clips, and the discipline to consistently pitch prospects with queries and pitch letters.

Have you checked out any of the ‘move-up’ content mills? Share your experience in the comments.

Allen Taylor is a former newspaper editor turned content strategist in the FinTech and next-generation technology niches. He currently edits four niche Web publications through his boutique freelance writing service Taylored Content.

Escape the Content Mills: Earn more as a writer. LEARN MORE.

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95 comments on “Inside 4 New Content Mills: What Freelancers Need to Know
  1. Wonderful to read about these move-up mills and what sort of word rate is considered acceptable by experienced authors of articles. But I saw no mention of asking for/insisting on bylines and bios with links to your website.

    What’s the convention? Would you accept a lower rate if you got a byline and a linked bio? Should you always insist on a byline regardless of the pay? I’ve been offered $125 for 600-800 words articles on financial topics, 3-4 days turnaround, no bio, sometimes a byline depending on the host website. It seems too low to me.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Helen, if you don’t want to do that gig at that rate, then it’s too low for you. 😉

      I do consider ghosting something that should pay better, and think writers should, especially if it’s a situation where you’re really sworn to secrecy, and they won’t give you a testimonial or anything, and you can’t use it as a portfolio sample. I’d say in what you propose above, it’s the 3-4 day turnaround that wouldn’t work for me.

      All my blogging contracts, I pitch my month’s topics, get them approved, and then usually write them all in a single day. If they want you to be basically responding to breaking news or something, I want a TON more money.

      There’s a reality that much of the well-paid blogging out there, that you see in the $400-$500 and up level, is going to be ghostwriting. And bio opportunity often depends on the format of that blog — some are set up with a space for that, some aren’t.

      Hope that helps!

      • That’s very helpful, Carol. Thank you. You make a good point about the turnaround time – that should attract a better rate. I also like your approach to blogging contracts (pitching topics then writing the approved ones written in a single day). Makes sense. Cheers!

      • Firth McQuilliam says:

        Please forgive the eruption of silliness from my inner writing clown! I just couldn’t resist after so much careful, serious study of this thread and other MALW threads over the past week.

        Okay! Here goes:

        “Does this mean that if a client suddenly wanted you to respond within eight hours to breaking news about a large venture capitalist investment in an upstart biotechnology company with a ghostwritten, SEO-enhanced, in-depth investigational white paper on the history of biotechnology companies and how the latest investment fit into that history, you’d want at least $400 per hundred words with a guaranteed minimum of 1,200 words and an up-front deposit of $2,400?”

        Hee-hee-hee. I really am sorry. ^_^

  2. Leigh Smith says:

    Hi, Allen Taylor, and thank you for the informative article about what’s going on today with the new era of content mills (although I no longer work with that type of writing). My experience with Skyword, as such, began when their founder Tom Gerace headed up Gather.com, which was, for all intents and purposes, a kind of content mill, although the content that seemed to get the most eyeballs (and, hence, the best pay, as it was based on views) back in those heady days of May 2010 through 2011 was entertainment and politics-related. Mr. Gerace alludes to that other business, which I presume is Gather, in his intro/about page on Skyword (whose URL I am not allowed to add here, but you can easily google it). I wanted to add another data piece to the puzzle, if you will, of what/who these so-called move-up mills are—or were—as the Gather connection does not seem to have been noted in the original article or comments, unless I’m overlooking it. For me, the best things that came out of the Gather experience were (1) meeting other writers across the country (as well as commenters from around the world) and (2) learning how a content mill worked in the early days (I suppose you could call it) of their existence.

  3. Thanks for this, Allen. Some of them look interesting. But to be honest, the thought of having to work with a third-party editor sounds miserable. Even if the pay is good. I much prefer working directly with clients.

    But these definitely seem better than Upwork, that’s for sure 🙂

  4. Lindy says:

    Content Cloud are UK-based and also seem to have reasonable rates (around $370US for 800 words). I have a profile with them and am sent jobs that match my content areas of expertise. While you do have to bid, there’s always an expected bid range given so you can decide whether you want to put in a proposal. It’s also worth noting that the turn around time to submit is quite fast, so that can be an issue if you don’t already have existing contacts in the UK.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Lindy, if it’s still a bidding war, to me that’s an old-school content mill, and one I’d like to stay away from. Also — and it’s all rush work, at those rates? No thanks!

  5. I’ve had the pleasure of writing for Contently, and I have to say I was impressed. I wrote a couple of articles for a top hotel brand. Everything was smooth. The Brand Manager was friendly and answered questions quickly. Another great aspect was seeing which changes were made, if any, to my articles.

    I loved that they paid upon acceptance of the article. And a thank you note was sent out as well.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’ve heard other good experiences with Contently — except for the part where work can suddenly dry up. I had one mentee who seemed to never recover after one project ended there. Folks need to remember to stay diversified! No freelance gig lasts forever.

      • I agree. We need to stay diversified and diligent.

        I’ve had a few chances to pitch for different opportunities on Contently, but due to circumstances wasn’t able to do so within their tight timeframes. I have noticed the offer to pitch has declined since these time frame incongruences.

  6. Rebecca says:

    I like nDash. They are just getting started, but are really trying to be a quality platform. The problem for me is that the highest paying jobs seem to be for tech articles and companies that I don’t have the expertise for. Still, I got my first 15 cents a word job on that platform, so I’m still checking in with it to see if they get more clients that I can write for at a decent rate.

    Although, I have to say, I really don’t like posting prices on a platform. I’d rather have a company post a rate that we can accept, decline or negotiate. I have my rate on nDash set at $75 for a blog post, which I got for 500 words, but then got an offer from a different company of $80 for 800 to 1,000 words. So, though way better than Upwork, it’s not perfect.

    Still, they listened to feedback. At first, clients only had the option of accepting or declining a pitch. No feedback or negotiation was possible. That has been recently fixed. They are now saying that the average assignment is for $175, the highest grossing writer made $8,000 last month and was also the writer who pitched the most.

    My problem, at this point, is trying to expand from content marketing into regular articles for publications. I don’t have any published clips for those types of jobs, especially long form. While I was debating the best way to go about creating them, I stumbled upon LinkedIn’s ProFinder pilot program. When I applied, they said they’d love to include me, but asked that I get two things added to my profile: recommendations and published articles.

    “Published Articles – Articles are the quickest way to build your brand. They’ll be displayed on your ProFinder profile and visible to all LinkedIn members, not just your network. You can write about anything you know, from industry trends to career accomplishments.”

    So I just published my first one yesterday, plan to do at least a few more in the next few days, all in the niche I want to write in that I feel will be the most lucrative. I also requested the owner of an agency I’ve written for to add me to his network and give me a recommendation, but I’m not sure that will help with more journalistic jobs.

    Still, between moving up in rate on nDash and getting more entrenched in LinkedIn – which has been helping me even with a free account, I feel like I’m finally starting to get a toehold in the making a decent living zone.

    And I’d like to thank you, Carol, because so much of what has helped me has come from your website, books and courses. Thank you, too, Allen. Although I would never want to depend on just one platform, the more good ones we have, the better chance we have of adding to our revenue streams.

    • Jennifer says:

      Do you know how to figure out how much a client pays before pitching on Ndash? I’m a technology writer but don’t want to waste my time on any low payers. I know they are begging for technology writers on the site.

      • Rebecca says:

        There are actually two good ways of avoiding the low payers. One is the “Pitch to Industry” button. Once you’ve established your sectors, you can pitch to any of the industries you write for and all of the nDash clients within that industry will be notified of your pitch. The pitch requires a price and abstract, but the word count is optional.

        The other thing you want to do is look at the “Available Assignments”. There is a client on there now asking for an IT expert with 20 years experience to write a 2500 word white paper for $68 and another IT company who wants a 1000 word case study for $35, so you may want to put them on your private blacklist and not bother trying to pitch them.

        Currently, out of 6 available assignments, there is only one in marketing that looks good – 1500 words for $400. But if you search industries, then look at the profiles – or the client’s website – to see samples of what they publish, you can get a good idea of who is paying for quality content.

        The other thing is that you can be invited to pitch by nDash clients in your industry. I was invited to pitch by Trip Advisor and Coldwell Banker, so they do have major brands on their platform. Although TripAdvisor seems to have left, so they may not have been too pleased with what they were seeing. I’m pretty sure my pitch was too high-priced, but I couldn’t find any info about what they pay.

        Just let me know if you have any questions. But I *believe* that it would be worth your time to sign up for the platform as a tech writer. It might only be the source of sporadic assignments, but you never know.

    • Firth McQuilliam says:

      Thanks for posting this highly informative comment, Ms. Rebecca. I read it with considerable interest. This nDash sounds like a worthy contender for the appellation “upmotion platform.” Yes, I totally invented that last bit. ^_^;

  7. Shaswat Mukherjee says:

    Hi,

    Which is the cheapest yet effective content mills we can use for freelance?

    • Allen Taylor says:

      Shaswat,

      Are you serious? I don’t think there’s any such thing as a cheap, effective content mill. Approach your writing as a business. Look at these sites as marketing channels, but don’t rely on them as your only source of income. Be sure to butter your own bread, and seek pay rates that are in line with the value you provide to the customer.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’m not sure you read the post, Shaswat — it’s not about ‘cheapest’ content mills. Far as I know, they’re all pretty cheap! These are a new class of sites that pay far better than a typical content mill.

  8. I’ve had great luck with these type of agencies, especially Skyword, where I’ve earned probably close to $50K the past 2 years and written for some great brands including IBM, Vonage and Samsung. They really want to create a good writer experience and have meet a number of their editors at events when they sat down with us to learn more about the life a freelancer. I had some health issues last year and after a told my editor I needed some time off, Skyword sent me get well flowers, which was the sweetest thing ever. They also regularly ask for feedback about writers.

    Contently has been more spotty, but I just did a 3,000 dollar white paper for them. I did a ton of work for Contently when they first started to the tune of $50K over 2 years but then some of the editors that I worked with left and it wasn’t as consistent of an experience. But the project I’m currently on seems to be a great one, so we will see.

    Ebyline is the lower paying of the three from my experience. But I did do a great $1 a word project for Allstate through them for about 6 months a year ago.

    I also highly recommend Newscred, which pays $350 to $1000 depending on the project. Most of my work with them is a little less than $1 per word with 1 interview.

    I totally agree with the advice to not put all your eggs in their baskets because projects can definitely come and go without notice. I learned that the hard way with a Skyword project 2 years ago that I was earning about $5K a month on and then the client left Skyword.

    Another tip is if you get in with one project and the editor likes you is to approach the editor and ask if there are other projects that are a match for your skills. I have had great luck with that.

    My other tip is that the experience is VERY project dependent. So if you have a bad experience with one project, don’t give up on the particular agency, but chalk it up just to the project and give it another shot.

    • I also forgot to add that I absolutely do not think that these should be a writers primary marketing strategy. I think all writers should take the time to set up a profile on these platforms and then evaluate it based on which project they are asked to be on. I also think that certain niches, technology especially is in higher demand on these platforms.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Jennifer, you know, now that you mention it, I think I met with Skyword once at a conference, too! As I recall at the time their rates were too low for me…sounds like they’ve come up since then.

      Thanks for your first-person tips — and the reminder about NewsCred! I’ve been hearing about them. Maybe we’ll take a look at them next. 😉 Them and Reedsy.

      • Yes, Skywords rates definitely have gone up. A was approached in 2013 (maybe it was 2014, I’m not sure) about doing work on an IBM project for them and the pay was $40 for 700 words on highly technical topic. I said no thank you. Then in 2015 was approached again offering $500 for the exact same type of work for IBM (different blog, but very similar). After the one offer of $40, all of my projects have been paying $350 to one that paid $700. The $350 posts are no interviews and typically take one or two hours.

        Yes, look at Newscred. They are one of my favorites and really make sure that their writers are treated well by the clients. I had an issue once with a client that decided that I needed to edit the article in real time using a shared screen on a group conference call so he could approve it line by line. I immediately told Newscred and it was handled within an hour. If you end up profiling them, let me know and I can introduce you to the best contact. I work with them a a Board Member for ASJA as well by inviting them to come to our events connecting members with work both in person and over Skype

  9. Brent says:

    Sounds interesting … I’ve been grinding out a living at the bottom of the barrel. Maybe it’s time I moved my way up!

  10. Cy says:

    I’m not sure if “move up mill” is a good name for these platforms. The name implies that these sites are some sort of intermediary between the traditional mills and getting your own clients. This isn’t the case at all. These sites are looking for established writers with very strong clips.

    I created accounts with two of the sites mentioned in this article. I never heard anything from one of them. The other sent me email basically telling me that my clips weren’t good enough.

    *sigh*

    • Allen Taylor says:

      Cy, the answer is to get better clips and re-apply. Seek constant improvement. 🙂

      • Cy says:

        I definitely agree with you on that. I guess I was just trying to point out that “move up mill” may not be the best term for these sites.

        • Carol Tice says:

          We know! Totally taking nominees for what else we should call them.

        • Allen Taylor says:

          My journalistic sense is to let the subject define themselves then let the facts determine whether that is accurate or not.

          The folks at Skyword see themselves as a content company. Others see themselves as a technology company, focusing on the tech that connects their two audiences. Some would call themselves a freelance marketplace, which I think might be the most accurate term. I appreciate the honesty the spokespeople I interviewed had with the downsides to their platforms. I don’t get the sense that any of them feel like they offer writing career salvation.

          • I think that content marketing agency is the most accurate description since at least Skyword and Contently offer editors/content strategists that work with the clients and the writers.It’s slightly off because the term also applies to traditional advertising agencies that offer graphic design and more full service, but I really think it’s the closest and most accurate terms, especially from the freelancer perspective since the rates are similar to what I earn at other agencies or custom publishers (like Pace).

            I think that they are much more than a technology company because on most projects they offer the middle layer. I think Skyword and Contently (and Newscred) are much more than freelance marketplaces which make me think of Upwork and the like. There is no bidding and you don’t work directly with the client with no backup from Contently or Skyword. With Skyword I have never worked directly with the client. With Newcred, I do, but the Newscred editor helps with pitching and any issues.

            I am not a fan at all of move up mills because you most likely will not get put on projects if your only clips are from mills. And I think that the rates and quality of brands make these agencies a staple of even the most experienced freelancers client portfolio. I don’t think you should rely on them. But I know that even as a 6 figure freelancer I have no plans to move on from these agencies any time soon.

            I would say that most projects through Ebyline would count as freelance marketplace since you work directly with the clients and there seems to be lower paying.

            • Tom Bentley says:

              I’m with Jennifer on this one: “content marketing agency” is much more accurate than “move-up mill” on the counts she suggests. I have been calling these more upscale entities “content brokers,” but that doesn’t fully account for what they do.

              And they are a bit different than Ebyline for the reasons she mentions, about working directly with the client, and in general paying less, though I have had a few decent gigs with Ebyline. Obviously, it’s better to look out for yourself and not accept the lower-paying gigs anywhere (unless the electric company is about to shut down the lights).

              • Jennifer says:

                I”ve been thinking more and more about this and I really think content marketing agency is right description of Skyword, Contently and Newscred (Contently a little less than the others). I have done work for Pace, Wall Street Journal Custom Studios and MXM (Meredith’s content agency) and they work very similarly to these companies. And I don’t think anyone would call Wall Street Journal Custom Studios a Move Up Mill. I think the difference for me is the companies that have a layer between the writer and the client that handles the strategy and editing. Even if the writer has direct client contact, the “agency” is still providing more value than just connecting the writer with the client.

                • Carol Tice says:

                  Jennifer, WSJ and these other markets you name are custom publishers.

                  • Jennifer says:

                    To me content marketing agencies and customer publishers are the same thing these days. I think that there used to be a difference, but I don’t personally see one any more and I’ve worked for all that I’ve mentioned. Both groups that we are talking about produce content for companies in a variety of formats, blogs, whitepapers, ebooks, infographics. I find the work I do for Pace, WJS, MXM the exact same as what I do for Skyword and Newscred and Contently. I did a 10 blog series for a tech company for Pace that was very similar to work I’ve done for Skyword. And I just finished a 4K word whitepaper for Contently that was very similar to a whitepaper that I did for Adobe through WSJ. The process varies among all of them, but they are ultimately all doing the exact same thing, from my perspective. :>) What do you see as the difference? I am a total nerd about this stuff and love hearing the different perspectives.

                • Allen Taylor says:

                  Jennifer,

                  I think your description is more accurate of Skyword than the others since they do actually plan content strategies for their clients, or at least they put together content packages. But I think it’s interesting that they shy away from the word “agency” for themselves.

                  Contently has a slightly different business model. They really are more of a technology company, using the underlying technology to allow companies to source content, publish it, and track its results, but from what I can see, they don’t actually plan content strategies. They facilitate companies’ ability to create their own strategies by providing technology as a resource.

                  I’d say the difference between these companies and a true content marketing agency is that an agency doesn’t need the technology for its business model to be successful. These companies do. They couldn’t do what they do without it.

                  • Jennifer says:

                    Fair point, especially in terms of the technology. I worked with Contently a lot the first few years and at that point they were doing more strategy. I agree with you that it has shifted and I still had the old model in my head, but you are right my more recent experience is more what you describe. I do think there is a difference between these and true agencies, I just don’t think its a huge difference.

                    • Jennifer says:

                      I was curious about this since my blog readers often ask me about the difference between content marketing agencies and custom publishers. Pace calls themselves a content agency on their front page and WSJ calls themselves a content agency on the front page as well. Neither mention custom publishing. MXM calls themselves a digital powered content agency and Time’s former custom publishing division calls themselves a content marketing division.

                      Also, the association for what was formerly custom publishers used to be called Custom Content Council and they changed their name, in the last year or so to Content Council, largely because the term custom publisher isn’t used and most custom publishers are branding themselves as content agencies. There website talks about being focused on content marketing.

                      I found all of this interesting and thought I would share. I’m a total geek about this stuff.

  11. Dr. David R.L. Stevens says:

    Thanks for the post!

  12. Steve Maurer says:

    Allen and Carol,
    Thanks for sharing this information. I started years ago in the mills (Textbroker was my first). First job took 6 hours of research and writing. Got the astronomical fee of… $4.95.

    To paraphrase James Taylor (from “Millworker”) –
    Millwork ain’t easy. Millwork ain’t hard. Millwork ain’t nothing but an awful payin’ job. 🙂

    Glad to see these new platforms value the writers. Although I get most of my clients now through my site via Google search, and through my LinkedIn profile, I may need to check into these to supplement my work.

    Thanks again,
    Steve Maurer

    • Carol Tice says:

      Right on, Steve — I was pleasantly surprised by my own ClearVoice experience. In the future, these may be the ‘agencies of record’ for some very nice brands, and the only way to work with them, is my expectation. So it can pay to be signed up.

      • Allen Taylor says:

        Carol, I agree. I think some big brands will use these companies as their sole breeding ground for writers and if you want to break it, you’ll have to go through the middle-man. I don’t like it, but I can see the value for the company–having to work with only one contractor rather than multiple. They’ll likely see it as like a temp agency for writers, but in my mind, that only means we have to be on our guard to ensure we get the best rates and the best gigs.

        Steve, you’re seeing it correctly. Do your own marketing and use these sites only as a supplement to your ordinary income.

  13. Charles says:

    Thanks for the tips Carol. These content marketing platforms certainly look a lot more promising than most of what I’ve seen in my last 8 years of freelance writing. For about 7 years now, I have been largely reliant on the Constant Content platform, where you can set your own prices. However, sales have been steadily drying up there for the last year now, so it’s definitely time to seek out new opportunities. Of course, by far the biggest frustration is filtering out the vast number of wannabe ‘businesses’ and ‘entrepreneurs’ who are only willing to pay a dollar per article!

    • Carol Tice says:

      Yeah — why am I not shocked to hear that about Constant Content, Charles! I’m surprised to hear they’re even still around.

      All writers need to be aware of the sunsetting of the junk-content era, one of the trends I wrote about in this year’s forecast:

      http://www.makealivingwriting.com/freelance-writing-forecast-epic-trends-2017/

      The mills that helped companies find writers willing to work for pennies are dying fast — and it’s definitely time for writers to reposition themselves and find better markets.

      • Charles says:

        I’ve found Constant Content to be pretty good until recently, but various changes to their website, plus the scrapping of usage writes have done a number on my sales as well as those of many other successful writers there.

        Insofar as content quality goes, Constant Content has always been pretty high up. I like their business model too, which seems to be quite unique but, yes, it has really fallen by the wayside of late. Also, in my experience, you can’t realistically charge more than 10 cents per word there, which is not great once you factor in the 35% commission they take.

        In the meantime, I’ve now signed up for the websites you mentioned in this article, but I imagine it will be some time before I find any work on them.

        I’m also persevering with Upwork, as per your advice in an article you wrote recently about the platform. Trying to filter out all the jokers who expect ‘quality’ writing for next to free is getting a bit depressing though!

        • Carol Tice says:

          I’d think being on Constant Content alone is depressing, netting 6-7 cents a word or something? Hope you can leave that world behind soon. For comparison, the lowest rate I EVER worked for, the minute I began freelancing in 2005, was $.30 a word.

  14. Alanna Sharp says:

    Thanks for the post!

    The one issue I see, is most of these “content mills” are designed for established writers with tons of clips. I have no idea how someone like myself (who literally has a handful of clips) could begin to compete with someone like Tom Bentley. And if I had half the clips he does I doubt I would spend much time on Content Mill sites. However, I do value the strategy of diversifying your income, and these sites are soooo much better than the ones I spend time on (hence the limited clips–I can already hear Carol).

    Either way, thanks so much for sharing these awesome resources, and maybe one day I’ll have the clips I need to start using them.

    • Allen Taylor says:

      Alanna, don’t let lack of clips hold you back. All you need is one. There’s a company out there looking for someone with your specific skills and knowledge. And I’m a firm believer that there’s enough pie out there for everyone to have their fair share, so don’t feel like it’s a game of competition which naturally involves a loser so that must be you. In this game, everyone is a winner. Know your value and be confident that you have what they need.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Alanna, feel free to check out my Step by Step Guide ebook — it’s got the formula for getting more clips from good clients and positioning yourself to get better gigs…maybe even by getting on some of these sites. 😉

      • Tom Bentley says:

        Alanna, the counsel from both Allen and Carol in their responses to you (and responses to others here) is gold. As for me having a lot of clips, that’s because I’m an old crustacean who submitted my first pieces on parchment using a quill pen. All this stuff takes time—just keep moving forward.

  15. Katie Leamer says:

    I have little experience, but may try out adding a profile on one or more of these sites. Hopefully it will bring me some luck. Thanks!

    • Allen Taylor says:

      Give it a go, Katie. You build your experience as you go. But do work on developing your own marketing channels.

      • Katie Leamer says:

        Thank you for the tip! I am slowly taking it all in with very high hopes. It gets a little confusing at times. I know that I am determined to succeed. That is what keeps me going. Marketing is a new world to me, but I am learning little by little.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Katie, luck is not the basis of a successful freelance writing career. If you have relevant clips for their clients, being on these sites can be a source of good leads. That simple.

      • Katie Leamer says:

        I’d be lying to say that didn’t hurt a little. But I know it is true. I have been working on building a better portfolio. I find myself constantly searching for ways to be a stronger writer. I am putting my all into finding success. I must say this site has been completely inspiring as I embark on this journey.

        • Carol Tice says:

          Not trying to be hurtful with that, Katie…but I hear that sort of magical thinking a lot. And I think it’s important to call it out.

          My experience, spending 8 years talking to literally thousands of writers, is that luck really doesn’t play much of a role in building a freelance career. It’s not a lottery, or a roulette wheel you spin. The more concrete actions you take to find good clients, the more likely you will be able to sustain this as a career, and earn what you need. To me, that’s good news. Your career IS within your sphere of control, and not at the whim of a random universe.

          Glad you’re finding inspiring stuff on here!

  16. Camilla Hallstrom says:

    So many great tips here! And happy to see that the industry is changing for the better 🙂 That said, I’ve actually had some success on Upwork… BUT it requires a lot of upfront work and is a good fit for people just starting out. It’s been worth it, though, because some of my best clients have come from there!

    • Carol Tice says:

      …And when you say ‘best’ Camilla, what sort of pay are you talking about?

      I find my own clients — the most recent are at $1200 an article, and $1000 for 750 words. If you’re getting similar-caliber clients through Upwork, I’d love to hear all the details. In general, my experience is that writers who begin on places like Upwork are often unaware of what they SHOULD be getting paid.

      • Les Blythe says:

        Just saw your reply, Carol. I have had up to $1+ per word, but few and far between. If you can show me where to get that regularly, then au revoir Upwork.

        • Allen Taylor says:

          I churned away for years eeking out a living with my writing, trying out content mills, job boards and other places only to meet frustration after frustration with low-paying clients that don’t know how to work with freelancers. I’d heard about writers making $1/word or more, but I couldn’t find those clients.

          I knew that many magazines paid well, but I was skeptical that there were any online markets paying those rates. That is, until I joined the Freelance Writers Den and learned new strategies for finding work. Most of my clients today pay at least 50 cents per word, and I do have one that pays me $1/word for blog posts. Yep, it can be done.

        • Carol Tice says:

          Les, all my resources here on the blog and in the Den are based around finding top-dollar clients and avoiding race-to-the-bottom mass platforms. Maybe start by checking out my Get Great Freelance Clients ebook? Check out the ebooks tab up top…

      • Camilla Hallstrom says:

        Good point, Carol! I should’ve been more specific; with ‘best’, I mean best for me, right now. I absolutely believe I can get more for my work, but Upwork was a good starting point for me and I got clients from there whom I’ve continued working with (I stopped using Upwork about 6 months ago). They’re nice to work with and the pay is good (again, for me, right now) and I get paid on a retainer basis. That said, it’s not like the platform is filled with great clients, I had to do a lot of digging to find those I was happy to work with. As said, happy the industry is changing because the resources listed here are for sure a better way to find work that pays! 🙂

  17. Les Blythe says:

    Excellent, in-depth post, thanks.

    It’s nice to see someone taking a considered view of “content mills” for a change, and not automatically knocking them as the quickest way to flush your writing career down the toilet.

    I have no particular axe to grind, but a couple of facts:

    – I earn $125 per hour on 2 “content mills” I use and have earned up to $150 (I only use 2 right now).

    – I pick up quality, long term clients from them.

    – I know two people, one earning $250 and one earning $500 per hour.

    – There are solid, well-paying clients sprinkled among the low ballers, you just have to find them – as in kiss a few frogs!

    A couple of tips:

    – Take time to learn the game (how to pitch, what to avoid, when to pitch, when not to pitch, when to sack clients etc.).

    – Get 5-star reviews.

    – Specialize and be selective.

    – Stick to your guns.

    – Over deliver.

    – Deal with rejection 🙂

    I totally agree with not putting all your eggs in one basket – great advice.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Whenever I hear someone talk about getting ‘5-star ratings’ or reviews, my heart sinks, Les.

      That’s because these rankings are at the whim of the platform, they can vanish overnight, they can ban you. I’ve seen so many writers watch their entire income vaporize in an instant due to this issue.

      One of my ground rules is that any of the places with these rating systems are by definition NOT a good place for writers to hang out.

      • Les Blythe says:

        I hear you Carol and I agree to the extent that nothing is forever. The main platform I’m talking about is Upwork, formerly Elance.

        Bearing in mind they make money when you make money, it should be tenable to that extent. If you approach it professionally, deliver great results and build solid credibility, that’s about as much as you can hope to do.

        Back in the real world, I’ve only ever had one dispute on Upwork and that was pretty much as the result of a) A language barrier and b) The (technical) client not really understanding what good copy was.

        They quickly backed down when the saw my reputation and realized that they would lose in arbitration – not ideal, but sometimes you have to stand your ground 😉

        All said, don’t put all your eggs in one basket and spread your portfolio like any good investment strategy. But, don’t leave money on the table by the same token.

  18. Really great post!

    I’m right there with you on your conclusion that self-marketing is still the way to go, but breaking into paid work can be really challenging for new freelancers, so it’s nice to see some decent paying “content mills” emerging onto the scene.

    I’m definitely going to be sharing these with the writes I mentor.

  19. Great ovierview, Allen, especially with Carol. It feels like content mills want to step up their game, which means stepping ou our game.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I don’t agree that this is ‘some content mills wanting to step up their game.’ Some of the old-time mills like Demand have struggled mightily and changed their models many times over, but continue to flounder. These are all newer platforms that began with a different approach, from the start.

      The fundamental difference is that classic mills began to help businesses. Our welfare was never a concern. Their concept was that hobbyists who didn’t really care about pay would write for them — but many pro writers made the mistake of thinking these mills were a place for them.

      Traditional mills exist to help companies get dirt-cheap labor. Period. Their founders don’t care if writers starve. The issue of writer pay and fair treatment is completely off their radar!

      The new mills appear to be trying to balance the needs of clients AND writers, and to strive for fair pay. I’ll be closely watching how they proceed, but what we’ve seen so far is heartening. The good news is they are NOT a mass-bid, race to the bottom on price approach. Fewer gigs are on offer, and you often have to be hand-selected by editors to GET gigs on the move-up mills. But at least rates are far better.

      • If you don’t mind me saying so in front of class, no one I read and follow has as much insight into freelance as you, Carol.

        From the get go I liked your take on content mills and the difference between their goals and ours.

        I’m glad to read your comment here. After reading Allen’s post I wondered what had changed for you to even review the mills. But no worries, not when your BS detector runs full steam.

        Fair and even is where I see you, and it’s a relief for this fan that nothing’s changed regarding mills, just a wait and see how they do moment.

        How often do writers fall into “We think the exposure you’ll get from writing on our platform is payment enough” line? No one here is my guess.

        Thanks

        • Carol Tice says:

          Well, I hope no one reading me is posting free unless it’s in a very strategic, well-considered situation, David!

          And the insight on this one is all due to Allen’s hard work and sleuthing.

          I like to bring writers fully reported investigative insights on what it’s really like to write for the many platforms you find online — and I’m going to keep doing posts like this one, as I don’t think this sort of independent reporting is happening anywhere else. And it’s needed!

          I almost hesitate to call the 4 platforms reviewed here content mills, because they really DO represent a different business model than the old mills…but I think that’s the term most writers know. I like ‘move-up mills’ but I’m open to another catchphrase for describing what these ClearVoice/EByline type places represent. Curated content marketplaces, maybe? I’d love suggestions!

          • I agree with you about them not being content mills. I made a total of $75K in the last two years between Skyword and Newscred (which is similar) so that kind of money just doesn’t fit with the word mills. Clients have included IBM, Verizon Samsung and Hewlett Packard. A far cry from Ehow.

            I usually think of them as content marketing writing services since they really connect real clients with writers. If that doesn’t work, how about just calling them content marketing agencies? I think that they are closer to agencies than to content mills.

  20. Kimberly Rotter says:

    Great post. My last assignment from Contently was $930 for 1,200 words, so I can vouch for it being a possible good source. You just have to be available and willing to jump immediately when something comes through.

    To me, a big red flag went up when I read “We’re seeing more freelancers willing to offer a discount if they can get more work,” the quote from the Izea guy. All I can say about that is to stick to your guns on your minimum rate. I hate it when people want me to do more work for lower pay. More work is more work, any way you slice it. Quantity discounts are for Costco, not for intelligent professional services.

  21. Penny Taylor says:

    Thank you so much for this post.

    I used to do a lot of writing through Elance. It wasn’t my entire income, but I could pick and choose assignments, avoid the ridiculously low jobs, and make some decent money.

    Then Elance was sold to UpWork. First thing Elance writers were at a disadvantage because all the time we spent on Elance didn’t count on UpWork, so if a client had a job experience minimum we didn’t qualify. When contacted, UpWork simply said to ignore the qualification and apply anyway. (Ignoring qualifications only ticks off the client & cost you time & money.)

    Then UpWork started taking twice as much for commission. The list of changes continued. In the end it was all frustration and no jobs.

    Suffice to say, I’m thrilled to see a reflective, experienced critique of these other services.

    • Allen Taylor says:

      Thanks for weighing in, Penny. Upwork is one of those content mills I’d steer clear of.

      They contacted me not long after their name change and wanted me to write for their blog–for free! I told them the first bit of advice I’d give to their readers is not to use services like Upwork. I never heard from them again.

    • Carol Tice says:

      I’ve heard this story often — and even predicted that things would get worse when the merger happened:

      http://www.makealivingwriting.com/elance-odesk-merger-freelance-writers/

      The fact is that junk content assignments are a shrinking opportunity, so I expect life on UpWork and other platforms like it will only grow more unpleasant. I’m cautiously optimistic that the ‘move up mills’ may offer a better option for qualified writers — but as Allen says, finding your own clients is always the best choice.

  22. Wonderful post. Thanks, Carol and Allen for the in-depth look into these four move-up mills. Since I recently fired my #1 client, I just may look into these to replace that income.

  23. Nida Sea says:

    Great post, Allen! I really like how you get deep into the workings of each move-up mill. Back then during my career, (like five years ago), I may have jumped at the opportunity of one of these. Even though I do maintain a profile on two of these platforms, I honestly don’t wait for work. Pitching and prospecting, along with marketing has been working for me. I definitely agree with using your writer website, social media, and clips to get clients. Thanks again!

  24. Evan Jensen says:

    I just want to say that you don’t find this kind of in-depth reporting on many blogs, in the writing niche, or any other niche for that matter.

    While Carol’s blog has discussed some of the 4 sites mentioned in the past, this is a very thorough inside look at what it’s really like to write for one of these platforms. Nice job connecting with writers and staffers at Contently, ClearVoice, Skyword, and eByline.

    For anyone currently writing for a content mill or considering it, be sure to follow Allen’s “5 Rules for writing for the new content mills.”

  25. kareen says:

    The way you organized ideas is very impressive. I have just started to become a freelancer and it’s very kind of you to share with us. Thks alot!!!

  26. Great article, Allen. I was wondering though if you’ve had experience with other sites, say: Textbroker.

    • Allen Taylor says:

      Gabriella,

      I have not worked with Textbroker. After looking at their website, I wouldn’t want to. Their minimums are way too low. Their highest quality articles only pay 5 cents per word! Ugh.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Gabriella, Textbroker is the epitome of the crummy old-time content mills that the 4 outlined here are a big improvement on! Most mills are awful. The model with these is different and far more favorable to writers.

  27. Ronda Swaney says:

    Great, in-depth article, Allen. Nice work.

    To reiterate an important point in the article, DO NOT put all your eggs in one basket. While Skyword was definitely a nice source of income for me in 2015 and 2016, I’ve gotten ZERO work from them since October. I keep myself fully booked by keeping a client mix of content agencies, boutique agencies, and direct work with businesses. Just like an investment portfolio, there’s safety in diversification. To be successful over the long term, you have to find the right mix that works for you.

  28. Tom Bentley says:

    Allen and Carol, thanks for the informative piece. One clarification from me: I haven’t had any trouble with assignment editors at Skyword—much the opposite: they have been a delight. I’m working with two sets of editors now, who have been communicative and gracious.

    The incident Allen cited was a ways back, and indeed was a difficulty with some simultaneous (and awkward) cross-platform project editing, and a particularly brusque employee of the client, who wasn’t speaking for Skyword at all.

  29. Sue Chehrenegar says:

    I would like to learn more about how eByLine views an applicants’ qualifications. I have not written for any high quality publications, but I did pursue a 30 year career in biomedical research. I make a point of reading up on developments in that industry. I am close to an expert; how would that be viewed by eByLine?

    • Allen Taylor says:

      That’s a good question, Sue. The best way to find out is to submit an application, but I would get at least a couple of clips to add to my portfolio before doing so.