3 ways to attract higher paying clients and avoid the $10 content mills

September 6, 2010 by Dean Rieck
Filed under: Freelancing 

avoid content writing millsBack in February, I warned you about CrowdSPRING, another in a long line of  “content mill” sites that professional writers should avoid.

Today, Matt Ambrose makes his debut on Pro Copy Tips with some advice on how to avoid these nefarious content mills and earn what you’re really worth.


If you’re new to the freelance writing world, you might be worried about the poverty-inducing wages offered at “content mills” and freelance bidding websites.

Well, you’re not alone.

There’s no shortage of writers outraged at what they feel is a slap in the face for the sweat and tears that goes into a piece of writing. Some think these sites even threaten the future of the profession.

After all, how are you supposed to persuade clients to pay you $200 for an article when there’s a glut of “writers” happy to fight bidding wars over $10?

But while some writers might be happy to chain themselves to a conveyor belt and churn out 20 articles a day, it doesn’t mean you have to.

There are a number of ways you can find clients that will pay you a fair rate for your copywriting skills.

Here are my top 3:

1. Specialize – Rather than compete over writing regurgitated “How To” guides, which anybody can research in a matter of minutes, try to specialize in a particular topic or industry.

Specializing in topics that are too complex for your low-paid brethren to tackle puts you in a stronger position at the bargaining table.

Think about what interests you or what topics you already know more about than most. Then start building up your knowledge and exposure until you can position yourself as an expert and get the salary that goes with it.

2. Write copy that generates sales — It’s difficult to justify $200 for an article when its main aim is to generate keywords. The highest paid copywriters are those working in direct marketing for the simple reason that their words directly translate into sales.

So focus on building your skills in writing landing pages, email campaigns, sales letters, or anything else that’s linked to revenue. If your copy is going to generate money for clients, then you deserve to be rewarded for it.

3. Become an added value copywriter (as coined by Tom Chandler) — Rather than just words, consider what else you can offer clients to sweeten the deal. This could be helping to run a blog, online reputation management, Twitter campaigns, link building, or setting up a Facebook page.

These are all skills you can easily teach yourself and will make you a more valuable asset to clients.

So if you’re in the unfortunate position of hammering out keyword articles or doing other low-paying work for content mills to make ends meet, start building your skills and areas of expertise, and increase your salary in the process.

Matt Ambrose is a freelance copywriter and publisher of The Copywriter’s Crucible, a melting pot of copywriting news, tips, and insight.

Related posts:

  1. Information Overload: A copywriter’s worst enemy and 8 ways to avoid it
  2. Are you actually “paying” for business subscriptions?
  3. 15 little secrets your freelance clients won’t tell you
  4. Dazzle Your Clients and Double Your Income
  5. Can you get freelance clients with social networking?

>>> Subscribe to blog by RSS or E-mail

Smart Comments

18 Comments on 3 ways to attract higher paying clients and avoid the $10 content mills

  1. Gabrielle on Sep 6th, 2010 10:33 am
  2. I guess I’m confused about the difference between copywriting and content mill work. Usually content mills just want informative articles instead of sales copy. Whatever the difference is, I’m not exactly sure where to find $200 clients. I’ve read about this in several books, but never seem to get a reply when I send out a letter. Is there a site where I can get information about where to get started marketing articles for higher paying clients?

    One thing readers might want to remember is that the content mills make at least double or triple off the content they write for them. If they even log on as a buyer, they will see the fees the content mills charge (and could be making themselves).

  3. Dean Rieck on Sep 6th, 2010 11:02 am
  4. @Gabrielle: Matt is talking about working for business clients, who always pay better. And $200 articles are on the extreme low end of projects. Copywriting projects for skilled copywriters often pay 4 or 5 figures.

  5. Lucy Thorpe on Sep 6th, 2010 1:50 pm
  6. I saw an ad for one of these charlatans wanting writers to produce 5 or 6 long articles a day – every day.
    I couldn’t produce work I would be proud of at that rate and I certainly wouldn’t enjoy it. I would love to hear from anyone who has given it a go, just so I could work out how on earth it is possible.

  7. Dean Rieck on Sep 6th, 2010 2:21 pm
  8. @Lucy: It’s possible because some writers are stealing content from others, just like many logo designers do. Or the “clients” don’t care about the quality and the writers deliver trash.

  9. Ren Atkins on Sep 6th, 2010 4:18 pm
  10. Thanks for the tips, Matt. I hadn’t considered number 3 before, but I definitely see potential for offering a few value-adds. Business owners are often super-excited to get their campaign underway, but struggle to find time (or know-how) for the nitty-gritty… yet I’d never thought to offer these services. Light bulb moment!

    I saw an ad for an article writer recently that made me laugh out loud with the line: “As we are offering $10 per article, we expect VERY high quality.”

  11. Glenn Murray on Sep 6th, 2010 7:46 pm
  12. I think point 3 in Matt’s post is harmful because it suggests you need to offer something other than copywriting to earn decent money. You don’t. You need to offer something other than WORDS.

    If you’re writing just words, you don’t deserve the $, because words are a dime a dozen. The real value in copywriting is the ability to deduce and supply what the reader needs and wants to hear. To convey the true personality of the client’s brand. And to compel the reader to act. The words are only a small part of the process.

    Copywriters don’t need to offer anything other than copywriting. They just need to prove to prospects that copywriting is NOT just words, and they need to show that they, personally, deliver more than just words.

  13. Dean Rieck on Sep 7th, 2010 9:28 am
  14. @Glenn: You have a point. However, I think what Matt meant was that you can offer additional services to increase income. I offer design services, for example, which can add 50% extra profit to a project. For radio ads, I can offer production services. You don’t “need” to offer other services, but it’s an option.

  15. Sara on Sep 7th, 2010 10:10 am
  16. Yes, yes, and yes! I especially like #3. Once I started promoting my “marketing skills,” as opposed to just my “writing skills,” I found that I became an invaluable resource for clients. Now they call me for a variety of things, not just the occasional press release or web page. It’s more fun for me, too. While I love to write, it’s very tough to do it all day every day.

  17. Joshua Black | The Underdog Millionaire on Sep 7th, 2010 4:00 pm
  18. It is a very scary tend indeed. With more people out of work, all competing for the same “mill” jobs, the site orginizers can go lower and lower for higher quality. Great business model for them, but total crap for the writers.

    It has turned outsourcing into a sport without having to go overseas to get low-waged employess. I wonder where it will end… I’m sure it’s got a long way to go. Just look at the amount of time peopl are willing to put into a project for just 5 bucks on fiverr.com… again, scary.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  19. Glenn Murray on Sep 7th, 2010 7:38 pm
  20. @Dean. Right. Well I agree with that, kinda… The risk with doing that is that you may dilute the perception of value in your copywriting service. Visitors may think, “If he can’t survive on copywriting alone, he can’t be very good.” Just a thought…

  21. Dean Rieck on Sep 7th, 2010 8:14 pm
  22. @Glenn: If you’re offering copywriting and lawn care services, maybe. But everyone who needs copy also needs design and most clients appreciate the package deal. I have a stable of freelancers I can call in for anything I need. I get better results when I control the whole process and that is what clients really want.

  23. Glenn Murray on Sep 7th, 2010 8:23 pm
  24. @Dean. Very good points Dean. The process you’ve adopted actually DOES work better, I believe. That’s, in fact, why I started Silver Pistol (silverpistol.com) — a web design & dev company. I’d been working with my business partner in that company, Ian Butler, for 8 years. He’s a web designer. We’d found over the years that when a client got me to write their copy and Ian to do their design, the project went much more smoothly than when the client got us to do only one of those things, and got someone else to do the other. So we decided to make it official and actually put a name to it. But I avoided adding the design service to Divine Write because I didn’t want the dilution issue.

    Obviously it’s working for you, and it also works for that bitch James at Men With Pens (;-) but I still think it’s a risk. Obviously a risk you’ve handled nicely!

    On that note, I’d also say that both you and James have standout copywriting skills, and good domain authority. That can’t hurt… Not all copywriters are in that position.

    Just wanted to chime in and say my first gigs were from content mills. I got 2$ a post, and I thought it was heaven. Being paid to WRITE? To do something I did well?! ONLINE?!


    It took me less than 3 months to figure out the whole deal, but I did what it took to get to where I am today. I took courses. I read books. I practiced. I learned new skills. I hired consultants. I hired team players. I marketed. I took risks. I did everything I had to do to get here – and I’m not done yet.

    So truthfully, if you want to stay out of the content mills and get the high paying jobs… you do what it takes.

    End of story.

  25. Dean Rieck on Sep 7th, 2010 8:45 pm
  26. @Glenn: Good points. I’ll admit that early on, I kept the design thing a secret. Now I’m well-established as a copywriter and am known as the direct mail copy guy. Everyone who contacts me does so for copy, so I’m sure it’s not hurting me.

    Note: Google direct mail copywriter, and I generally come up in first place. Google direct mail designer, and I should be on the first page.

    As for James, better be careful with the bitch stuff. She can probably beat you to death with that guitar.

  27. Glenn Murray on Sep 7th, 2010 9:20 pm
  28. @Dean. James don’t scare me! I’m thousands of miles away. By plane.

  29. Jennifer L on Sep 9th, 2010 12:52 am
  30. I think that specialising more could be useful, although I dont yet. Also writing print articles (for a small amount or for exposure) is helpful in building your credibility with clients… if you remember to mention it. Even thou we have a website design business right here, I still get work from other web designers, copywriters!, and an Infusionsoft sales agent. Then I can focus on the quoting, researching and writing parts. This is how I get by only working part time (although as soon as I do start networking locally, new jobs turn up). Those content mills su… rhymes with duck.

    [...] View th&#1077 original article here [...]

  31. Linda on Mar 25th, 2012 12:41 pm
  32. The term ‘content mills’ is a new one to me! I’ve only just started writing and my first job was absolute rubbish for peanuts – but it did a good job for me. Made me realise straight away that I needed to aim higher and go for work that was worthy of my skills. Maybe it was a content mill I worked for!