Show the World You’re Not a Content Mill Writer

I just completed a series of articles I’m extremely proud to put my byline on. Forgive the blatant bragging, but after a year of not doing much writing, it’s nice to look at something I’ve written that’s more than 140 characters and say, “Damn. That’s pretty good.”

The market has changed even in the 10 or so months since I haven’t been pursuing freelance writing work. Two years ago, I was literally turning down clients or subcontracting work because plenty of companies were willing to pay fair rates for high quality content. I think I got out just as the market shifted, although I actually had no intention of leaving.

High-paying, high-quality markets and clients willing to pay for real value from their content producers are still around, but they are harder to find. Content mills have grown better at marketing themselves, which means more businesses view the mills as a viable solution to their content needs. I won’t go into why I personally feel that’s a bad choice for businesses. Instead, let’s talk about:

What this shift means for writers.
As a writer looking to make a living wage, you need to prove you’re providing better quality than clients find in the content mills. If you’ve been writing for the mills for a while, it can be difficult to change your mindset and, not only ask for what you’re worth, but earn those higher wages by providing quality content.

The following is a quick blueprint of what goes into a higher-quality article, how to give clients who pay more the value they deserve.

I’ll get into how to sell these benefits in a future piece. For now, let’s explore how high-quality writers deliver what high-paying clients demand.

Research the market.
Pitch quality ideas in line with your client’s target market. Research their concerns, desires, and pain points, then choose topics that help solve their problems

While content mills assign your story topics, out in the real world you’re often asked to generate the ideas. Learn how to do this quickly and accurately and you’ll shine above your peers.

Use reputable sources.
While the client I was working for this week did not specify a need for expert interviews, they do expect well-researched pieces. I linked to an article written by another editor of mine for a Fortune 500 client, and an article written by an expert I know personally in a particular field. With 20 years of writing experience, I know a lot of experts. Using them as sources, even if I’m not calling them up for an interview, benefits all parties involved.

Exceed the minimum word count — but not the maximum.
Longer doesn’t necessarily mean better. When I reached the end of my second piece I was faced with cutting 200 or so words. If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “I was going to turn in a shorter piece, but I didn’t have the time,” then you know exactly what I mean.

When I re-read the article, which was originally written on my iPhone while my son scaled netting at an indoor play place, I knew I had plenty to cut. The end result of taking my virtual editor’s pen to the piece was a meaty and informative article that was 50 words under the limit, and 250 over the bare minimum the client expected. This, to me, is the sweet spot that says I didn’t just stop when I hit the limit, but I didn’t ramble and ignore directions, either.

Maybe it’s not right to judge an article by its length, but when I’ve assigned pieces to writers with a word count range, and they submit something that is just one or two words over the minimum and didn’t expand the article fully, I felt like they were putting in minimal effort: “You wanted 300 words, here they are. Next.” That’s not to say all articles that dance just around the minimum word count are incomplete – but some are.

Spend time on your articles.
Even if you bill by the project, hourly rates are critical for a business. And, make no mistake, writing is a business.

Content mill writers are always racing against the clock to increase their hourly rage. They’ve learned the formula to write “good enough” content that will get them more content mill jobs while still making more than they would flipping burgers (ideally). But if you believe you can be better than that (I believe you can, and I don’t even know you!), look for the better paying jobs and then give them the time they’re worth.
When you charge more for your work, you can take time to research more thoroughly, write and re-rewrite The difference is: less passive voice (more active sentences), a few clever turns of phrases, more compelling subheads, and an overall tighter piece that flows better. It’s a subtle difference, but an important one for clients who want their readers to keep coming back.

Seek out the better paying jobs.
Higher paying jobs are out there, and they aren’t hard to find. It’s believing you’re worth it that can be the challenge. Apply for the jobs, follow these tips, and build a better freelance writing career.