Are you new to copywriting and still looking for your first client? Well, guess what? I have good news. There’s a way to break down the ‘newbie’ barrier and come out on the other side feeling much more qualified to tackle the big projects with your dream clients.
I’m talking about content mills. I know, the pay is pitiful, but stay with me.
It wasn’t long ago that I found myself sitting at my computer surrounded by piles of training binders and handwritten notes on how to be a copywriter, but I had no clients. Not even a prospect.
I was hungry for a real-life project. Anything that didn’t have ‘training homework’ written all over it.
I started looking around online and ran across a blog about content mills. I had never heard of a content mill. What was that?
I continued to read and learned that there are online companies that advertise their writing services to the business world (mostly blog posts and articles used for content marketing), and they hire writers to do the writing. They act as the middleman between the client and the writer.
After some research on Google, I found dozens of these companies. Some were ready to sign me up on the spot with little interest in seeing samples, and some had more rigorous application requirements. They offered fees ranging from $0.02 per word (hence the ‘pitiful’ reference earlier) to $45 for a 500-word article.
I decided to go for the higher paying gigs. A company called Content Writers had an impressive website and the best rates.
After filling out a lengthy questionnaire and several weeks of submitting samples, I was asked to complete one final step — a one-on-one phone interview. The conversation was friendly and informal… and successful. They signed me up.
Three days later, I got an email offering me a project to write five blog posts on a topic I knew nothing about. Determined to make this work, I accepted the assignment — and so began my trip down the content mill path.
I have to admit, working for pennies per hour didn’t line up with my aspirations to write million-dollar controls, but… I found the silk lining in all of this… and I want to share five ways content mills can boost your writing career with you now.
It’s All in the Research
My first assignment with Content Writers was promoting a software tool designed to help estimate the cost of commercial construction projects. Huh? I knew nothing about this topic.
It was time to sink or swim, so I went to Google and started searching every commercial construction keyword I could think of. It didn’t take long to find several websites and articles that shed some light on this subject.
I became a reading machine… sorting and sifting through a mountain of information about the difficult task of bidding a construction project. The headlines, subheadlines, and content possibilities started to come into focus.
So, with notes in hand, I began to write. The information was sourced from the Internet, but the words were my own. I finished the assignment and reflected on my accomplishment.
At that moment, I recognized the power of thorough research. I knew then I could write about anything, and as a new copywriter, that was empowering. The fear of tackling unfamiliar subject matter was fading.
During your training as a copywriter, how many times did you hear, “Don’t miss a deadline”? Content mills are known for cranking out a lot of content in a short amount of time.
They promise their clients short turnaround times, and they expect their writers to work quickly and efficiently. Missing a couple of deadlines can move you to the bottom of the assignment list… and, in some cases, your fee will be reduced.
I’ll confess — the pressure of a deadline was daunting at first. Once an assignment is accepted, you’re on the hook. The clock is ticking and you have to perform. But here’s the thing about deadlines… they can force those of us who are easily distracted to focus on the task at hand.
I became more comfortable with deadlines as I completed each project. Today, I find deadlines motivating. It’s just part of being a copywriter.
Find Your Client’s Voice
This one surprised me. I thought I was a pretty good writer when I started my training to be a copywriter, but I hadn’t given much thought to the tone and personality of my writing.
I knew from my AWAI training that a conversational style was key, but my Content Writers assignments taught me the importance of finding the right voice for the client.
A quick story — my third assignment from Content Writers came with a note from the client asking for a ‘clever and irreverent voice.’ I wasn’t sure what that meant, so I did my best, turned in the article, and waited.
The next day, I received an email from the CW editor telling me the article was technically fine, but it missed the mark on the client’s request for a specific voice. So, I went back to the keyboard and tried to imagine what the client was looking for.
In the end, I had to step out of my comfort zone and bring a different attitude to the voice in the article. It worked. The client loved it.
And I learned a lesson… pay attention to the client’s intention.
Why are they writing the article in the first place? Who are they speaking to? What voice are they trying to project to their audience? (If you’re in doubt, ask your contact more questions.)
The Editor is Your Friend
At first, I found working with the Content Writers editors a challenge. Their tone was often harsh and a bit condescending, which put my ego into defense mode. And I didn’t always agree with their opinions. That said, they had the final word and I had to get over it.
So I put my ego aside and started looking at their comments from a different perspective. I stopped taking their feedback personally. The result — my writing improved, the edit requests lessened, and I learned to take constructive criticism.
Go Forth with Confidence
Confidence. Of all the benefits I received from my content mill experience, this was the most valuable.
Sometimes the hardest thing about being a successful copywriter is convincing yourself you have what it takes. Unfortunately, there’s no training guide for this one. It takes courage to put words on paper and send it out into the world.
After writing dozens of articles on topics I knew nothing about, I was convinced I could do this. Was I a best-selling author? No. Was I a great copywriter? Not yet.
But I knew I had the resources and the skills to get better every day, and thanks to the content mill projects I had completed, I knew I was on my way.
So, there you have it. Are content mills a long-term strategy for building a successful copywriting business? Not really.
Think of them as a way to get hands-on training after completing the academic phase of learning to be a copywriter — a way to transition from the copywriting student to the working writer. But don’t stay too long.
I stuck with it for four months. That was enough time for me to learn what I needed to move to the next level.
Now I’m working with my own clients and making more money — with newfound skills and confidence — all thanks to content mills.