Don't Get Ground Down by Content Mills

Don’t Get Ground Down by Content Mills

A guest post by – AJ Brennan

content mills


When you first start out as a freelance writer it’s easy to let your enthusiasm run away with you.  However, not every writing opportunity is what it first appears; it’s a jungle out there and every jungle has its predators.

Content Mills (sometimes known as content farms) can seem like a godsend to newbie writers. When I first encountered them I could only see the benefits:

  • They welcomed content from lots of writers, so I thought I had a good chance of having some work accepted.
  • Sometimes – though not always – writers were credited with a name check or a by-line.
  • There seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of work for everyone.
  • It was an opportunity to showcase my talents and there was always the chance that editors would see my work and contact me.

Most importantly of all, I could get paid for my work. True, it wasn’t a great rate but I’d actually be earning from my writing and surely that’s what being a freelancer was all about?



I signed up – on various sites – and wrote about everything under the sun: child-care, cleaning tips, ‘how to’ lists…whatever seemed like a good option. On some sites the work went to the fastest (and lowest) bidder, while other sites seemed to want endless edits and even then there was no guarantee of publication and payment at the end. As time went on, it was less like a content mill and more like a treadmill.

Before long, the liabilities were outweighing the benefits:

  • Lots of writers and content meant I was far less likely to stand out from the crowd.
  • A low rate per piece was a disincentive to do any credible research; so much of my work remained generic.
  • Taking into account editing and the whims of editors (can you make it more appealing to business leaders…) I was often writing for peanuts.
  • Most content mills I used were US based, so there were currency fluctuations and Paypal fees to factor in. Plus, some US sites wanted a W9 form completed for tax purposes – otherwise, some money could be held back.
  • Burn out. Every article became a sprint race. Job satisfaction? Forget it!
  • I was learning bad habits. If I knew I wouldn’t get a by-line, why do my very best writing? After all, no one would ever know it was me.

I realised that it was time to think like a professional.

If I were prepared to write a 600-word piece for a few dollars (and often not very few dollars), to get a portfolio piece and a by-line, why not spend quality time on it and pitch it to a high profile site or publication?

I posted some of my new content on several blogs and used social media to promote the posts. Now, if I want to pitch to an editor, I can point them to my work online and it’s work I’m actually proud of.

Revisiting some of my old content mill material, I’ve spent time looking at how I could rewrite pieces with appropriate research to make them suitable for new markets. I also got into the habit of trying to find three different angles per piece.

I gave my writing the time and attention it deserved – the same time and attention that my clients deserve. That also meant doing research and seeking out freelance sites that offer good opportunities at a decent rate. For example, I won this job on and it’s a site I include in my regular job search. I’m no longer a content provider: I’m a writer.

Guest author AJ Brennan


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