From a Content Mill to Writing a TV Commercial in 2 Months

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From a Content Mill to Writing a TV Commercial in 2 months! Makealivingwriting.comFresh out of college, with no real world experience and no real job prospects, I dove into the content mill Textbroker in 2013, lured by the appeal of easy money.

Big mistake.

Over the next three years, I slaved for 1.4 cents per word. Even though I was done with school, I was still living the life of a starving college student. Did you know it takes 7,143 words at that rate to make $100?

That’s hard to swallow now that I know it’s possible to make a lot more money from freelancing. If you’ve been writing for a low-pay, race-to-the-bottom content mill, it’s time to rethink your approach to building a freelance business.

I couldn’t maintain such a grueling writing pace for bare bones rations. I wanted satisfying work. I wanted better clients. And I wanted to get paid well. I finally woke up and realized that low-pay work for a content mill would never yield pro rates.

Now what?

I put five key strategies in place to transform my freelancing business. The result: Bye-bye, content mills. Hello, better pay and better clients — including a major TV network within two months. Here’s how I did it:

1. Set aside time each day to pitch

Before I became serious about my freelance work, I would send out half-hearted queries every so often. When I decided to start taking things seriously, I set aside four hours each morning to research and send out queries.

Within a month, I landed my first assignment with Global Comment. It’s a site aimed at millennials that serves up guest posts and opinion pieces to its audience. I wrote little-to-no-research-required opinion pieces about Netflix, current affairs, and other topics. And at $50 per article, I couldn’t believe I’d been writing for pennies for so long.

2. Use better job boards

I used to think that trolling Craigslist for writing jobs was a decent place to look for gigs. Fortunately, I learned to avoid it because of lessons in the Den. Legitimate clients very rarely, if ever, post on Craigslist. I turned to ProBlogger, the Freelance Writer’s Den Job Board, Write Jobs+, and LinkedIn’s Job Search to find higher-quality clients. Before applying, I’d research the company and then address my email to the hiring manager for the project manager. Doing this helped me stand out from the competition.

3. Post your published work on LinkedIn

When I finished pitching for the day, I turned my attention to my social media pages, particularly my LinkedIn page. The first order of business: I improved the Summary section of my LinkedIn profile.

Then I listed each client I’ve worked with in the “Experience” section, with links to published work.  For example, when I work for a new company, I create an experience listing for that company usually titled “Freelance (fill in the blank) Writer,” where the blank is filled in with the type of role I served. Posting these links gives potential clients the ability to evaluate your work before reaching out to you.

4. Make use of online resources

As a member of Freelance Writers Den, I have access to a host of bootcamps and past forum posts. I took advantage of these resources, including posting my queries for other members to critique.

I studied the bootcamps and optimized my social media presence. But even without the Den, there are a host of free resources available you can make use of like Be a Freelance Blogger, The Renegade Writer, and Make a Living Writing.

5. Treat each job like it’s the best one yet

Because I put everything I had into each job, I produced several knockout posts. Sharing these on LinkedIn caught the attention of CBS Interactive and GameSpot. The companies reached out and asked if I would be interested in writing a script.

The extent of my script writing experience at this point: a college class. But I wasn’t going to let that stop me from trying to land this gig. I decided to fake-it-till-you make it, and see what would happen. I proposed a flat rate of $500 and got the gig.

The gig: A five-minute script to promote the release of the video game, Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst. Fortunately, I had played the previous version of the game. But that’s a lot different than writing a script to promote a game launch. GameSpot gave me access to storyboard resources on the site, and I went to work.

It proved to be the most intimidating project of my career so far, but I completed the project under the deadline. (You can check it out here.)

I worked really hard on this. And once the shock-and-awe of writing for a big-name client wore off, I realized that treating each job like it’s your best one yet, is a great way to move your freelance career forward.

Map out your own plan to leave content mills behind

You can work hard all day long and never find success, if you write for a content mill. If you’re using all of your creative energy to pound out short articles for pennies per word, you’ll rarely find time to pitch better paying clients, and you’ll find it hard to build a portfolio to be proud of.

Put these five steps in place to grow your freelancing business, and you’ll be on your way landing better paying clients. Believe me, I know. If a liberal-arts grad with no real-world working experience like me can do it, you can too.

What’s your game plan to move up and earn more as a freelance writer? Let us know in the comments below.

Patrick Hearn is a freelance video game and travel writer. He can be found online at Patrick-Hearn.com.

53 Comments

  1. Emily Jacobs

    THANK YOU for this post! I’m starting to take my freelance-writing goals and dreams seriously, and this is one of the most helpful pieces I’ve read so far. I’m still writing a little bit for content mills while I seek out my first, ah, “legit” client, and I definitely need the encouragement.

    • Emily Jacobs

      Oh yeah, forgot to ask (though I’m afraid this might be a stupid question): Is there a time of day that’s best for looking at job boards? You say you set aside time in the morning for pitching–is that just what worked best for you, or were there other reasons for it (e.g., most jobs are posted first thing in the morning, etc.)?

    • Carol Tice

      Yes, Emily — the best time of day to look at job boards is…never. As this analysis I did of my marketing showed. Learn to prospect and find your own clients!

      And there are no stupid questions on my blog. 😉

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