If you’re a freelancer you’ve probably heard a bit about the murky world of content mills. Just about everyone has strong, usually unfavourable opinions on them and yet thousands of people use them both to buy and sell content on a daily basis.
They have been accused of being unfair to creatives who are forced to work for pennies. Some people call them exploitative but are they really as bad as people say?
What is a content mill?
First of all, what is a content mill? A content mill is a website where you can create a profile offering to sell services like writing blog posts or designing logos for a very small fee. The website then takes a cut of the fee you’re paid.
So for example, on Fiverr or Fivesquid as it’s called over here in the UK, you end up getting £4 after the website takes its cut.
As you can see, it’s not a lot but for people who are new to this it can be a great feeling to actually be selling services, particularly if you enjoy the work.
However, this initial rush soon dies down when you spend several hours designing a logo only to have a measly £4 back for it, especially if the client demands endless edits.
Why do people use them?
After that introduction you might be wondering why anyone would want to use a content mill.
Good for buyers
Content mills can be great if you’re looking to buy services but not so much if you’re selling them. Freelancers sometimes find that they need to use the services of fellow freelancers and content mills are a cheap and easy way to do this. If you’re unable to spend a lot on a blog post or logo, then content mills can be very useful.
The world of freelancing can be intimidating to any newbie. Content mills provide a sense of structure that can be convenient for those just dipping their toe into this world.
Having a place where everyone where people are actually looking for freelancers can be useful rather than pitching to endless potential clients only to find that none of them are interested. At least everyone on the content mill is already engaged and looking to pay someone to work.
It can also be a great source of learning without the responsibility of trying to keep a business afloat. Some of the things that you can learn through a content mill are time management, communication with clients and it can also just give you more experience in doing your work.
Plenty of successful freelancers start out on content mills. However, the vast majority of them leave them behind, but for many, it is an experience they learn a lot from.
Why do people hate content mills?
The obvious negative is that you don’t get paid much. You are setting yourself up to be undervalued. Being paid £4 for several hours work is not sustainable unless you work very quickly.
Even after leaving a content mill many freelancers are still too scared to charge top rates because they’ve only ever heard of people willing to pay pennies.
You can get too comfortable.
Well that might be the wrong word, but it can be difficult to leave that structure behind and venture into the unknown. Content mills are convenient and some people are hesitant to start trying to find clients, believing that most will just be on content mill sites.
So, should you sign up to a content mill?
No one can give you a clear answer on this. Your decision will depend entirely on your niche, business model and personal preferences.
If you’re looking for a bit of extra cash and the flexibility to can earn whenever you like, then it might be a useful source of income. However, if you’re looking to build a professional freelance business, you might want to either avoid them or at least ween yourself of them.
They’re a common way of starting a freelance business but they can be difficult to fit them into long term business plans. You’re wasting a lot of time you could be charging higher rates for if you just go it alone and find the clients yourself.
How to survive the content mill life
If you ever find that you need to or want to use a content mill, here are some tips on how to make it work:
Always make sure you stick with your own rules so that it’s harder for clients to exploit you. If the client knows what your terms and conditions are, they’re less likely to try and get out of a payment or ask for more free work. Decide on how many edits and alterations are included in your price and don’t agree to do just a little extra work for free.
Link to your website
First of all, it’s always a good idea to build a website. When you set up a profile on the content mill there’s usually an option to include a link to your website. If you have a good looking website, clients will see that you’re a professional and be more likely to trust you to produce quality work. This will mean that you’re more popular with clients and can therefore demand more.
Have it as a side venture
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Instead, spread your income sources as widely as possible. Instead of relying entirely on the content mill to pay the bills (which you’ll find hard to do anyway), have it simply as a top up or just for when you’re at a loose end.
Many freelancers start off on content mills and then move to finding work independently. However, some will still use content mills on occasion if they’ve hit a dry spell.
Have you ever used a content mill, either buying or selling? What advice would you give others using them? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.