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Old 12-05-2012, 08:41 AM
Bree Normandin's Avatar
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Default Content Mills=Digital Sharecropping

I was first introduced to the concept of digital sharecropping through an article on Copyblogger. As I was reading the article, I realized that the concept applied to writing for content mills.

This really hit home with me. I've done mill writing before and I am familiar with the hits that freelance writers take while working at content mills. Some of these "hits" can destroy the viability of your business model overnight.

For instance, writers who write for Textbroker are subject to being rated. Level 4 offers a livable, if not ideal, means of making money. Once a writer is bumped to level 3, the benefits quickly disappear. Unfortunately, writers can write 100 level four articles and have 4 assignments with level 3 rankings. This leads to the writer getting bumped down to a level 3.

Some writers work hard to regain level 4 for months, to no avail. Other writers get fed up and create new accounts and the process starts again.

The fact of the matter is that when you are working for a content mill you are subject to their rules and guidelines. These rules and guidelines can change over time. Additionally, you can be fired from writing there for no cause and there isn't anything that you can do about it.

Worse yet, you can be fired with outstanding work in your account. Good luck trying to collect what is owed when that happens.

I'm not saying don't write for content mills. This isn't realistic. Freelance writers have to start somewhere.

I am saying that your primary goal as a freelance writer should be to make your business as viable as possible. Don't get so busy churning out work for content mills that you neglect to explore other possibilities for generating revenue.

Remember, the primary purpose of a content mill is to generate revenue for the business. At some point in time, their goals might conflict with yours.

Don't put all your eggs in one basket.
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Old 12-05-2012, 09:17 AM
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Realistically, as most writers write with the goal of getting highly ranked articles, you're always going to be subject to rules. Whether you write for mills, yourself, or private clients, there are rules there, so you shouldn't lose focus on that.

I'm not hugely fond of mills overall, but TB has been very good to me. I've heard people say they get demoted easily, but I've been at level 4 since 2008 and have never been demoted. I think the "write from the heart" comes into play here. I only take articles there if I'm very familiar with the subject. I don't write simply to make money there though, I write because it's fun.

I've been lucky to have the success I do. I do not bother with social media, and I don't have a website devoted to my freelance writing services. I get plenty of work without them. In the end, it always comes down to the same thing from my clients - "you're dependable."

I can't count the number of writers who have flaked on my clients' projects. That's fine for them, and I appreciate it because many of the jobs I have are because others proved to be unreliable. And happy clients lead to referrals to other clients. They don't care about a website selling my services, they care about my getting the job done on time without complaint and without improper grammar, mistruths, or dozens of spelling errors.

It reminds me of a story I heard a couple days ago. If you watch Stephen Colbert, you will have heard this, but Examiner.com published a story "Stephen Colbert to Star in Lord of the Rings Prequel." It's a cameo appearance, so the headline isn't accurate at all and made whoever this Ryan person is a bit of a laughingstock really when it comes to factual writing.
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Old 12-05-2012, 10:54 AM
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I've never liked Copyblogger. I think they're woefully overrated, and that article is extremely dramatic. Yes, when you work for someone else you are subject to their rules. Yes, it's important to have several streams of income. I think everyone already knows to do that. I don't think there is anyone who makes every cent from just one site. I like writing for reputable content mills that pay a decent rate. And yes, there are many that do this. For every iWriter, there's a Skyword.
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Old 12-05-2012, 10:55 AM
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It all depends on what your income goals are. My writing is a supplement to my husband's income, and I don't really have an interest in rev. share writing or promoting a business. I just need some extra money, and the handful of content mills that I write for work well for me. Like anng said, I've never had a problem with TB, and the other sites that I write for are pretty easygoing about rules as long as you're a decent writer who follows guidelines.

It's really not a one-size-fits-all thing. Everyone has different needs and goals.

Also, when you're working as an IC, technically you can't be "fired". The risk of a contract ending applies across the board with all IC work at home jobs.

Last edited by AG1976; 12-05-2012 at 10:58 AM.
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Old 12-05-2012, 11:56 AM
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Just wanted to add a little focus: I'm not bashing any content mills or a specific content mill. I just used TB as an example of what can happen.

I'm not opposed to rules either.

Just thought I'd put that out there....

anng: I think you've hit on a good piece of advice for writers who want to successfully write for TB. Write about what you enjoy and have knowledge of. Obviously, writers who do this will have a better chance at maintaining their level 4. They won't burn out easily. I think this is a good takeaway.

Being dependable is also a good asset.

AG1976: I never meant to imply that every writer would have a problem with TB. I've just noticed from various blogs and forums that lots of writers have had issues.

There are pros and cons to every single site. I also realize different writers have different goals.

I look at writing as something that I enjoy. I also enjoy making money from my writing. I am the sole breadwinner in my home and finances carry a heavy weight on my goals. Of course, this also weighs heavily in my point of view.

When I first started writing I didn't think about diversifying. I'm hoping that writers with similar goals who are just starting out don't make that mistake.

Jobs can end without reason and mills can shut down. Clients can stiff you and it can take an act of congress to collect any funds owed. It's just good to keep this in mind.
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Old 12-05-2012, 12:08 PM
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[QUOTE=Bree Normandin;3055891I am the sole breadwinner in my home and finances carry a heavy weight on my goals. Of course, this also weighs heavily in my point of view.[/QUOTE]

That definitely will factor in to anyone's experience. I make money to pay for groceries and the cars. My husband is the breadwinner.

And you're right, people should diversify from the minute they hit ground running. It's going back a long time, close to six years, but I first started out with a private client and then expanded into the mills a bit while picking up more private clients. I can't remember how I landed that first private client anymore. I want to say she was a reader of my book review site who asked if I had time to write articles, but I'm not sure.

I still prefer private clients because they are more fun to work with IMO, I like having the phone/email/instant messenger contact. I will still dabble in the mills though. I just am very particular about what work I take. I do turn away more direct orders work in a week with the mills than I accept.
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Old 12-06-2012, 03:46 PM
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I think the key takeaway here is diversify, diversify, diversify. I've found that to be true no matter what type of work at home income we're talking about. I have had the rug pulled out from me numerous times over the years. Each time, I was so thankful I had not put all my eggs in one basket.
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Old 12-09-2012, 09:02 PM
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Very much agree that diversification is best practice. I have seen a lot of sites disappear, change rules, etc.
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Old 12-10-2012, 11:53 AM
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I agree with the article for the most part. It reminds me of another article I read awhile back (I don't remember where) about having an employee mentality. A lot of self employed individuals still have that "on their terms" mindset. The client calls all the shots. They pay what they pay... they pay through the methods they choose... they make all the choices. Part of the reason I wanted to work for myself was so I could call my own shots. I take the payment methods I want. I charge the fees I charge. I wouldn't call a plumber and say "Look... I need this pipe fixed by tomorrow afternoon and I need you do it for $25 an hour." I call the plumber and ask what he charges and when he can get to my job. If I don't like what he says, I can always shop around. But, if I hire him, I'm doing it on his terms.

But like others have said... everyone has different needs. Some writers want the stability content mills provide. They ARE stable compared to finding your own clients and building a client base for yourself. They offer a mingling of employment and self-employment. That is one reason I have a few sites I still write for on occasion as backups. For the most part, though, I like to decide when my fees are due after completing a job, what my contract says, and what the conditions are. Or at least, we negotiate on those points together so we're both happy.
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Old 12-14-2012, 01:59 AM
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Nice article Bree! She mentions something that has withstood the test of time: Don't put all of your eggs in one basket. An incredibly important consideration for anyone whose income is not certain.
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