It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of either content mills or extremely low-paying private clients (like the webmasters on bidding sites willing to pay a whopping $1-5 per article). As far as I’m concerned it’s an irresponsible business move to take on these kinds of gigs without pursuing something better early on (and an irresponsible move I made myself back in the day — although not full-time or always in writer capacity).
Yet some freelance writers still claim they’re great ways to get started — letting you hone your craft and leading to significantly better paying gigs. For many, that’s complete bullshit. For the rest, they’re the exception rather than the rule. And just because something may work in the long haul, if it doesn’t work more effectively than the other options available to you then it’s not smart business.
One of those other options is to launch your own website or blog as opposed to using cheap content for others as a basis for building your freelance writing future.
The Barrier to Entry Issue
When I, and others, mention that your own blog can be far better for your writing career than cheap content for others, a common argument comes up. That’s the issue of barriers to entry. Some say that there are no barriers to entry in blogging and therefore any work for a third party is better in your portfolio. Not so much.
There are actually far fewer barriers to entry with content mills and extremely low paying clients (who will accept anyone, or nearly anyone, who can work within their pay structure) than there are in creating a good blog. When I say a blog is a better marketing tool or portfolio piece, I’m not saying that throwing any old crap up online is going to cut it. You still have to focus on quality. The difference is that your own blog doesn’t immediately lump your quality writing in with the reputation-tarnishing crap on mills and SEO’d-to-death content sites where writers were paid little to nothing for their work.
It’s more difficult to set up a blog, come up with design that suits the audience, come up with a continual flow of ideas for new blog posts, manage the resulting community, and monetize that blog (if you want to). Each of those things is a barrier to entry in a sense, and why so many blogs never really get off the ground.
Cheap Content Begets More Cheap Content
Here’s the other thing. Your own blog only refers to you prospects who are within the specific market you want to target. When you take on those cheap content writing gigs, referrals are often for more cheap content writing gigs. Are there exceptions? Absolutely. Should you expect to be one? Not really. For every success story there are thousands of other writers working these gigs who never get to grow beyond them.
And even if you’re 100% confident that you could break the mold, why would you choose to disrespect your abilities so much to start that low to begin with? If you genuinely believe you can do better than most in that situation, why not try to do it from the start? You don’t need to start off low and build your way up. And even if you did, there’s “low” and there’s absurdly low. You can earn ten times what some of these people pay per article and still be starting on the low end overall.
Keep in mind that clients do talk. If you’re writing $5 articles for some SEO firm and a colleague mentions to your client that they’re looking for a writer to work within their own low budget, you’ll come to mind. You’ll get referred for the low-paying gig because the client can already confirm that you’ll accept those terms — you’ve already shown that you don’t value your work more than that. If you’re a hobbyist happy doing that, then there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you’re trying to build a freelance writing business, you need to look beyond those absurdly cheap markets. They won’t usually lead to significantly higher paying ones.
Why Blogs are a Better Marketing Tool
With blogs, on the other hand, there are no preconceptions about rates and worth. Most people are intelligent enough to understand the difference between taking on cheap work during your billable hours and writing “for free” during your marketing hours to promote your business. And frankly, you don’t have to write for free when you blog for yourself. There are plenty of ways to make money blogging, even if you’re fairly new to it.
Here are some of the other reasons your own blog can make a much better marketing tool, helping you land better clients than writing for cheapskates likely will.
- You have a full set of metrics to share to demonstrate the value your writing offers. You can show prospects your traffic numbers, comment counts, time spent on the site, etc. — stats not usually available to you from third party clients.
- Having a blog of your own (a good one at least) shows that you have ambition and the ability to attract regular readers.
- Your blog also shows that you’re capable of handling long-term writing commitments. Of course consistency is key here — you have to stick with it.
- Your blog lets prospects become familiar with “your voice” as a writer to get a better feel for whether or not you’ll work well together on a more personal level. That isn’t always possible with more formulaic “cheap content” writing samples.
Ambition is the big one. There’s a big difference between filling out an application and plugging away at article after article and starting a project from scratch. You show that you understand how to identify a target market and write to their interests — vital for most high paying writing assignments. You show that you know how to make your content profitable with direct stats available (or convey other measurable value points that make your work worth the higher rates you want to charge). And you can write in a way that very directly addresses the needs of your own ideal buyers — attracting who you want to attract rather than whoever happens to come along.
Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.
She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.
Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.
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