How I Lost a Potential Client to a Content Mill – And What this Says About the Future of Freelance Content Creation
Five years ago, before I fell down into the one-client freelance rabbit hole, I had never come face-to-face with the unpleasant entity known as a “content mill.”
They didn’t exist when I first started freelancing, or for my first two decades as a professional marketing writer. Now, it seems like they are everywhere!
In fact, I recently lost a potential client to a content mill. And I’m very unhappy – and also very worried — about what this means for freelancers.
Are content mills, with their cheap labor and ability to crank out words like a Ford factory cranks out cheap cars, today’s freelance threat?
I can deal with losing a potential client to another freelancer. But to a content mill. That is just scary.
How I Learned I Was in Competition with a Content Mill
Here’s how it went down.
I cold called the company to ask if they might need a freelance marketing writer. I reached the marketing director and she said, “I would like to talk with you about your fees. I’m thinking of hiring a content company to produce new content for our blog. And I’d like to compare costs.”
She also said, “We have to sign a contract with the content company, and agree to a large number of blog posts every month.”
She added, “They said I’ll have a team of writers. I’ve only spoken to the project coordinator, so far. Not the writers.”
“And you probably won’t,” I interjected, even though I knew nothing about the company at that point, even its name.
I just instinctively realized what was happening. The “team” of writers would be a bull pit of low-paid, fresh out of college or maybe even high school, “writers.”
The call ended with the marketing manager asking me to send her an estimate.
Oh and I also got the name of my competition: Brafton.
I Put Up a Good Fight – But the Content Mill Won the Client
As soon as I got off the phone, I looked up the company. Sure enough, it’s a content mill, albeit with a really slick candy coating — and a cool website.
How could this company, with its cool image, produce less-than-high-quality content?
The answer came to me upon further research – out of the mouths of the “writers” themselves on Glassdoor.com.
There I found several comments from former employees that told the true story of Brafton’s content creation. Here’s one example:
“Not a good place to work AT ALL, but decent experience”
Former News and Content Writer in Boston, MA – Reviewed Feb 5, 2013
Pros – You’ll get good resume experience as an entry-level employee. You’ll have a lot of responsibility and can get promotions fairly easily if you want to. Writing jobs are rare, especially entry-level ones, so Brafton provides great opportunities for writers. A lot of this is because the turnover is so insane. When people leave, you can get a promotion, but they’re leaving because it’s miserable. Also, the people you work with are really cool- they are fun and talented.
Cons – Hard work is rewarded with more work, salaries are insulting, management that directs most (not the big guys) is too inexperienced – they are 25 with liberal arts degrees. They cover things up with corporate speak and won’t tell you anything about what’s going on. The business model is really sad. Quantity over quality. The person who talked about Brafton picking up college grads who don’t realize that they’re getting taking advantage of is 100 percent right. We come, we write, we burn out, we get treated like crap, then we leave. Many of the leaders pride themselves in having been here for a whole 3 years (!) but don’t recognize they’re part of such a bad environment. Drinkin’ the kool aid. It’s every man for himself. If you can’t manage your un-doable workload, you screw over your friends. Your work gets added to their already insane workload. Sad. The corporate culture is stifling, employees are miserable – people routinely expect a little more money or resources, ask for it, and see nothing. My 10 best friends at the company are leaving or looking to leave for other jobs. The place is a revolving door. People often quit with nothing lined up because they can’t handle it. 4,000 words per day. It was once described to me as “every day, a sprint. every month, a marathon.” Not sustainable. Come back to me when YOU can run a marathon in a sprint. When I started looking for other jobs, other companies in the industry wanted to save me. Brafton has a really bad rep. for how it treats its employees 🙁
Along with my project estimate, I sent my potential client links to these comments. I told her that if she hires me, she will be assured of quality content that her clients, prospects, and Google will love.
As a bonus, she’ll enjoy an actual personal relationship with her writer.
I thought this would clinch the deal.
But she chose Brafton. She was lured by the fact that the company could produce a ton of content quickly, that she’d have a “team of writers,” and that supposedly the company had impressive clients like Microsoft. Perhaps even the fee was lower.
Do We Have to Worry About Content Mills Taking Our Potential Clients?
Content mills are not who I want to compete with, and they are not where I want my fellow marketing writers spending their valuable time killing themselves for low pay.
But, unfortunately, they, with their cheap labor and factory production, are likely here to stay.
I’m still not sure how pervasive of a threat they are or will be to freelance writers.
Share Your Thoughts
What do you think? Have you been in competition with content mills? Are you worried about this entity luring away freelance writers’ potential clients?
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