Confessions of a Content Writer: What I’ve Learned From Writing for Different Content Companies

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Hi! 👋 Brenna here. In case you don’t know me, I’m the lead content writer here at CCS. And for a little background, I’ve been typing to build connections (aka writing) for almost 8 years. Whew.

In that time, I’ve seen some things. I’ve watched businesses grow simply through discovering their voices and communicating with their audiences. And by working with various content creation companies, I’ve learned some hard lessons too.

If you’re an aspiring content writer, take heed. And if you’re a content creation company, take note. I want to share the lessons I’ve learned so we can all work together to make this content marketing industry a great place for all.

Lesson #1: The Content Mill Is Truly Too Good to Be True...

Years ago in elementary school (I don’t even want to think about how long ago), I won a Young Authors contest. It was one of those experiences that shaped the rest of my life and my career. Fast forward to my adult years, I discovered content marketing.

Could I really build a career just from writing? It was a question I couldn’t help but try to answer. I started as a moonlighter, dipping my toes into the world of content writing. Unfortunately, this means I spent my free time after work writing blog posts for a couple of pennies per word (more on this later).

How did I get those first projects? Via well-known content mills. *Shudder*

I thought that writing for a content mill would give me the experience required to get my freelance business off the ground. Unfortunately, what I didn’t know was that the content I was creating had little-to-no value. It was simply meant to boost search ranks and help companies fill their blogs just for the sake of doing so. Gross.

...for the Content Writer

If you’re looking to get started in content writing, avoid the mill. While they may promise you consistent work, they won’t offer you any feedback on your work or deliver the pay your work deserves.

Many nights I was up typing for hours on end, only to receive $20-$30 in return. I was simply a cog in the wheel. All that mattered was that I met my writing quota for the month. And if I didn’t, I was chopped. Simple as that.

The worst part of it all was this: The work I was putting out I wouldn’t even put my initials next to now. The audiences I was trying to write for needed more from me and I failed to deliver. I know that now.

Don’t do what I did. Instead, put together a simple website and write up some great samples to start your portfolio. Then, pitch your services to the companies and clients you want to write for until you can’t pitch anymore.

If you need some help writing pitches, check out this post by WeWork. Although it’s geared towards businesses, the advice is solid for any freelance writer.

As a skilled content writer, your work is worth its weight in gold. It’s time you take yourself seriously.

...for the Business

If you’re a business or marketing agency, you may think purchasing content from a mill is your best option. After all, you’re busy and you may not be able to keep up with the content demands of your marketing department. And when a mill offers 10 blog posts for the price of one, how can you refuse?

Unfortunately, the content you’ll receive won’t be the content your audience needs or deserves. And publishing said content may push your audience away, which is the exact opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish.

Trust me when I say this: I’ve seen the effects of both expertly-written content and content from mills where writers and content are treated poorly. Leads and business growth come from content created with care. It’s worth it.

Lesson #2: Paying By-the-Word Encourages Nonsense

This lesson goes quite well with the first as a lot of mills pay writers per word for their work. But reputable content companies do this, too. 

The logic behind this method is companies believe they’ll pay for exactly what’s written, no more, no less. Unfortunately, paying by the word does two things: encourages fluff and discourages the message. Let me show you what I mean:

  • Encouraging the fluff: When it comes to writing quality content, every word matters. Every word should deliver value. Unfortunately, when you pay-per-word, many writers may feel the need to add fluff that doesn’t add anything to the content piece. Or, they may avoid editing to reach a certain word count.
  • Discouraging the message: I’ll say it again; every word matters. Some companies will refuse to pay writers for content that goes beyond a certain word count too. But what if more words are required to share the entire message with an audience? Good content also tells the whole story. Refusing to pay writers for additional work is silly and discourages quality.

When I first started as a content writer, I was heavily pregnant. Every penny I made was critical for me and my growing family. It was tempting to try and fluff my work to make a little more each month, especially when I wanted to make writing more than my side gig.

For writers who feel the pressure, paying by the word cheapens their effort and work. Individual words shouldn’t be more important than the overall message. 

If you’re a content company, consider paying your writers per project instead. This gives them the leeway to do what’s necessary to create quality content for your audience. And if you need to hire a writer for your team, make sure they’re paid a competitive wage. After all, the words they write are building your business.

Lesson #3: Project Details & Briefs Should Be Non-Negotiable

Incoming truth bomb: Giving your writer a topic or blog title isn’t enough. To ensure the right message is shared with your audience, your writer needs details. And trust me when I say that there’s no such thing as too much information.

Content mills often provide only a working title or a general subject. But you can get this from any content company, especially those who work with busy customers. However, details should be non-negotiable.

If you’re not a writer, let me take you on a quick journey through a writer’s mind when faced with a project that lacks details:

What direction should I go in?

Who should I be writing this for?

I’ll go in this direction…

Wait a minute…it could go this direction, too.

I’ll just ask them what they want.

No wait, if I do that, they won’t trust me anymore.

Well, what if I get this wrong?

Maybe they mean this…

No, I don’t think so.

*Gets Up to Get Coffee*

*Paces Around the Kitchen*

I’ll just reach out.

*Reaches Out With Questions*

I shouldn’t have done that.

Am I a good writer?

I suck at this, don’t I?

*Gets Answers From Customer*

Okay, good, let’s write.

*Writes*

*Edits*

*Sends*

*Gets Feedback From Customer*

It’s not the right message? What?!

I’m just being real with you here. Content briefs, interviews and project details are critical to any project. Not only do they ensure you and your writer are on the same page, but they save both of you so much time (and headaches).

Sure, it takes time to put together a detailed brief or schedule a call with your writer. But it takes a lot more time to go back and forth about a project. You also risk wires being crossed this way.

If you struggle to find time to create project briefs, try batching them. Spend a few hours at the beginning of each month putting together briefs and details for the projects on your content calendar for the month. It’s also helpful to have a brief template you can pull for each brief you need to create.

Your Content Writer Is an Expert in Creating Content...Not Your Industry

Hang in here with me. While some writers may specialize in a certain industry, this doesn’t mean they’re an expert in it. For example, while I love writing tech content, I’m far from an IT specialist.

My goal, no matter who I’m writing content for, is to share a message in a way that connects with an audience. My job is to make sure whoever is reading your content will know there’s no one else to choose but you.

Your writer’s job isn’t to become an expert in your industry or niche. Instead, they should rely on you to provide the topic expertise while they deliver your message in the best way.

If you’re in a highly technical niche, consider allowing your writer to speak with a subject matter expert (SME) on your team prior to starting a project. And don’t forget to share any materials you have currently, including spec sheets, case studies and use cases. They’re invaluable!

Looking for a Content Writer?

You won’t find any nonsense here. At Custom Content Solutions, we believe in the power of content and the skill of high-quality writers. We complete each piece of content with care, just like it was our own. 

If you’re looking for a content partner, you’ve come to the right place. And as someone who has seen it all, you can trust me on this one. Reach out to us Word Nerds by sending us a message.

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