Content mills and bidding sites such as Upwork and Elance might seem like great options to break into the world of freelance writing. After all, they offer paid work that, on paper, seems like it will eventually pay well in addition to looking great on your portfolio. Many writers hope that these mills will offer them the much-needed leg up to freelance full time, but unfortunately it’s not very likely. [Read more…]
I was planning to write an incredibly long, detailed post about the not-so-wonderful world of writing for websites that operate on revenue sharing models.
Part of that post was going to discuss a throwaway article I wrote several years ago for a revshare site on a lark, just to test the waters. Due to a lucky combination of good timing, optimization for a virtually unexploited long tail keyword in a big money niche and what one can only describe as stupid luck, I’ve made approximately $600 from that article over the course of five years. It took me approximately five minutes to find the primary keyword (there’s that luck) and about ten minutes to write the simple article.
I’m not underpaid, but I generally don’t make $2,400 per hour for lousy little pen-named articles designed for content mills. I still chuckle every month when I see the mill make a deposit into my checking account.
Anyway, I wanted to mention that article because stories like those are one reason why so many people hop into the revshare world. Unfortunately, they’re flukes. Anomalies. Luck breaks. You can’t count on them. They don’t happen too often. I was going to put that particular article’s numbers up against the other four I wrote in the same week for that site long, long ago to illustrate the point.
I was plodding through the post about revenue sharing while listening to George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh and just as I started detailing the story of the miracle article, I found myself half-singing along with Ring Starr’s “It Don’t Come Easy”.
It don’t come easy,
You know it don’t come easy.
It don’t come easy,
You know it don’t come easy.
Got to pay your dues if you wanna sing the blues,
And you know it don’t come easy.
You don’t have to shout or leap about,
You can even play them easy.
Well, in my case it did come easy. I goofed around as an experiment and made a big ol’ chunk of cash from writing that I’d objectively value at approximately nothing.
Some days, Starr’s lyrics do ring true for a self-employed writer.
However, there are times when it does come easy. The cosmic tumblers click into place and weird little miracles appear.
Accentuating the Positive
Instead of writing a post about the way things don’t come easy in the world of revenue sharing, I decided to write a post about the times things do come easy. I figured it might be nice to celebrate the crazy flukes and accidental victories instead of focusing on the ugly grind of making a living with a keyboard.
Here are my favorite easy moments… In no particular order:
The $600 Revshare Non-Masterpiece: This is the article mentioned above. A nearly effortless bit of experimentation continues to pay dividends years after its creation. There really is no logical explanation for why this article continues to earn and earn every month. Somehow, it continues to fly below the radars of those who work in the niche and Google, pumping out steady earnings for the content mill and me.
The Three-Page Report that Made Over $5,000. I was driving down the highway and a simple idea crossed my mind. Bum marketing (a simplified form of article-based affiliate marketing) was a hot topic in the Internet marketing world. I realized there was a very easy way to boost the value of the articles and to insure at least some up-front cash value for them. That relatively small cash payment could serve as something of an insurance policy for those who were writing free articles for directories in hopes of generating affiliate sales.
I came home, sat down and outlined the exceedingly simple process. I added introductory and concluding paragraphs, converted it into a PDF and posted it for sale as an information product on a popular IM forum with a little off-the-top-of-my-head sales copy. I set up a PayPal button and a quick automated download process for anyone willing to buy the guide. From top to bottom, it took about two hours.
The next morning, I woke up to over $2,000 in sales. Within three days, I made $5,000 off that simple idea. The almost equally awesome part was the fact that the folks who bought the report actually liked it. It didn’t take long for the concept to escape the confines of my hastily produced ebook and sales ground to a halt shortly thereafter. I wasn’t complaining.
The Luckiest Celebrity Blog Ever: I noticed that my wife was watching a TV show featuring a woman I had seen on another show the day before. Out of curiosity, I did some quick Googling and realized that her career was absolutely on fire and that she was poised for a major breakthrough.
At the time, I was experimenting with new keyword mining techniques and generating income via blogs monetized with contextual advertising. A few minutes later, I had claimed a Blogspot blog with a domain name featuring a common misspelling of the celebrity’s name and was setting it up with a number of quick posts that were little more than silly notices of other articles about the celebrity, combined with a brief excerpt of the source material and a link to the original source. It was a very crude homemade news aggregator, in a sense.
The site started making about $1 per day in Adsense earnings, so I kept adding occasional little posts. The celebrity’s star power increased to the Nth degree and earnings went up, up and up. Soon, it was making a solid $10 per day. Then $20. Then $30. I outsourced one hundred additional news aggregation-style posts with some of the earnings, loaded them up and set them to drip feed at a rate of two per week. The investment paid for itself within two months.
That site made a small fortune before people with real resources, strong content and a commitment to doing things the right way realized that a crummy little Blogspot blog was ranking in the top three for a series of high volume searches. The competition didn’t find it hard to knock me off, but that blog put a stack of fat Adsense checks in my pocket before they did. For what it’s worth, the site still generates about a buck every other day and I haven’t so much as looked at it in over two years.
All three of those weird winners share a few common traits:
They happened because I was willing to experiment. If I had been wholeheartedly committed to following THE plan and only THE plan, they wouldn’t have happened. This serves to remind me that keeping an open mind and trying new things can be a lot of fun and a source of profits.
They all defied duplication. Efforts to replicate the results with similar projects invariably fall short of those anomalous originals. I did have some luck with other Adsense-monetized blogs (enough that I still get a check every month from Google) and I’ve sold a few other information products here and there that have been well worth my time, but I’ve never come close on another revshare article. This reminds me that luck matters more than we’d probably like to think.
All three of these happy accidents share one other trait. They happened three or more years ago.
And You Know it Don’t Come Easy
I think that last fact may contain the most important lesson my three examples offer. In the last few years, we’ve witnessed an absolute explosion in the number of people trying to make money online as writers, Internet marketers and everything else imaginable. I think it’s an overstatement to say we’re near a saturation point, considering the web’s continued rapid growth, but the online world is certainly more crowded and competitive today than it was a few years ago.
I really do believe it was easier to mix some rudimentary knowledge with a little skill and a chunk of action to generate healthy chunks of cash back in the “good old days” (which aren’t particularly old at all, truth be told). As I think about other cool little bursts of luck I’ve had, most of them happened during or before 2008. I know I haven’t stopped experimenting with new ideas and I’d like to believe that my skills have improved. I know my knowledge base is more expansive.
So, either I’ve hit a long luckless streak or it’s getting tougher to hit the big time with little effort due to increased competition.
I wanted to go from a somewhat negative post about the doomed nature of 99.99% of revshare writing efforts to a positive reflection on the times when the money rains upon request. Instead, I think this post could still end on a somber note.
These days… Well… It don’t come easy.
Your Glory Days… And a Prize!
Ah, who wants to end on a down note? Maybe it can come easy. Even if it doesn’t, it did at some point and that’s worth a little party, right?
I open it up to you, the FWJ readership. Let’s hear your stories of glory days, your memories of times when things that shouldn’t have been successful turned into moments of accidental greatness.
Maybe it was the unedited, typo-riddled query that still landed you a plum contract. It could’ve been the time you sent off a piece of work you personally hated that the recipient loved so much you developed a profitable on-going relationship. Perhaps you had a magic revshare moment, too.
I don’t know what’s happened to you, but I have to believe you’ve had times when it all came easy.
Tell your story.
Oh, and just to encourage participation, I’ll tack on a prize. The best story wins a free copy of The Concert for Bangladesh on DVD. You get Harrison, Clapton, Preston, Dylan and even Ringo in their full bearded 1971 glory!
Let’s hear your tales of mysterious moneymakers, accidental brilliance and those unexplained moments of magic when very little effort resulted in a massive payoff of some sort.
I just read, with interest, Yolander Prinzel’s post at All Freelance Writing entitled “Why Low Paying Gigs Are and Are Not Your Problem.” I’m inclined to comment, except my comment is so long that I decided to just post it here.
Warning: Reactionary blog post ahead:
In her post Yo discusses why you needn’t worry about content site writers as your competition, but offers an enlightening look at some of the things you should concern yourself with. I’m not arguing with most of her points because they’re fair.
For the most part, I agree with Yo in that content mill rates won’t affect you if that’s not what you’re in to. Twenty years ago, freelance writers complained about the local newspapers and magazines charging anywhere from nothing to $10 per article. The folks who aspired to do better, did.
Ten years ago, folks complained about content sites such as Suite 101 and Write for Cash, but they didn’t drive down the rates either. My big gripe was with bidding sites, but I was wrong, because they didn’t drive down the rates for anyone but bidding sites writers. So I’m not going to really pick apart the logic that content mill writers aren’t your problem because there are a world of opportunities out there. No one is lowering anyone’s rates.
So I’m not in disagreement there.
I did want to explore this a bit, however. In her post Yo said:
These low paying gigs keep the hobbyists and uncommitted busy which means they aren’t competing with you. I’m not saying that content mill writers aren’t real writers or that they don’t have a burning desire to create–I’m saying that they are not business people. Many of them don’t know how or where to market themselves, but if you are going to run a successful business you have to either figure out how to do this or hire someone who can do it for you.
Now, I’ve read enough of your blog posts to know that many of you think that “cheap” writers are bad writers and are, therefore, not competition. This is incorrect. They are not competition because many of them don’t know just how much they could be making or how to get there–not because they suck. That’s why blogs like this one are so important–there are good writers out there who need to stop being coddled and instead need a life preserver. We are that life preserver.
As a former content mill writer, I don’t believe this to be true. In fact, the author of the above referenced article is also a former content mill writer. Though we rarely agree, or even get along for that matter, I will go as far as to say we have a few things in common. We both know how to market ourselves, we both love to write and we’re both business people. I don’t think either of us are lazy or naive when it comes to business sense. So why are we the exception?
Because we’re not.
Plenty of content mill writers have higher aspirations but all our circumstances are different. I’m not saying the unmotivated and hobbyists don’t exist, but I don’t believe it’s fair to lump all content writers in the same category. Knowing how many of us (freelance writing bloggers ) are former content site writers who used those careers as stepping stones to better opportunities, I’m not sure the above is true. I don’t think folks who write for content sites are any less business savvy or lazy than we were back in the day. I wrote for several content sites, but at the same time I was finding higher paying opportunities. So are many of the people who write for Demand Studios, Suite 101 and others.
I don’t feel freelance writing bloggers hold their hands as much as we respect their choices while encouraging them to seek more lucrative gigs.
I’ve met people who write for content mills on many occasions, mostly at conferences and meetups. I haven’t met a single content site writer who feels this type of writing is a hobby or long term career choice, nor have I met a single content site writer who isn’t trying to land a more lucrative contract. Most content site writers are doing so to get a foot in the door or supplement their income. Yes, there are some who view content mills as a “Work at Home!!!!” job, but they’re not necessarily the norm. Most want to learn how to market themselves, or already do. They’re happy to write for these places because
- A. They get to write
- B. They get to earn money in between gigs.
I don’t think it’s fair to suggest most content site writers need hand holding, because that wasn’t/isn’t the case with us.
I think Yolander’s series on writing for content sites is an excellent resource in weighing the pros and cons of these types of sites. However, I’m not sure I agree with her assessment of the types of people who write for content sites.
After all, we were there ourselves.
P.S. In all fairness, Yolander did say “most” content site writers and not “all” content site writers. I still disagree.
Did you ever, or do you now write for content sites? If so, is it your intention to land better opportunities. Tell us about your experience – did you feel it was a good stepping stone, or did you feel it made you lazy?
(For transparency sake, it’s important to note that Demand Studios is a sponsor and pays to advertise on this blog. However, they didn’t pay me to write this (or any post) and I don’t need their permission. )