Friday, January 23, 2015

A Day in the Life: An A-Hole Attacks, a Process that Kills It and Avoiding A Freelance Writing Trap

Part 1: A Day on Textbroker

After writing the Prologue to "Day in the Life" and expressing the strange occurrence that led to my vision for a Freelancer's Community Co-Operative site, I was at a complete loss for how to follow up and actually start the series with something helpful and meaningful.

So I began to think back to my first few months as a freelance writer, and I remembered the struggles that I went through during those tough times. Struggles that every freelance writer deals with and continues facing throughout their career. The kind of struggles that make a person stronger, wiser and, ultimately, a better writer or designer or marketer, struggles that make a better person.

As I reminisced on the not-so-good old days, a blatantly obvious idea slapped me twice across the face and shook me once for good measure: Contentmills. The starting point for many a successful freelance writer and a great place to begin "A Day in the Life".

Mikey's Story is the Freelance Writer's Story and It Begins Like This...

I remember my first experience with one like it was yesterday. It was (AKA MyAMS) and, even though their pay is ridiculously laughable and still exactly the same as it was five years ago, I thought I had hit the goldmine of freelance writing jobs when I first found myself picking through their selection of gigs on the bulletin board. And considering that I had spent the previous six months placing bid after useless bid on eLance and, it was a goldmine in my naive eyes. Albeit one that contained more fool's gold than anything of value. But, it got my foot in the door and allowed me to hone my skills, learn some grammar, sharpen the vocabulary and build my confidence in the written word while earning a few bucks along the way. It showed me that I could make money writing online, and it showed me that there was a lot more to the freelance writing business than just placing bids or writing for pennies (or less) per word.

Jobs through the LondonBrokers (MyAMS) site are also known as UAWs, or Unique Article Wizard, which is really just a clever disguise to hide what amounts to a shitload of Drudgery with a capital D. A MyAMS UAW consists of one completely new article, either 300, 400 or 500 words, covering the specified topic. Then, two more complete articles must be spun from the initial one. Essentially, that's as much as 1,500 words for less than a half a cent per word. Que laughter. Fan anger. Simmer in revulsion so thick that you'll never be tempted to sell your soul for a writing job from this site (Trust me, I'm an affiliate that makes money from each new writer I sign up, but I'd rather forfeit my affiliate status than be responsible for sending even one more writer to this site. With that said, if you insist on checking it out, click the MyAMS links littered throughout and at least let me earn a few bucks while you discover just how right I am.) 

It was a literal Homer Simpson "DOH" moment, that realization of mine. All I had to do was utilize this little thing some of you may have heard of called Google and search for "freelance writing jobs" or a dozen other phrases that inevitably led me to more lucrative opportunities. Those months with MyAMS and that realization of a far larger world taught me the most important lesson of my entire career:

Never stop searching for new ways to make money writing Online. 

And I never stopped. Everyday to this day, I dedicate at least one hour to the client hunt or queries or job boards or whatever other new way I find to land that goldmine freelance writing gig.

But that is for another "Day in the Life". Today, we follow my doppelganger as he settles into his job as an author for Textbroker: a contentmill similar to MyAMS but infinitely better yet not as good as others.

We'll call him Mikey from here on out. Through our looking glass on the past, Mikey has been writing on Textbroker for about a year. We're going to observe him during a particularly stressful day and one that is, unfortunately, far too common. We'll watch Mikey learn how to avoid the A-hole, how to write efficiently and how to escape the contentmill trap.

Peppered throughout are great tips to help you get the most out of the Textbroker system and make as much money writing online as you can while, hopefully, limiting the amount of headaches and stress caused by the system, the clients and the freelance writing business in general. At the end, we'll recognize the contentmill for what it is, a great place to start but not our final destination by half.

Mikey's Day Starts Out Bad...

Mikey clicked the button on the freelance writing site’s article submission page, and the 1,200-word in-depth "review" about Oxymethalone (an illegal anabolic steroid used by a lot of muscle-heads and tellingly nicknamed 'A-Bombs') left his fluttering fingertips and digitally materialized in the article holding system used by Textbroker editors and clients to read, request revisions, reject or accept and, ultimately, purchase the content they ordered by paying the writer that completed it. In this case, that writer should be our freelance hero Mikey.

Contentmills have a pretty good system that works with only a few hiccups or headaches. As far as freelance writing jobs go, they are easy and quick to get started, but the pay is pretty low and all content rights are sold in full. That means that Mikey will never build a portfolio writing strictly for them, and he'll be far from rich. Still, he needs an income quick, and this is the fastest most reliable way to get it writing online. 

That steroid article was destined for the inbox of a client known to him as #2250xxx. (That’s how all clients are named on TB so that their anonymity remains secure. This actual client number has been changed so as not to break any TB ToS) That client was a new one to Mikey and to be honest, one that he shouldn’t have been writing for in the first place, one that would’ve been eliminated immediately if he hadn’t forgotten about the process in the cloudy haze of the early morning hours.

TB PRO TIP: Click on a client number to access their profile, personal notes and blacklist option. I use the note feature to record an Acceptance Speed Scale that charts from one to ten their article acceptance speed. This lets me know if I have worked for the client before and how quickly they accept. It helps a lot when it’s Thursday and you want to only write articles that will get accepted before payout.

But Mikey did forget so by 8 AM he was writing about steroids using information from dozens of different sources while trying to figure out how to make a “review” completely positive without sounding ridiculous, all the while continuously checking the clock as the minutes seemed to zip by with little progress to show. He didn’t finish until a little bit before noon, almost four hours writing 1,200-words for a contentmill. That is too long according to the hourly rate that Mikey strives to achieve on Textbroker.  

1. Find a Process that Works for You and Then Apply It to the Freelance Job Boards

That tendency to inefficiency that you just saw my doppelganger Mikey begin to deal with is the reason why I follow the process religiously whenever I pick-up freelance writing jobs on contentmills (And I still do a few a month whenever other work is slow, but they're mostly Direct Orders for clients that I have had for years, or I'll pick up articles from some of the particularly high-paying Managed Teams). A process designed to ensure that I only pick the quickest and easiest assignments. A process designed to ensure that the client that I choose is at least relatively easy to work with and as undemanding as possible. Of course, nothing is full proof on the freelance jobboards like Textbroker, but I have found that my process does help me pick assignments that get accepted by the client with little to no issues or revisions and are usually easy and quick to write. Both of those results are invaluable and allow me to make twice as much as I did when I first started writing for freelance writing sites and contentmills. 

This should be your first goal: find a smooth process that allows you to work as quickly as possible.

These are the steps to the process that I follow on Textbroker. Other contentmills like WriterAccess and Scripted work differently, but the process can be tweaked to work the same. Copy mine, change it around or do something completely different. As long as it works, who cares?

1.          Try to find a topic that you know and enjoy writing about from the freelance job board.
2.          Read the instructions. If they’re overly complicated or require that you do things like find and include royalty-free images, skip it as quickly as you can. Clients who actually think that writers on these sites are getting paid enough to write AND track down royalty-free images are not to be trusted.
3.          If the instructions are pretty easy, click on the clients profile number and look at the rejection and revision rates.
4.          This really all depends on personal preference, but I refuse to work with a client that has a revision rate over 100 percent or rejections in the 30 – 50 percent range. I just won't do it. In my experience, you're going to have problems with a client who needs a revision on every single article submitted or rejects over a quarter to a half of the articles they've received. I'm not entirely convinced that Textbroker has a system in place to ensure that they're not stealing our work when a client does this kind of stuff. I've spoken with other authors who agree and said that they post their rejected or cancelled articles as samples on their portfolio so that the client cannot use the article as an original.
5.          Once you’ve found an assignment that fits fairly well into all of these guidelines, accept it and start writing. You should be pleasantly surprised by the results and able to bang it out quickly.

The A-Hole Is Waiting to Destroy Mikey's Efficiency. Will Our Freelance Hero Be Crushed In a Revision Revolving Door?

Back to my doppelganger working his little heart out on Textbroker:

Mikey glanced at the clock; it read 1:12 PM. Another article, a 550-word about addiction for a client that he works with a lot, was ready to submit and just as he sent it off a revision request popped into his notification area on the left side of the author area screen. He knew immediately what it was, and with a few clicks and a couple clacks, Mikey was reading the note that explained what #2250xxx wanted changed in the "review" about an illegal steroid.

TB INSIDER TIP: Textbroker has a forum strictly for writers. Get help from your fellow authors, look for the latest team casting calls or rant about something that irks you, like the ridiculousness of some clients. 

Client #2250xxx requests were a bit over-the-top, but our freelance writing hero busted them out anyways and had the article back to the client within 30 minutes. However, in less than 10 minutes from when Mikey submitted the reworked article, #2250xxx had sent it back with yet another change request. Our hero sighed and acknowledged that this was going to be a long, unproductive day.

So far today my doppelganger had written just two articles: one 550 for a managed team that paid $10.50 and was guaranteed accepted and a 1,200 about steroids that looked as if  he would never see the $18 it was worth. 

Not good. About five and a half hours of writing and only $10.50 to show for it. Damn, "A Day in the Life" of a contentmill writer can be rough.

TB INSIDER TIP:  The auto-accept feature was instituted to keep writers from having to wait weeks to receive payment for an article because a client forgot to accept it or was out of town or whatever. It gives the client four days to read and request a revision before the article automatically gets purchased. Some clients take advantage of the grace period, though. They wait until the last minute before requesting a revision. That completely resets the time and means that the writer may have to wait another four days for payment. 

Client #2250xxx newest revision request was a bit more weird and a lot more anal. His tone was steadily getting more and more disrespectful and demanding. Mikey resigned himself to fulfilling the request and sent it back. It was, in his opinion, a flawless article that took another hour of tweaking and rewriting to achieve.

Apparently, #2250xxx and our hero had different ideas about what a flawless article looked like. This time his note included all caps, lots of exclamation points and a couple swear words to liven things up a bit. Mikey wanted to return the favor, but he managed to hold his temper. Instead, he decided to politely reply that the article was written exactly as the instructions and revision requests required and that if the client didn't feel it was satisfactory, he could let the Textbroker editors handle it. 

A look into Mikey's mind at that precise moment would've resulted in a disturbing view of expletives upon expletives, one followed by another and growing to a crescendo exploding from his mouth as he ran towards an imaginary construct of a Jabba-the-Hutt looking Client #2550xxx and drove his blazing red, dual-bladed lightsaber deep into the bulbous creatures face.   

TB INSIDER TIP: Whatever you do, don't cuss or act rude to a client on a freelance site like Textbroker, it only hurts the other writers chance to find work and damages the sites reputation and yours too. Just mentally wield a lightsaber and cut their faces to smithereens. 

Apparently, Client #2250xxx wasn’t going to read another one of our hero's words anyways. Less than five minutes later Mikey received his first and only rejection on Textbroker. After a year of writing at least 20 to 30 articles every week with a total of 1500+ overall, our freelance hero had gotten rejected. As much as he tried, however, Mikey couldn’t find one damn reason to care. Whether the editors sided with him or not, he felt that he did the best he possibly could and Client #2250xxx was just a prick promoter of illegal drugs. Bottom line.Plain and Simple. 

2. Prepare for the Worst and You'll Never Be Surprised

This snapshot into a few hours in the life of my doppelganger finding work on contentmill job boards is unfortunately pretty common. That is why I believe so strongly in the process if you're going to spend any time writing for these types of freelancesites

Remember rejections are the name of the game on these sites, try not to let them faze you one bit. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, it’s the clients fault anyway, even if TB sides with them. So, if you get a rejection, keep your chin up and shake it off. It is seriously not that big of a deal.

TB PRO TIP: Blacklisting is the TB writer’s most powerful tool against obnoxious or ridiculous clients.  Don't hesitate to blacklist someone who is unreasonable or unfair or expects something for nothing. Writers on contentmills already make too little, so don't encourage the client by accepting their crazy projects, it will just keep them expecting more and more for less and less.  

As the first part of my doppelganger's workday writing for Textbroker comes to a close, we look back and see that it can be pretty tough to stay focused and steady and write as much as you can. 

Mikey has only earned $10.50 due to a huge setback with a revolving revision door and an A-hole client. This will happen and all you can do is roll with it. 

TB PRO TIP: If you can prove to the TB editors that you're skilled with the written word, that you can follow detailed instructions to the tee and that you can consistently complete assignments, then you may start receiving invites from them asking you to join various managed teams. These teams pay considerably more than Open Order jobs and the invitations mean that you don’t have to apply.

In fact, many things can cause you to jump off the track. The key is to be ready to hop right back on. The more freelance writing jobs you complete, the more efficient you'll become and the better you'll get at handling roadblocks or potholes. 

3. Write for Speed and Production, Proof for Quality and Accuracy 

Another essential first step to learn is how to efficiently complete freelance writing jobs on contentmills. To avoid revisions, besides following the process above, make sure that you proofread and edit no more and no less than three times. This will ensure that your content is the best it can be without spending too much time getting it there.

Let’s break that down for you:

1.       Proofread as you write - Go back after each paragraph, read and fix what is wrong or sounds strange.
2.       Proofread upon completion  Once you’re done with the entire article, read it over in its entirety. Fix mistakes and change awkward sentences and structure.
3.       Final proofread out loud  I do this step as I am entering the article into Textbroker's submission form. Copy and paste, read it through out loud, fix anything you see and then submit. 

Now, even though you’re doing these three complete proofs and edits, and the goal is to make your article as perfect as possible, don’t spend all day on it. Proofread, edit, fix and submit. 

Most people kill their efficiency, and by extension their hourly rate, because they don't know how to proof and edit quickly. They write the article fast, but then get bogged down when trying to edit. That's why you must follow the first step above and proof/edit each paragraph as you finish. This will get a nice pre-polish on the article and ensure that your 2nd and 3rd proof/edits aren't overwhelming. 

TB PRO TIP: Textbroker allows clients to give a single writer work through Direct Orders. These private assignments can be extremely lucrative (extremely and lucrative are not the best choice of words when describing ANY contentmill project, so let's amend that to "slightly better" or "a tad bit more"). To get Direct Orders, message a client that leaves od to excellent feedback on their articles that you write. Tell them that you noticed their rating of your work and that you accept DOs and are negotiable on the price per word. This exact method is how I landed two of my first most lucrative "private" clients. They rated articles that I had written "Excellent", so I sent them both a PM saying thanks for the rating and then subtly mentioned that I was open to Direct Orders, negotiable on my set price per word and that they would be extremely happy with the quality. Those two clients are the main reason I still even log in to Textbroker. While they don't pay as much as I have become accustomed to from truly private clients, and the TB Website takes their share from each project (35% added to your set price per word rate. Ex: My PPW rate for DO's is 4.5 cents, but clients see that as .045 x .35 = .01575. That product is the 35% of the 4.5 cents I charge per word. .045(My PPW)+ .01575(TB's 35%)= (What the client sees as your actual PPW) .06075 or a tad over 6 cents per word. Final tip, set your PPW at about 1.9 cents per word to start and then move up from there as you start landing DO clients.

You must always remember that time is money on these kinds of sites and if it takes you several hours to research, write, proof/edit and submit one 500-word article, then you're earning less than minimum wage. It is vital that you hone your speed and writing ability while limiting your proof/edit stages to a few minutes each. At the same time, your proof/edit steps must catch any mistakes. It may seem like an impossible balance, but you'll get better with each job you complete.

It's also helpful to keep in mind a goal that you want to achieve every hour. A good starting point to reach is two 500-word articles an hour. On freelance writing sites like Textbroker, if you can do two, then you'll be averaging around $14. That is not too bad. However, by continuing to work on efficiency, speed and proof/edit you'll be busting out four or five articles an hour and averaging $25 to $30. For freelance writing jobs on a contentmill like Textbroker, that's pretty damn good.

 4. Beware the Contentmill Trap: You'll Get Stuck Before You Know It

There is just one more very important thing that you should know before diving headlong into freelance writing on contentmills like Textbroker. And really, I cannot stress this enough:

Whatever you do, whatever path you take, do NOT let yourself get stuck on a site like Textbroker or the dozens of similar sites. If there is one main message that I want you to take away from this post, it is to be very weary of the contentmill trap. I see it happen to countless people every day. 

The money is so-so, you can earn every week or twice a month and all you have to do is pick an easy gig from a job board, write it and submit. It becomes rote, routine, easy and guaranteed. Over time, you become used to it and scared to try anything different. Trust me; you do not want this to be your fate. 

The thing of it is, there are thousands of freelance writers who didn't fall into that trap, or they were able to overcome it and now they're making $100k, $150k, $200k a year. The top freelance writers are in those positions because they didn't settle for $15 per hour writing 12 hours a day. They took risks and chances and it paid off for them in a huge way. It’s hard, I know firsthand. I was crippled by self-doubt, lack of confidence and stuck in the trap for years.

AVOID THE TRAP: The best way to avoid getting stuck in a contentmill rut is to set a couple hours aside every day for job seeking. During this time, query new clients, respond to ads on ProBlogger and the like, find print publications seeking submissions, work on your own blog or site, guest post on others blogs or sites and just generally look to open more doors. Eventually, you’ll break into a lucrative freelance writing market and then you’ll never look back.

When I first started on freelance job board sites as a rookie writer over five years ago, I let myself fall into the trap, the routine. My problem stemmed from a total lack of confidence; I didn’t think I was good enough to move away from writing for contentmills and into the far more lucrative markets open to freelance writers. When I finally did, it was so much easier than I ever imagined, but it took me three years to do it. 

If only I had had someone to tell me that simple advice when I was first starting, I wouldn’t have wasted so many years earning 2 cents per word. I can't fix my past, but I can help you achieve your destiny. 

Freelance job sites like Textbroker or other contentmills are great. They let you get in quick with no experience and earn money in as little as a week. Use them, I still do when other work is slow. Just be wary and don't let them trap you into complacency. 

I need to reiterate that, it's that important:

Whatever you do, don’t let yourself get attached to contentmills or ad sites or any other kind of freelance writing site where you can just login and choose a freelance gig or earn ad revenue or whatever other similar setup you may find. They’re great to have as a backup, but you’ll never earn what you’re worth from them And if you’re not careful, they’ll grab you like quicksand, suck you down into their unforgiving pit and never let you up for air. It's just way too easy to get complacent on a site like that.

The End...Till Next Week!

And that's it. We covered a lot of material in this opening post to the series. Feel free to bookmark it, subscribe or just hang out on the blog. I love having other writers around to get to know and network with. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to hit the Contact Michael page and drop me a line.

Be sure to check back next Thursday for Part 2 of the series. I'm not going to say anything about it now because it is way to awesome to ruin the surprise. Until then, I wish you all the very best freelance writing success!

Do you have a funny story about dealing with a hard headed or unreasonable client? Tell us the juicy details in the comments.

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