I’ve been a content writer for several years.
Writing both for my own websites and business activities, as well as expanding later on to write for third-party clients.
I enjoy writing and for years people have often told me, again and again, that I am a great writer and should make a career of it.
Why I Went Into IT And Not Into Writing
Back at university and thereafter I had people saying to me, you’re good at writing, so why don’t you go into journalism.
I was always somewhat skeptical about this suggestion. I didn’t consider writing as something I wanted to get involved in. It seemed too shoestring, insecure, and low-paid.
It puts you at the mercy of a small number of large media firms, few employers, and some such as national newspapers and other large media outlets with nasty political agendas. I wouldn’t want to be stuck in that situation.
As for the local press where traditionally new upcoming journalists would first be required to spend years earning their stripes, for me this also had no appeal. Crusty, dusty, backward and boring. And with the emergence of the Internet, local journalism has now had its day. Local newspapers are going out of business en-masse. Their time is over.
So none of that held much appeal to me.
The closest I got to “media” was in London’s big media sales sector, selling advertising media sales space to West End London advertising agencies, dealing with their often rude and full of themselves pip-speak “graduate media sales” staff.
Working in the London media sales sector was a career choice made by many UK university graduates, attracted as they are by the bright lights and supposed glamour of the London advertising and media world.
I won’t go into what I experienced in the couple of years I spent in that sector – though it makes for a fascinating tale – hilarious, horrific and revealing by turns. That’s a story for another day.
But in the event it mercifully for me turned out to be a relatively short interlude. I took the decision to quit London and the UK and moved to Germany where I retrained and pursued a successful career in IT.
From there I progressed further to become a highly paid freelance IT consultant working with many big-name corporates as well as smaller IT startups.
My Entry Into E-Commerce Opened Me Up To Writing
Some years later, with the Web and E-commerce now taking off, I then also moved into e-commerce and web content. And through that move I found myself, for about the first time since leaving university, crafting and writing content text and marketing sales copy for both my own e-commerce websites and later for third-party clients as well.
And it’s been an interesting experience and with considerable ups and downs.
But after several years doing this, I’ve now decided to quit the content marketing sector.
So what are my reasons for this?
My Reasons For Quitting Content Writing
As I mentioned earlier, people have often told me I’m a good writer.
And they continue to tell me this. As if its some automatic certificate and entitlement to well-paid writing work.
Unfortunately, the fact that you have an aptitude for writing and that you enjoy writing in practice matters hardly a jot in the content writing market.
Content Writing Clients Want Low Prices
Clients in the first instance want low low prices. They do not want quality. Yes, it’s good if you can offer quality, and if you know your subject.
But your rates must also be low. Otherwise they will find someone else and you don’t stand a chance. The global Internet and the global English language make it possible for the clients to call the tune. And call it they do.
So the competition you face is global and brutal.
SEO Content Mills and “Platforms” Are Taking Over
The other problem is the growth of endless web “platforms” and low-paying content mills. I have not worked for any content mills and I would advise all writers to also stay away from them.
I’ve produced content for clients across a range of price levels. Everything from around 3c or 4c a word – that’s 12 or 15 Euros for a 400-word article, to 160, 200, and 300 Euros for 1500-2000 words.
But the fact is, this is not sustainable as a living income.
And even leaving the content mills aside, low value “SEO marketing”-style crap merchants dominate. I’ve encountered many of them. And I have worked for some of them. Never again.
Even supposedly “quality” platforms can prove to be frustrating and amateur. I belong to one such platform. It was launched with apparently good intentions, by a US content marketing writer who wanted to create something better than the standard low-level low-paying content mills which are increasingly dominating the sector.
But their interface was poorly designed. I won a bid for a specialist article on the subject of blockchain digital cryptocurrencies. Was paid relatively well as rates for the content writing sector goes, and it was for a reputable US database company. I had hoped it would lead to a long-term business relationship with the client concerned.
But despite my striving attempts and playing the game on my side, there was never any responsive communication with me from anyone at the client. I might as well have been communicating with a faceless robot. Perhaps I was dealing with a robot.
Sure they paid up promptly, but that was it. Never heard anything from them again. Not even a thank you. They took the goods, paid, and vanished out of the door.
I produced a series of articles for a Spanish SEO agency – in English, not Spanish, for global sub-contracted clients of theirs, Their Spanish CEO also invited me to their office as I happened to be visiting the city they were based in at the time.
Not in Spain by the way – they are globetrotter digital nomads, who open an office in whatever city they are in each year or two around the world. Surprisingly (at least to me) I was not even offered a cup of coffee during my visit – just a glass of water – from the tap.
Endless Pitching With Very Low Success Rates
I’ve also done countless pitches, submitted test and trial articles, even performed test tasks for prospects – for nothing.
A couple did at least pay for the trial articles- one, a UK one, even paid a reasonable rate. Another was just “penny” rates. Most don’t even bother to reply to your pitch.
Others paid nothing, including a US company who wanted you to perform in-depth research for real-time clients of theirs, the trial task was for a real actual client project.
I put in a great deal of work. Which was then rejected as not meeting their absurdly exacting standards – and they then expected me to perform the whole thing again. For nothing.
Sorry. Once bitten, twice shy. I’m not working for bullshit merchants.
Contracts Aren’t Worth the Paper – or PDFs They Are Printed On
Another thing is that content marketing clients are often unreliable. You may sign contracts and even important-sounding NDAs or “non-disclosure agreements” full of impressive legalese.
But when it suits them, clients will simply tear up such contracts as and when it suits them – quite often simply out of the blue without any prior warning.
In that situation you have little or no practical remedy in law. When you are in Europe and the client sits in the US or elsewhere, how do you propose to ensure contract compliance? It just isn’t possible in practice and not worth the overhead and expense of attempting to. And the clients know it.
It’s been my experience that US companies are maybe the worst for this. The American “hire, fire” and get-the-hell-out mentality. But other nationalities are not far behind.
Business or project agreements concluded with these sorts of merchants are not worth the paper or emails they are printed on. I know this from my own experience on several occasions.
Quality Clients Are Also A Problem
Even higher-paying quality clients – when you can find them, because they are thin on the ground, can often be a problem.
I had one such quality client – a globally-known software house based in Germany, as it happened also located in the region where I lived at the time. I worked on a series of quality article projects for them. For which they paid reasonably, accepting my rates.
But then the work suddenly dried up with no explanation.
Initially, my submitted articles were reviewed by their content marketing manager and we got on well.
Then they were suddenly being reviewed by what appeared to be an underling of some kind – an intern perhaps or maybe a penny Indian? – I don’t know. But the tone of the editorial review comments was irritating and demeaning.
It really isn’t worth the bother.
Content Writers Compete With The Developing World
The big problem with the digital economy with that it opens up work and the economy to a global market. Borders and employment permit controls no longer apply.
We are forced to bid against each other, in competition with people from low-cost countries who do not have to pay European or North American living and business overheads. So for us trying to compete with the developing world is simply a road to nowhere which is not viable. This is a hard fact that the “digital nomad” community seem to ignore.
I encountered a Portuguese e-commerce “digital nomad” who told me “I get all my content writing done in Bangladesh”.
I thought – yes, precisely the problem. We westerners don’t stand a chance. There’s no shortage of low-cost English writers from the Indian subcontinent. And the British Empire taught them English. Very convenient.
Philippines is another country which is a strong source of very low-cost English-speaking content writers – especially for US English.
But I’m not playing.
I’m sorry if this sounds a bit harsh on Indians (or anyone else). Don’t take it the wrong way. I love India and Asia and have often traveled there, it also happens to be my fav travel destination.
I am just stating real-life economic facts about the nature of this business right now and in the future and the harsh nature of the global competition this sector faces.
I don’t live in India or any other “third-world” low-cost country and so I simply cannot afford to work for “penny” rates of pay.
I have to pay Western Northern hemisphere European rates of health insurance, rent and other living costs.
And by the way, “digital nomad” type startups are some of the worst to work for. These kinds of outfits generally have little money to spend and so are also on the look-out for cheap bottom-feeder rates.
My advice would be: steer well clear. Let them write their own blog posts and their sales copy themselves. Or let them employ a 1c per word (or less) Bangladeshi. You are wasting your time pursuing that sector with that sort of client attitude and that sort of supplier competition.
Another problem with it is that the pay and conditions are dominated and in the hands of the clients, who then dictate to the writers. And we are all forced into a race-to-the-bottom competition race for the work. A competition race which is global in its extent.
Writing For the (Search Engine) Robots
Do you enjoy writing for robots? You’d better if you want to be a content writer.
“SEO content” is also one of the great scourges of content marketing. Basically it means you are writing primarily for search engine robots to index and rank your content, not for humans to read.
And as if search engine robots wasn’t enough, there is one more threat on the horizon.
AI – or artificial intelligence.
In the near future, AI will make it possible to use software to churn out half-decent at least articles automatically largely without human intervention.
Some operatives will be required in order to bring the articles up to decent human-readable (or search engine robot-readable). But they can be easily sourced at low-cost from the Indian subcontinent.
When that arrives the outlook will be getting a lot worse than it even is now. I don’t want to be around in the sector when that happens. And it’s only a few years away.
Previously well-paying copywriting is also now being replaced by “content”. In fact, practically everything now is content.
And content, as we have seen, is being bid down to lowest-bidder wins rates. You can’t win in that situation. It’s just an eternal exercise in frustration.
Leaving Crap Merchants Behind
So for me, I’m getting out of the content marketing business. I’m leaving it to the Indians and Bangladeshis and Anyone Else Who Likes. But for me – I No Like.
I have much greater earning potential in the IT sector and this is where I am specializing for now. I will also be developing new business activities in the future related to or in addition to IT. One thing is certain, it sure won’t be in the content writing sector.
I’m tired of the web platforms, the SEO agencies, the bullshit, the “digital nomad” startups, drop shippers, bloggers, “life-coachers”, and all the rest of them.
And I’m tired of competing with bottom-feeding writers from low-cost countries as well as western “digital nomad” writers who live in Thailand and other such places.
I can earn much better income elsewhere where my time is properly valued. And where the third-worlders and digital nomads don’t have access.
So What’s the Best Approach to Content Writing?
For me, I still enjoy writing. I always will.
But no, I will not play the endless content marketing platform pitching game. From now on I will write for myself, for my own businesses and for my own projects and websites. Not for anyone else’s.
Unless they are prepared to pay decent rates for long-term projects. Which most of them aren’t.
If you have very specialist niche knowledge, preferably of a technical nature – and if you are fortunate enough to secure a project contract for the long-term with a reputable solid reliable company – and not some short-term, seat-of-their-pants no-money startup, then content writing can be a possible avenue of income.
But even then I would be very wary of relying on it as a primary revenue source.
I don’t think content writing is really viable in the long run for people in high-cost developed countries. It is getting taken over and dominated by low paying SEO crap merchants, content mills, web “platforms”, low bidding “digital nomads” living in Thailand, penny Indians, and other assorted bottom-feeders. And as I mentioned above, AI also looms on the horizon.
So the current situation is bad and the prognosis for the future is bleak. Content writing for the English speaking web media and business is in general not a strong business sector for the future.
So I am saving my efforts and my focus and deploying my skills and energy in other areas – which are far more lucrative, and where my skills and know-how are in strong demand.
And where third-world-ers and “digital nomads” visa-hopping in SE Asia can’t undercut me.Disclosures: The above article may include affiliate links for products and services for which this site may receive remuneration. The author or authors may hold investments in the assets mentioned in this article.
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