Freelance writing: is it possible to make $100,000 in a year writing for a content site?

First of all, I’d like to apologize for the lack of posts through the month of November. I had a rather large work-for-hire (ghostwriting) contract that I was fulfilling and I just wrapped it up on the 28th of the month. With that being said, there are some big plans ahead for December and into the new year, so stay tuned as Complete Writing Solutions moves full-steam ahead into the freelance writing and information market.

I stumbled across a post this morning over at the FWJ website regarding rates, one of the most talked-about and debated issues among freelance writers. In this particular thread, the topic regards a pair of writers who entered into a competition with each other. One of the writers worked for content sites. Another of the writers worked for a traditional trade publication (print publication). The bet was that the trade writer believed they would make significantly more than the content mill writer. At the end of the year, when the bet was called, the content writer made $52,000 in a year compared to the print writer’s $37,000.

Now, before I get into the whole rates thing, I’d like to point out something right off the bat. You, as an individual, are the only one in control of your success. There is no such thing as a reason for failure. The only person standing between you and success is you. Not the market. Not the rates. Not the competition. There is a literal world’s worth of clients to choose from these days. The vast majority of my clients are actually European and otherwise. If you are someone who is struggling to make money, you have no one to blame but yourself.

On to the meat of the matter. Any of you who have followed me for the past year or so on my old personal blog and in the couple of freelance community sites I’ve become a part of, you know that I have continually defended content sites, often suffering debasement at the hands of the so-called elite writers who work in the print publications. You will also know that I never complain about the amount of money I make, but you continually see those writers from other sites continually complaining about the rates of the current market, how it’s not fair that so and so is doing such and such and blah blah blah. Excuses. A long line of excuses as to why they aren’t making any money, and why the market is holding them back, and how content sites are hurting them, and etc.

The 21st century is about fast, disposable content when it comes to working for content sites. Writers who understand that are making a killing (raises hand wildly). That’s not to say we don’t write quality copy, or that we don’t spend any time on the articles, but let’s face it: the market wants fast, fluffy content. They aren’t interested in Pulitzer Prize content. Yes, there are those clients who do want superior content, and for those clients writers like myself will make a significantly higher wage which means we slow down, we research the topic at hand, and we craft the best article we possibly can. But the rest of the time we are going to do what we do best: make money. How do we make money? By giving the client what they want. And in the case of content sites that’s fast, disposable content to fill the pages of a website.

I’m going to use Demand Studios as an example. Keep in mind I do not represent DS in any way, shape, or form. In 2009 I only wrote roughly 40 articles for them, total.

15 dollars is the average pay for a 400-500 word article. If you have a niche (and everyone in the 21st century has a niche) then you can assume the topics you are writing about require little to no research. The average freelance writer can put out about 100 wpm, but assuming time for editing and arranging thoughts, let’s say that a 500 word article takes you 15-20 minutes to write. That means you can easily put out 4 articles in one hour in your chosen niche. That’s $60 an hour.

The average work week is 40 hours. That’s $2,400 a week. $9,600 in a month. Assuming a 2 week vacation, you would make around $110,000 for a year’s worth of work, working only for a content site.

No time spent looking for leads. No time spent marketing your brand. No time spent negotiating with clients. No time wasted while you query and wait to hear back from an editor about whether or not your article idea was approved so you can write it. No pitching, no waiting…just cold, hard cash. Log in, pull articles from your niche, write them, get your byline, and move on to the next.

Understandably not everyone has an unlimited pool of resources when it comes to niches. There will always be articles that you need to research. But honestly, even if you were only writing two articles per hour for Demand Studios that’s still $30 an hour, which comes out to around $55,000 for a year, assuming a two week vacation. Not too bad for a job that never requires you to leave your house, never requires you to pitch an article, never requires you to deal with clients face to face, never requires querying and waiting, and never requires anything other than the desire to write and get paid for writing.

Writing is a job, just like any other job. If you worked in a corporate environment you would be working 40 hour work weeks and you would be expected to perform to the highest level of your capabilities. Why should it be any different when you are working for yourself? Do you really want to succeed, or do you want to continually blame the market, or your peers, or the competition for why you are continually failing?

Just because you are a writer doesn’t mean you can suddenly throw all the business aspects of the real world out the window. While writing is easy, yes, it is still a business, and the only way businesses succeed is through hard work. This is not a get-rich-quick industry, but it is an extremely rewarding industry because you can set your own hours, determine your own rate of pay, and you get to see your name in print.

The problem with most of the print writers out there is they believe that they should be getting paid per word, and believe that a 400-500 word article should take 5 hours or more to craft, because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

Stop living in the past. We aren’t in the 20th century where you had to go to a library, pull out some dusty old tomes, make phone calls and interview people, and hand-write the article. This is the 21st century. Google it. Within 2 seconds you will have literally dozens (if not hundreds or thousands) of references to choose from to research your article.

There are plenty of content sites out there, and while some of them are low paying, the vast majority of them pay well enough that you could easily be making over $50,000 a year. However, you have to have the desire to succeed.

The only person standing between you and success is you. I like making money. How about you?

(For the record I typed this article (normally I use Dragon Naturally Speaking). From start to finish it took me about 20 minutes, including a “rough” edit. It’s 1250+ words.)

T.W. Anderson is the founder of Complete Writing Solutions, and is a freelance writer specializing in travel writing, website content, interior design and home improvement, green-related topics, as well as anything else potential clients need him to be.

Posted in Freelance Writing 101 Tagged with: , , , , , , ,
13 comments on “Freelance writing: is it possible to make $100,000 in a year writing for a content site?
  1. Barbara says:

    I write for DS and Suite 101. Since I have MANY other responsibilities and interests, the advantage for me of these content sites is the ability to schedule as much work as I want and can handle in any given time period.

  2. Star says:

    No offense, but I can believe this only took 20 mins. I fail to see how blithering away off the top of your head on a subject, repeating words over and over, is provdes anyone but a bot any info of value. In this, I learn the average writer types 100 wpm–are you aware that this is not true? And some of us even “arrange our thoughts,” as you put it. We call it thinking.

  3. Star.

    Thank you for posting your opinion! At the end of the day, that’s really what writers do, regardless of where we write or who we write for. We “blather” away, on a wide variety of subjects.

    If you notice, I said that the assumption is that the average writer can put out 100 wpm. If you check Nuance’s webpage *the people behind Dragon NaturallySpeaking), you will see that the estimate of the average person’s words per minute is 70, as I recall. I specifically used the word “assume” as a basis of understanding that I assume most writers can write faster than the average :)

    I am more than happy to share one of my bank statements with you to show you that I am not only a capable “arranger of thoughts”, but that I love thinking :) After all, if I wasn’t a deep thinker, I wouldn’t be as successful as I am! As a matter of fact, I’ve actually been thinking of mirroring Pat from Passive Income’s method of showing his monthly income statements to help motivate his readers and promote progress into the 21st century.

    Technically, it actually took me around 22 minutes, once I was finished with a harder edit. Prior to this post I also made another lengthy post over at the FWJ website, which prompted me to make this one on my own. And it was done prior to any coffee!

    Remember, just because YOU cannot, doesn’t mean others cannot :) Everyone is different, that’s the beauty of humanity!

    @ Barbara:

    Absolutely! Content sites provide an awesome utility for the modern writer who understands how the current market works. Sure, there are those clients who want something specific, and they are willing to pay above and beyond for you to take your time and craft a creme-de-la-creme of articles, but by far and large the point of writing content for content sites is that they want fast, quick, fluffy little articles to pad the websites of people around the globe. It’s easy, it’s a great paycheck, and it provides people with a product they want!

    Thanks for the comments!

  4. Hi, it is my first time here. I like this post

    And you are right about this, ‘Writing is a job, just like any other job. If you worked in a corporate environment you would be working 40 hour work weeks and you would be expected to perform to the highest level of your capabilities. Why should it be any different when you are working for yourself? ‘

  5. Hey, Beggar, thanks for commenting!

    Writing is no different than any other job. I think the main reason so many people get into freelancing and then find themselves frustrated with the lack of money is they think it is this easy-peasy, anyone-can-do-it, get-rich-quick job. It can be…for the right people. While I have maintained for years (and always will) that anyone can pick up a pen and paper and become a writer with enough practice, the business side of things are no different than any other job in the world. Writing requires hard work, perseverance, dedication, and a thick skin. It takes time to get on top, and you are going to suffer rejection, even after you have established yourself in the industry.

    If you can establish that this is a job, no different than any other, requiring the same amount of hours, effort, and dedication, then you will succeed. Part of that success means understanding that you have to work hard, every day, not just pop in and write for an hour or two here and there. This is a job, a business, and if you want to see the numbers go through the roof you have to put forth the effort required. Do you think Sir Richard Branson got where he is today as one of the richest men in the world by simply piddling along a couple hours here and there? No! He got where he is today by treating every project like a business.

    Best of luck, and thanks for dropping by!

  6. Rebecca says:

    I signed up to be a writer with Demand Studios, but I have yet to see any articles that interest me. Perhaps I will visit the site and look at the articles. And, I’ll have to “refresh” my memory on formatting. I know they are particular.

  7. Hi, Rebecca. Thanks for dropping by :)

    The last time I used Demand Studios, in particular, I plugged in keywords relevant to my niches and pulled up over 70 pages of 15 dollar articles that I could write without any research necessary. The key is knowing the keywords that relate to your niche.

    They are sticklers for format, and also with their requirement for references. However, proper citations only boost the credibility of the articles in question, and keep them from straying into the “questionable” online content.

    I’ve been talking it over with my wife and I may switch over to Demand Studios as my primary content site in 2010. A large part of what Complete Writing Solutions will be doing in 2010 is pushing into the European market and working on passive income, but I love to write, and the beauty of Demand Studios is it’s extremely fast cash (they pay twice a week via PayPal) for articles that I never have to research.

    The fewest I’ve done is 4 articles in an hour, and the most I’ve done is 7 articles in an hour. It helps to have 4-5 niches, that way you can always find something to write about!

    Best of luck, and hope to hear more from you in the future!

  8. Diana D says:

    Just found this article through your post at About Freelance Writing. Having a background in the small business world (construction), I TOTALLY appreciate your logical, dollars and cents (or is that sense?) approach to the field of freelance. I’m currently just wetting my toes and considering which places to submit my work to. Your articles have helped me to see that I can have confidence and an entrepreneurial spirit when approaching this new challenge. Thanks very much! Look forward to more of your wisdom.

  9. Thanks, Diana :)

    The best part about freelance writing in the 21st century is that it’s fairly easy to simply find a niche and start making money writing about a hobby. As long as you treat it like a business and not just a hobby, you will find yourself making some pretty serious income.

    Keep us posted on how things are going, and I look forward to hearing more from you :)

  10. M says:

    Quick question for you. How does one become a well establish writer with out having, let’s say a degree? Is it all based on what you write, and got published? I like writing, and have a lot to write about. Any good tips you can give a new writer trying to make a name for himself?

    Thank you.

  11. I’m a point in case. I never graduated high school, and I never went to college. Now, I did spend 15 years in a particular field, which was a family business, so not only did I rack up 15 years of field experience + 3 generations of family knowledge, but I also learned business management skills from being a supervisor for a multi-million dollar company + eventually running my own, smaller company in Colorado. I also traveled a lot over the years in Europe, which allowed me to branch into travel writing, and I’ve always been a huge video game and PC game fan, which allowed me another niche to write on.

    If you are interested in a consultation feel free to send a query along via the contact page. The only free tips I can offer you are those which are already posted here on the blog. Actual consultations work just the same as they do with any other company, billed out at an hourly rate.

    Best of luck in your writing!

  12. Sana M. says:

    First of all, I liked the way you have given a weekly payment schedule (40×60). It really helped me to foresee my current strategy.

    The problem I face is that if I take too many projects, I get too tired. Sometimes, I make minor spelling mistakes which is NOT AT ALL acceptable. I go out of ideas and a certain black wall appears infront of my eyes.

    I think it all depends upon the energy of a person. I want to set a target of $1000 per week but handling too many projects, ain’t my cup of tea.

    I DO want to increase my current rates as it can only happen by increasing them a bit. I just don’t know what to do.

    Guide me Anderson!

  13. Just read on :) There’s a ton of actionable advice on the blog, and if you are looking to take your career to the next level you can schedule a consultation with me to really push yourself to success.

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