Freelance Writer vs. Content Creator
Becoming a content creator is a little different from traditional freelance writing, though both are good digital nomad jobs. Content creation is more client-driven and usually involves a marketing slant. You need an understanding of how brands use content to bring traffic and build relationships. Relationships with clients or agencies are more structured, which makes it an easier career to break into.
If you have the marketing chops, storytelling skills, and drive to build a traditional freelance career (or if you consider your writing to be an art rather than a commodity), you should consider a different pato. Freelance writing is a better path for someone who is driven to write as an art form rather than a career. If you are a great writer, it can be better-paying as well.
Freelance writing involves generating ideas for articles, marketing them to editors, and hopefully selling some of them. Freelance writers do in-depth reporting, write personal essays, and work in both print and electronic media. Here are a few good resources for freelance writers:
I chose the role of a content creator to fund my nomadic life instead. As digital nomad jobs go, it’s easy to get started. I was able to build a small, steady income in less than a year. I don’t have to pitch ideas and wait to hear back from editors. As a content creator, I wrote short pieces on assignment for websites, marketing materials, and blogs. The writing is very simple and practical — the product is really the information rather than the words.
This career suited me because I was more interested in having a small, steady income than in expressing myself artistically. I wrote to live, I never lived to write. It’s a much easier career to break into than freelance writing— in fact, I can spell out for you exactly how to start making money as a content creator immediately.
Pros and Cons of Being a Content Creator
The upsides: I enjoyed sitting down at my desk with assignments laid out for me and no marketing to do. Researching a variety of topics was fun for me. I could work when and where I wanted and earn income from anywhere in the world. My earnings averaged $30-$60 an hour (although for every hour I worked, my brain needed almost an hour of downtime to recharge!). It’s easy to start as a side hustle while you are still working full-time, so people can create digital nomad jobs that will support their travels before they quit their day job.
The downsides: The topics weren’t always interesting (I wrote about air conditioning, heating, and refrigeration a LOT). I went through periods where I wrote 6 blog posts a day, and others where I had a whole week off. Payments are sometimes slow, and you might need 6 months to a year to build a steady income. Also, you can’t really produce content eight hours a day — you need downtime scattered through the day.
How to Get Started as a Content Creator
1) Learn the ropes
To be an effective content writer, you need to understand a few basics of SEO (search engine optimization) and a little bit about how to write for the short attention spans of internet readers. There are some very specific guidelines that writers are expected to understand when they’re creating content.
Udemy offers many courses in content creation, all reasonably priced. I suggest checking the current listing at this link for a 3-6 hour class that covers the basics without getting gimmicky, with at least 200 ratings and an average of 4 stars or better. “Content is King: Writing Killer Content for Web & Marketing” looks perfect to me, and it isn’t a big investment.
2) Sign up with Copypress
I think Copypress.com is one of the best places to start out as a content writer. There are three reasons I say that.
- Copypress won’t ask to see published clips. They don’t care if you’ve been published before. They just ask you to be competent, have decent grammar/spelling skills, and be able to follow directions.
- It’s a good training ground for a new content creator. Writing for the web has its own criteria for word counts, paragraph length, link-creation, and SEO considerations. After a few months with Copypress, you will be very comfortable in this medium.
- There is plenty of work, and the pay is better than content mills.
A ‘content mill’ is like a sweatshop for writers, and some of them pay just $5 per post.
Copypress was paying me 6¢ a word when I last wrote for them so a 600-word blog post earned me $36. Experienced writers can earn $100 or more for a 600-word blog post, but this is very different work. Copypress gave me a topic, headline, some direction, and the resources I needed to research, so I could write that 600-word blog post in 45 minutes. Plus, I didn’t need to market the work. That’s a lot faster way to earn a living than traditional writing.
The Copypress Process
Getting started with Copypress is easy, if you have good grammar, you can compose coherent paragraphs, and you follow directions well. Read their study materials, pass a simple quiz, and then prove yourself by writing a sample assignment. That’s it — and if you don’t pass the first time, you can try again.
Once you’ve passed the test, you may have the option to become “certified” in specific content categories (I was certified in copywriting and travel writing, for instance). Definitely do that! You can also test to become an editor if that’s your niche.
Soon you’ll be offered assignments. Each assignment has a due date, a pay rate, a description, and the option to accept or decline. In my earliest days with Copypress, I was offered assignments that paid only 3-4¢ per word. I declined those and accepted only the ones for 6¢ a word.
When you get those first assignments, you’ll be overwhelmed by the guidelines. There’s a lot to learn, and your first several assignments will take a long time to write. Once you figure it out, though, things will speed up dramatically. And if you prove that you can follow directions and deliver usable content on deadline, you’ll be offered plenty of work.
People who are further along in their careers will say that Copypress doesn’t pay well. Based on my experience with them I disagree. Once you fully grasp the style guides for different types of clients, this work goes FAST. Earning $36 for a post that takes 45 minutes to create is a decent hourly wage for a beginner, even as an independent contractor. However, there are other downsides.
Most of the work you’ll do for Copypress is ghostwriting — your byline goes to someone else when the work is published. I saw my work all over the internet under other people’s names, but that’s the nature of this work. A few clients were willing to offer a byline, and I gave preference to those in order to build my body of work online.
The other downside is that it takes forever to get paid — four months was not uncommon when I was there. Your work goes through a process of review by both Copypress and the client before the client is billed, and you’re not paid until Copypress is paid. I always got paid eventually, and it was always safe to assume that I’d still need money in four months, so I tried not to let that bother me. It’s best if Copypress isn’t your sole source of revenue (I earned about $600-800 a month there) so the cash flow situation doesn’t kill you.
Copypress will turn you into a copywriting machine, and then you can branch out with those skills to find a slew of great digital nomad jobs.
3. Join Constant Content
The Constant Content site is a marketplace that lets bloggers, website owners, and newsletter producers buy content from writers. Once you learn the basics of writing good copy for the web and basic SEO principles (either through Copypress or independent study), this is a good place to take your ideas.
Like Copypress, CC doesn’t care about your history or track record; all that matters is your ability to create good content. The signup process involves passing a quiz and writing up a brief sample. CC doesn’t offer the kind of on-the-job training that Copypress offers, and it doesn’t provide you with readymade story ideas. The training wheels are off. You’ll need to know what kind of copy is marketable, and how to pitch it.
The site does have standards, though. Every article is reviewed by an editor before it’s included in the catalog. If an article is rejected, you can rework it and resubmit it; you may learn a lot in the process, although the feedback can be very vague and it’s almost impossible to speak to a human editor.
The site has a system where buyers can make requests and writers can submit work they’ve already written or create a proposal. I find that process stressful and unproductive; for me, CC works better as a place to drop general interest pieces. That means you have to generate your own content ideas. If you’ve been working for Copypress for a while, you probably have a good idea of what clients want.
What kind of content sells? Anything that you might see in an employee newsletter or on a commercial website. General-interest topics like health, wellness, travel, financial management, and entrepreneurship do well for me. You can view the ‘recently sold’ articles on the site to get inspiration and ideas.
I use this site mostly to recycle the research I’ve done for clients. I fully rewrite each piece with a different slant so I’m not plagiarizing myself, and offer the results on CC. If you just keep stockpiling good content, you will begin to see sales eventually. I price a typical 600-word blog post in the $50-85 range and longer pieces (over 1000 words) around $150. CC keeps a 35% cut. It’s a lot, but I really hate marketing my own work, so it’s well worth it to me.
They claim that something like 80% of all articles accepted on the site eventually sells, and my experience bears that out. If you write about popular topics (personal finance, small business, health, and wellness do well for me) and follow their pricing guidelines, you’ll do well.
You’ll also get a cute widget like this to add to your website so you can sell your own content.
Sign up with Constant Content at this link (this is an affiliate link, any proceeds help support this site).
4. Branch Out as a Professional
When you’ve grasped the basics of content creation, you can combine that knowledge with your other expertise and start marketing yourself to blogs in your content area. For instance, I have a background in yoga, fitness, entrepreneurship, travel, and writing about the St. Louis scene, and I’ve found work in all those areas as a content creator.
Rather than marketing individual pieces of work, content creators typically contract for regular content with one or more outlets. So I might create a weekly 600-word post for one website, and twice-monthly 1000 word posts for another. Unlike Copypress, you will probably have to generate your own content ideas, which may need to go through an approval process, so build that time into your rate. I’m a fast writer; it takes me 2-3 times as long to process ideas and get them approved as it does to write the piece. I need to earn a lot more when I’m expected to ideate as well as write.
Rates for ongoing blogging vary wildly, but beginners should expect to receive a minimum of $50 for a short (under 600 word) post and $100 for a standard 600-800 word piece. An in-depth 1,000-word piece will require a great deal of research or expertise and should be priced at no less than $250, in my opinion.
Experienced writers and those with specialized expertise can command much higher prices, of course. And the with a special area of expertise (like education, law, or technical skills), can earn a great deal more money and create solid digital nomad jobs in their niche very quickly.
Where to look for digital nomad jobs in content creation
There are a lot of so-called “opportunities” out there that aren’t worth your time — Fiverr, Upwork, and most content mills are paying slave wages to writers. Digital nomad jobs usually are entrepreneurial — as a self-employed person, you are paying your own taxes, insurance, etc. Set your hour rates at 3X what you’d expect as an hourly or salaried worker.
Watch out for any opportunities that feel like they’re selling to you rather than asking you to jump through hiring hoops. Lots of people dream of becoming writers, and there are predatory folks out there who will take advantage of you.
But there is also plenty of demand and lots of real opportunities for those seeking digital nomad jobs. This is a vetted list of sites that post legitimate gigs for content creators.
- FreelanceWriting.com’s Morning Coffee Newsletter: A daily dose of work delivered to your inbox.
- BeAFreelanceBlogger.com $50+ Jobs Board: The rules are simple: to get on this board, an ad has to offer freelance blogging work and pay at least $0.10 per word or $50 per post.
- Blogging Pro Job Board: Free to view, the folks posting the listings are paying.
- Freelance Writing Jobs: This board at freelancewritinggigs.com offer a variety of paid possibilities.
- ProBlogger jobs board: The site os for blog owners, but there are legit opportunities for content creators on this page.
One last tip: Get the Grammarly plug-in for your browser so your work always looks professional. One of my editors at Copypress suggested it to me, and it’s been making me look good to my clients and editors ever since. In fact, Grammarly caught over a dozen minor errors on this post before I published it.