How I Stepped Away from Content Mills and Ended Up Writing For Brands

Tammy Danan
June 21, 2022

It’s so easy to get caught up in the toxic world of content mills, especially when you badly need the money.

It’s so easy to stick to something you’re used to, something that feels safe, something that you’re confident will give you what you need—income. Even though that income is not enough nor does it commensurate with your efforts.

Content mills could be a dangerous trap. Scratch that. Content mills are a dangerous trap. 

I was stuck there for three, maybe four years and I could spend the next two hours writing about how terrible it was. But, let’s not. This space is too good to be a space for pity parties. I’ve learned a lot and I just wish more writers could step away from content mills. There’s so much more out there. So, how did I make it to the other side?

I hated my work. I questioned myself.

This was the first step to walking away from content mills and it’s a pity party for sure. There was no, “okay, this is the last straw. I’m done” kind of moment. To me, it was a slow, slow process of wondering and self-reflection.

I noticed I kept waking up, sitting in front of my computer, and feeling unhappy with my job. Feeling unsure what the heck I was doing with my life and my career. Which did not make sense because I loved writing! So why this unhappy feeling? Why do I hate my job? The same job I used to brag about.

It’s important to question things and it’s definitely important to let yourself feel things, even when those feelings confuse you. Like hating a job you begged the universe to give to you. I remember when I was in fourth grade, I’d bask in every English class and say to myself, “when I grow up, I want to be a writer.” So yeah, it sucks when the universe gave you that wish and now you’re hating it. Feel that. Ask questions. Wonder.

I surrounded myself with better people

This was a big one. Still is. And I have to say, no matter where you are in life and what you’re struggling with, when you make that conscious decision to connect with and be surrounded by better people, you’ll figure things out faster than you thought.

I found this Facebook group and it’s chock-full of journalists and writers from all over the world. Ranging from big-time journos who have been published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, TIME Magazine, and such, to small-town, lowkey writers still figuring things out. Like me. The group was never intimidating. Instead, it was full of support and good advice and a ton of cheerleading!

That’s when I knew it was a good place to stay. I learned a lot and one of the best lessons was to never worry you’d look stupid or naive for asking questions. Those who ask would learn. Those who act like they always know the answer would remain a fool.

I opened myself to other possibilities

It’s not easy to step away from something when you don’t open yourself to another. It’s like stepping off a bus and not knowing where to go next. You’d just stand there by the sidewalk probably until you think of a place to go.

With the help of amazing cheerleaders, I was able to break down the barriers and limits I set for myself. I was able to see so many other possibilities with the skills that I have, the opportunities to grow, and the fact that I am worth so much more. Settling for less is not going to work here. You have to keep reminding yourself that if you’re working hard, if you’re willing to learn, you’re worth more than you think you are. And there are a ton of possibilities out there!

I did some heavy lifting with mindset shift

Working on your mindset is an everyday thing. At least for me, it is. Some days, I catch myself thinking the old way and I need to remind myself that’s not how I do things now. Not anymore. I had to unlearn so many things in order to make space for the new ones. The good and better ones.

There were so many things I had to rethink. Like the way I do my work. For the longest time, I operated as an employee. The client is the boss therefore the client has a say on work hours and salary and whether or not he’d have me use a software that’ll take screenshots of my screen while working. This was one of the biggest and most difficult things to unlearn. As a freelancer, we sell services. We’re not employees. Remember that.

It takes a lot of work to change the way you thought of things. It takes some heavy lifting to forget those self-limiting beliefs. But trust me, it helps.

I made the decision to take a leap

Despite being scared. Despite being unsure if I was doing it right. Despite not knowing exactly what I was doing.

My first pitch sounded like I was begging the publication to accept the story. My first brand content work I told the director of content, “I’ve never written for brands so I’m not sure how I can be the person for this, but sure! Let’s do it!”

It sounds cheesy but really, it’s just a matter of making that decision to take the leap. The decision to never go back to your old habits. Or in this case, the old way of freelancing. Decide, and then be proud of yourself for doing it. It’s not going to be easy, and you will fail. That’s for sure. But hey, chances are, you’ll succeed too!

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