One of the most common questions I get from new clients is, “how is the payment structured?”. People don’t get a lot of exposure behind the curtain of a freelance writing operation.
In this piece, I want to explore the different payment options when it comes to freelance writers. This isn’t specifically how to pay a writer (by check, PayPal, etc.), but I want to talk about the different payment options that you’ll find in the world of freelance writers.
Understanding What “Freelance” Means
Before getting into the financials, you should understand what “freelance” means. You probably have a decent idea, but there are some important things to point out.
A freelancer doesn’t get a W-9 tax form and they aren’t part of your payroll system. In other words, a freelancer isn’t a salaried employee for your company.
The Difference of Paying a Freelance Worker
This is why the concept of paying a writer is unfamiliar to a lot of companies. Sure, Kelly in your marketing department gets a certain salary and maybe some performance incentives. Straightforward stuff. Every other Friday she gets a check for roughly the same amount, and there isn’t a ton of confusion.
When you bring in a freelance writer, it’s a little different. They don’t get a pre-determined paycheck in many cases. In almost every case, a freelancer’s payment all comes down to how much work they did during the pay period.
It all comes down to the payment model you decide to go with.
5 Payment Options for a Freelance Writer
In this section, I’ll breakdown the different models that you can use to pay a writer. I’ll also provide a pros and cons section to help you understand which model is right for you.
Some writers like to charge for their work hourly. This is no different than any part-time or contract role in the workforce. The writer does their work then invoices you for how many hours it took them to do it.
Personally, I don’t like hourly contracts as a freelance writer. Why? It’s too easy for either party to take advantage of one another. How are you supposed to know that this article took me 3 hours to write? If you doubt it, there’s no real way for me to prove it.
The best method I’ve seen in the past was a program that records your screen while you work. This feels really invasive to me and it means that every second can be scrutinized by a client after. It just feels icky.
I’m not working in the same office as you, so you can’t stop by my desk and see what I’m working on. During these three hours, I could be checking emails and talking on the phone with my parents.
Just because hourly payment is used in other parts of the workforce doesn’t mean it’s a great fit for a writer. A lot of writers will want to take their time and milk every penny they can out of an hourly contract, and that’s not fair to you.
On your side, you’ll want a writer to work as fast as humanly possible. This destroys the quality of the article being produced. It’s a messy structure, to say the least.
The good part is that the writer gets compensated for all the work that goes into an article. Some articles require more time researching than actually writing. The writer can also bill for hours spent communicating and filing any paperwork for the project.
- Mirrors other trends in the workplace
- A familiar option that doesn’t need to be explained
- Easy to allocate a budget to (i.e. you can afford 20 hours weekly)
- Writer gets paid for research and admin services
- Relies on a lot of trust
- Room for error and potential for disagreements
- Hard to accurately track the time
- Can result in low-quality work
#2: Pay Per Word
Out of all the payment options, my favorite has always been pay per word. In this method, your company will pay your writer based on how many words they submit.
It takes all the guesswork out of written content. There’s no argument over invoice charges since it all revolves around how many words were submitted. It’s a trackable method that can be double-checked easily by your company.
The writer will build the required research and admin services into their price per word so it’s all-encompassing. Though they won’t get paid for the hours spent researching, they’ll get paid for the final work.
Here’s an example of how it works:
You and your writer agree to a price of 50 cents per word. A week later you get a 1,500-word article. You both know that the final cost is going to be $750. Done.
The good thing is that the payment is based on a figure that everyone can see. You both see the same article, so everyone knows the final price.
From what I’ve seen, the only downside is that some writers will start padding their work to add more words. The simple way to avoid this is to carefully pick the right writer and to put a cap on how many words they can write.
Simply say that you’re looking for a 1,500-word article and you won’t accept anything over 1,750 or below 1,000 words. Now the writer has a range they can stick to.
- Fair option for both parties
- Easy to track spending
- Helps to avoid arguments down the line
- Invoicing is really straightforward
- Writer doesn’t get paid officially for research or admin work, just written content
- Requires forethought for how much you can afford per article
- A little math required
For larger projects, a lot of clients prefer a per-project cost. This figure is agreed upon ahead of time between you and your writer.
Rather than breaking down the pay per hour or word written, a single figure is used. Rather than tracking hours, you and your writer will determine the project costs $10,000.
The actual payout can be done bi-weekly, monthly, or upon submission of key milestones. At any rate, some writers need a down payment upfront to help fund some of their work and avoid getting burned by a client who fails to pay.
The big benefit of per-project payment models is that there is less focus on how long it takes to complete work and the exact word count. It expedites the process and avoids disagreements later on.
The writer might re-adjust the figure if the scope of work changes or there is an unforeseen obstacle.
A typical breakdown might look like this:
$10,000 for the project in whole. $2,500 paid upfront. Additional $2,500 paid at the submission of first and second batches of content. Final $2,500 paid when all the work is approved after one round of revisions.
Pro tip: make sure everything is clearly described in the contract. You don’t want a miscommunication to ruin your working relationship with your writer.
- Easy to keep track of
- Helps keep your budget intact
- Shifts focus away from billable hours and number of written words
- Hard to tell if either party is being taken advantage of
- Requires thorough documentation and agreement
- Might come with sticker shock
#4: Price Per Piece
Similar to a per-project cost, you can also commit to a price per piece. This is a simplified way to charge a price per word without counting every word at the end of the project.
Commonly, this is advertised by the writer. They will write you a 1,500-word article in the finance category for $500. If it comes out to 1,625 words, you get 125 words for “free”.
This is a way to simplify the payment structure and it’s sometimes used to mask the required price per word from the writer.
It’s a great option if you’re looking to buy a number of articles and you need to submit a budget for the work. You want five articles that cost $500 each? Easy – that’s $2,500.
This is another method that shifts the focus away from counting every word.
The downside of this payment model falls in the lap of the writer. They aren’t getting paid for every word they write and they’re probably getting underpaid for their research. To build a fixed price means that you’re assuming every article takes about the same amount of research.
It also means that a writer isn’t paid for the words they write over the threshold. In this case, every word after 1,500 is free.
- Easy to agree to and keep track of
- Simple way to buy articles in bulk
- Client often gets free work
- Takes the focus away from counting words
- Undervalues the time spent researching
- Unknown rate per word in most cases
#5: Pay Per View
As a writer myself, it pains me to write about pay per view contracts. In this model, the employer will pay a writer a certain rate depending on how many people read the article.
For example, I write a piece for company A. They either pay me a small amount for my work upfront or don’t pay me at all. We agree that I’ll be paid 1 penny for every 10 views.
Now, all of a sudden, I need to become a marketing agent for free to promote my article on their site. The reason the company makes money here is through ad revenue that they get paid per view of their page.
The writer is essentially getting a small portion of the ad payout for their work. The worst part? There’s no way for the writer to track the progress. Company A can get 100,000 views and tell the writer they only received 500 views and pay them accordingly.
This is a shady payment model and there’s a ton of room for error. My suggestion? Avoid this payment model altogether. You might consider using a similar model as a bonus to pay your writer after the fact, but your contract shouldn’t be built around a pay per view structure.
- Inexpensive for the company
- A way to make writers more interested in the success of their articles
- Very shady tactic
- Most experienced writers will run away from pay per view offers
- Borderline extortion for writers
- Can ruin trust between a client and writer
Why Choose CTB Writing?
As a professional writer, I’ve learned about the best way to charge clients. I use a “pay per word” model for most of my clients. It means that you’re not paying for my coffee breaks (and I drink plenty of coffee), calls I make, or research I do.
A pay per word model forces me to focus on the quality of the content. After all, you’re paying based on the words you see on the page. I always deliver high-quality content that you can be proud of.
If you want to learn more about me or see the services that I offer, take a look around my website. If you have any questions or want to get started, you can contact CTB Writing today.