The short answer is: You pay writers as much as you need to get the product you want in return. And if you’re following good economics, you don’t pay more than that.
While freelance writing rates can get a bit complicated, no secret mysterious formula exists. Writing is a skilled trade or profession, just as plumbing, law or baking are. As with any of those trades, you negotiate and pay for the skill, time and experience of a writer, and where on the scale of prevailing rates your cost falls depends on several factors. Hiring a freelance writer that can create the kind of content your campaign needs depends on you knowing how much you need to pay.
In this guide, we’ll provide all the information you need to answer the question, “how much should I pay a freelance writer?”
Freelance Writer Pay: A Wide Range
What freelancers charge per word or by the hour can vary widely, and for a number of reasons. In a 2019 survey, around 10% of freelancers said they earned $76 or more per hour, and around 35% said they earned between $26 and $75 an hour.
Writers think in hourly terms. Even if you pay by word, project or week, most writers calculate how much time the work is likely to take and how much they’ll earn per hour. The best and most experienced freelancers almost always have a minimum hourly pay rate they’re willing to work for.
If you think those rates sound high, remember this: freelancers aren’t your employees. They’re running a business, with all the expenses that come with that endeavor. What they earn writing must cover expenses including a place to work, equipment and internet connections, software, taxes and, potentially, health insurance.
The flip side of realizing that you’re working with a business and not an employee is that you don’t have to worry about their hourly earnings and profit. You should always start with your own budget.
“Before receiving a pitch or approaching a freelancer, I determine the maximum budget for the content for that month and whether it is a one-time project or ongoing content project,” says Megan Meade, marketing specialist at Software Path.
Meade says once you know how much you can pay for a project, you can start looking for a freelancer who matches those terms. You can choose a freelancer with published rates or put your own expectations on the table to negotiate. Ultimately, whether or not the freelancer makes enough money with your project for their own purposes is a business concern on their end.
But keep in mind that if you’re not willing to pay enough for the quality, service and timeline you desire, you may not get all those things.
Sidebar or call out: The Convenience of Working With Crowd Content. When you work via Crowd Content’s services, you can review our pricing structure and see what your budget gets you. That helps you understand if your budget is sufficient to get the content and quality you really need. We also have thousands of writers ready to write at the various pay rates set up on the platform, so you get a ready-made team of freelancers for any project.
Ways to Calculate Freelancer Pay
When considering how much to pay writers, don’t forget to think about how you’ll calculate that pay. Common options include per word, per hour or per project.
“We prefer to pay per word so that the writer could receive more precise pay for the work they’ve done,” says John Breese, the founder and CEO of Happysleephead. “I personally believe it’s fair, especially when it comes to making revisions that might require adding more paragraphs.”
Per word is typically the default method for calculating the payment on blog posts and other web content. It lets you easily control your budget by setting word count ranges, and it ensure the freelancer knows exactly how much they’re earning. Word count is also an objective measurement that reduces the risk of miscommunication about pay.
Remember, though, that even when working with a per-word rate, most writers will figure out what that means for them hourly. You should pay attention to hourly too — if you’re offering an onerous assignment that involves a lot of research, formatting or other details that make it take longer to complete, your per-word rate may not equate to an hourly rate that’s enough to attract good writers.
However, flat rates and hourly pay can be good choices in certain situations, including those below.
- Social media posts. Social posts are usually low on word count and high on effort. Writers need to learn about your voice and brand, come up with quippy statuses and possibly source images. Paying a flat rate per post completed can make sense.
- Full-time gigs. If you’re planning to ask the writer to accomplish work that takes full-time hours, you might negotiate a charge per hour for their time. For example, if you want a writer to handle your entire seasonal catalog, you might contract with them for 40 hours of service a week for an entire month.
- Large projects with numerous parts. Sometimes, you’re not sure exactly how word count or hourly rates may pan out, but you do know how much you can budget for a large project. You might negotiate with the writer for a per-project rate. Make sure you include details about what work is expected and consider setting up milestone payments as work is completed. For example, if you agree to pay $10,000 for a ghostwritten textbook, create an outline of chapters and pay a certain amount for every five chapters delivered and approved.
8 Factors That Impact How Much You Pay Freelancers
Once you know what your budget is and how you plan to pay writers, ask yourself the following seven questions to determine whether you’re going to pay lower or higher rates.
1. What type of content do you need?
Some content is easier to write than others. Short product descriptions about common products, such as dinnerware or t-shirts, may take less time and effort than technical writing or lengthy sales copy. You must consider the skills and knowledge required for your project when determining pay rates.
- Do you want professional sales and marketing copy that’s more likely to convert?
- Do you want a specific type of voice or style?
- How many small details do writers need to attend to, such as formatting, keywords, HTML and extras such as meta descriptions?
- Is your content in a niche that requires special knowledge?
If you answered yes to any of these, you may need a higher budget to attract a qualified writer.
2. How much nonwriting is required for your project?
“The pay rate we offer differs based on the amount of research it may take one to write a piece,” says Breese. “That’s because for some articles, it can be enough to share personal experience, while for others, the writer will have to find and analyze existing studies and maybe contact researchers and experts to get their opinion on the topic.”
In addition to research, consider other demands on your writer’s time. They can include:
- Calls with you or anyone else regarding the project
- Travel time, if applicable
- Interviewing individuals for the project
- Formatting or handling special administrative concerns
- Revision rounds (make sure you specify how many you expect for the price you’re paying ahead of time)
3. What quality of content do you want?
“I never low-ball a freelancer,” says Meade. “If you want good work, you should be willing to pay the price.”
The bottom line here is that higher-quality typically comes at higher rates. You can go with less expensive options, but the resulting content is less likely to perform as you want it to. What would you rather have — cheaper rates or higher ROI?
In some cases, you may pay for cheaper content only to have to pay for higher-quality content later when the cheap stuff doesn’t work out. This has happened to more than one company Crowd Content works with. They shop around and decide to go with a competitor with cheaper rates only to return to us in a few months because the content isn’t working for them at all.
4. What type of expertise do you need?
“We pay freelancers based on a combination of experience, talent and pedigree,” says Charles Floate, owner and CFO of DFY Links. “Experience shows they can walk the walk as well as talk the talk and will have significant excellence in a variety of niches and be able to work for most of our clients. We pay for the best, as original content is hard to come by with the saturation of articles on every subject. Our tactic is to explain the subject better than any other outlet, and for this, we will pay top dollar for.”
In addition to general experience, consider the type of expertise you need. Google’s demand for authority content, especially in some niches, has pushed brands to seek qualified experts as authors of content marketing. If you’re publishing medical content, for example, you might want a nurse to write for you.
But nurses make on average $34.48 per hour handling nursing duties. Even if you find a nurse who can also write, you’ll need to pay at least that much — and probably more to account for the nature of contract work.
5. How fast is your desired turnaround time?
Remember, freelance writers run businesses. They deliver products via a schedule, and they typically have a schedule in place before your project shows up. If you want them to rearrange that schedule or bump other work to attend to yours, you have to be willing to pay for the privilege.
6. Are you using the author byline, or is this ghostwritten content?
Floate notes that they pay extra for a strong writer pedigree. “This can include their social media following and their reputation in the industry. Meaning they have a high following and respect, so their articles will be read for reputation as well as by inquisitive people. Influence matters a lot, so we will pay according to that.”
Many people make the mistake of thinking exposure can be substituted for money. If you give the freelancer a byline, you can pay them a little less because they can use the content for their portfolio, right?
Mostly, wrong. As Floate points out, you want their byline for a reason. Authorship is valuable today—the right authorship even more so. Freelancers have their own brands and they trade on those brands. Plus, when a writer’s name is going on something, they typically put even more effort into it.
7. How detailed are your requirements?
If your requirements are very detailed, you may need to up your per-word pay to attract the right freelancers. At Crowd Content, we’ve seen clients offer projects that require basic writing, and they offer a rate they think is requisite with that level of writing. But then they add numerous detailed requirements for extras, including:
- Difficult SEO — they want 50 keywords included or have very specific requirements about exactly where and how keywords should be used
- Formatting — they want numerous and very specific headers, bulleted lists, paragraph structures or lengths or actual HTML coding
- Images — they want writers to source images for the content
- Links — they want a large number of external or internal links following very robust rule sets
If you add details that increase the time it takes to create your content, you need to consider how that impacts hourly pay rates and what your offering may need to be to get the quality you want.
8. Would you like your project edited or your content managed?
Finally, how much you pay for freelance content depends on whether you’re planning to manage the process or want it handled for you. Crowd Content’s enterprise solutions offer fully managed approaches that let you depend on experienced project managers for at-scale content creation that results in publish-ready products.
The TL;DR here is this: A penny or two a word doesn’t net you ideal quality today, and if you want SEO and marketing content that performs, you have to be willing to pay the right rates. That doesn’t mean there aren’t options to fit almost every budget, but understanding how to balance quality, budget and timelines is critical to success when working with freelancers.