How to Get Paid as a Freelance Writer

by | Dec 6, 2023 | Business Advice, RD Careers, Writing Skills

As a freelance writer, you want to be sure you always get paid for your work. After all, you are likely doing this as a job and good writing is a valuable skill that clients are willing to pay for. 

One of the essential aspects of building a sustainable writing business is understanding ahead of time how and when you will get paid. Unfortunately, this is one aspect that is often overlooked by new freelancers. Understanding payment terms before you start the work is one of the most important conversations you can have with your potential client. 

So, how do freelancers get paid? In this post, I’ll give you some of the dos and don’ts of getting paid, the most effective way to collect payment, and the payment methods I recommend. With this guide, you can have the “difficult” conversations upfront, simplify the payment process, and concentrate on creating great content.

Establish payment terms upfront

Most freelance writing gigs go wrong due to a lack of communication before the project starts. It is easy to assume that you and your client will be on the same page when it comes to paying you for your work. 

Payment terms need to be discussed before starting a project. These should include:

  • The rate per deliverable/project
  • When you will get paid
  • How you will get paid
  • What happens if the payment is late
  • Terms of late fees
  • Other terms around payment

This is an important conversation to have ahead of time and it is easy for both you and the client to make (incorrect) assumptions. Assumptions on both ends are what lead to complications, frustration, and tension in the client-freelancer relationship. 

Be as clear as possible with the terms and get them in writing. You should always have a contract for this reason.

How to get paid as a freelance writer

Determine how much you will get paid

The first step is to determine the rate for the project. Never start a project without knowing the specifics of deliverables and what the rate will be. Always be transparent with fees. You probably don’t like to receive unexpected bills and neither do your clients. 

Your contract should specify what you will deliver and the amount the client will owe for that item. For example, if you write a 1000-word article, the client will pay you a set amount for that word count. I like to provide some wiggle room when it comes to the number of words, I typically state that the final article will be 1000-1200 words, just so the client knows what to expect.

If the client pays per word, discuss a range. You don’t want to deliver a 3000-word piece when the client was expecting to pay for 500 words. 

Also, you should always get paid for the words you actually wrote, not the words the client decided to modify/edit/publish. This needs to be established ahead of time, as some publications will make significant edits and then only pay writers for the published words. This is not fair and you should not accept these terms. 

Your payment terms should also specify the number of edits included for the project and when the edits need to be requested. For example, you agree to do two edits and they must be requested within 30 days of submission. Some clients will come back months later asking for edits to a piece, therefore you need to discuss this ahead of time. 

Determine when you will invoice 

There is no right or wrong way to invoice the client, you just need to communicate how you will do so ahead of time. 

Some writers prefer to collect 100% of the payment upfront before beginning the project. Whereas others collect a deposit to start the project, and then the remainder upon completion. Collecting a deposit is a good idea if you will incur expenses in the course of executing the project. 

Other freelancers get paid upon delivery of the first draft or once the project is complete and approved. Typically, I do not recommend waiting for the client to “approve” or publish the work before invoicing for it because some clients tend to move slowly once the work is delivered. This can delay your ability to get paid. 

At my agency RWS: Content +Strategy, for international, first-time clients, or large contracts, we typically invoice for some or all of the payment upfront. Other clients are invoiced upon the submission of the first draft and have 15 or 30 days to pay the invoice. All of these terms are spelled out in our contract.

Confirm when the payment is due

Most clients, particularly at large companies, do not pay invoices upon receipt. Companies have payment terms already in place. You will need to understand what those are ahead of time and take that into account when planning your monthly cash flow. 

Large companies will usually pay within 30 or 60 days of receiving your invoice. This is called net 30 or net 60. 

Payment terms are often negotiable, so you should always ask if you can get paid sooner. Some clients are more flexible with this than others, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

How freelance writers get paid

An important step that many freelance writers forget to ask about is how you will receive the payment. Larger clients tend to have a payment system already in place. Most pay via check or direct deposit. 

Direct deposit is a great way to get your money fast without fees, so always ask if this is an option. 

Some freelancers get paid the old-school way via check. Checks are unreliable and can get lost in the mail. Additionally, many clients use the excuse “the check is in the mail” as a way to delay payment. It is up to the individual freelancer to determine if they want to accept checks (we do not). 

Direct deposit and wire transfers

Direct deposit is a low-fee way to get paid by your client. Most large companies will have the ability to pay via direct deposit.

When setting up direct deposit for your payment, it is normal for a company to ask for your routing and bank account information. If your client is a legitimate company, there is no concern with providing this information for payment. 

If your client is an international company, they will also request a SWIFT code for your bank that will allow them to wire money internationally. Be aware that many banks charge fees for international wire, so take that into account when quoting the rate for the project. 

One piece of information to never give out is your social security number. Instead, get a free EIN from the IRS to use on all forms. It takes only a few minutes to set up and this will help protect your identity from fraud. 

Online payment platforms

Some clients will not want to set up direct deposit and will prefer to pay with a credit or debit card instead. For this reason, you need to have a payment system in place that will allow you to collect payment via credit card. 

Paypal or Stripe are easy ways to get paid via credit card. Both services allow you to send invoices and collect credit card payments on their platform. For freelancers just starting out, both of these platforms are a great way to get paid effortlessly.

Avoiding payment fees

Many freelancers want to avoid fees when getting paid via credit card. Unless a client is willing to do direct deposit, fees are part of the cost of doing business. You cannot completely avoid fees if you want to be flexible with your payment terms. 

It is against the terms of service for PayPal and other payment collection services to charge your clients the fee. If you want to account for fees, raise your rates. Your client should not be saddled with your business costs. 

All-in-one payment software

hellobonsai

Once you are an established writer, you are going to want to move away from PayPal or Stripe and need a way to send invoices, track expenses, collect payments, and more. 

One of the best all-in-one business management programs for freelance writers is Hello Bonsai. Inside the program, it allows you to manage every step of the client journey from the proposal to the payment. 

It has fantastic contract templates that you can use to just plug and play. It helps with bookkeeping and taxes as well. Not only that, starting at just $17 a month it is quite affordable even for those just starting out. With a program like Hello Bonsai, you can run your entire writing business from one location. 

Collecting late payments

As a freelance writer, late payments happen, and it’s essential to have a follow-up plan to get your funds. If you’ve sent an invoice, give the client a few days, and if the payment does not arrive, follow up with a polite but firm reminder. 

Hello Bonsai has a payment tracking feature that will send reminders to clients on your behalf. It is typical to give the client a little wiggle room before charging them a late fee. I find that a personal email a day or two before the late fees start kicking in with a reminder to pay typically does the trick. 

You can begin charging late fees if the client has not paid by the agreed-upon date. These are fees that accrue over time as the payment is delayed. You can learn more about the legal issues and recommended late fees in this article

If your client continues to not pay the fee or ignores your emails, consider sending a demand letter by mail or hiring a lawyer before moving to collections. It is best to speak to a professional before taking this step. 

Final Thoughts 

Getting paid as a freelance writer is crucial to your writing career’s success. As we’ve explored, establishing payment terms upfront, using an online payment platform, requesting an initial deposit, sending invoices promptly, and following up on late payments are some of the ways to get paid effectively. 

When you are ready for an all-in-one business and payment management system, Hello Bonsai is the best out there. It can help you simplify the payment process and concentrate on producing great writing. 

If you are curious about the type of software freelance writers need, check out this post to learn more.

For more information like this about becoming a freelance health writer, grab my 5-day free email course to help you get started.

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