The Truth About Freelance Writers: What You’re REALLY Paying For

Illustration by Ramiro Roman.
Illustration by Ramiro Roman.

Ever wonder what you’re REALLY paying for when you hire a freelance writer…?

From the Business Side…

Every once in a while I get asked what the difference is between a professional freelance writer and the numerous $5 writers available out there.

“You get what you pay for” is the simplest answer.

But just what ARE you paying for anyway?

  • You’re paying for research. As writers we may know a particular topic really well, we may even know a few topics really well, but there are several topics we’ll know nothing about. But that’s okay. Because, when you invest in professional writing, you’re also paying us to research the subject matter. Heck, we may even snag a quote or two from an expert in the field to add human interest! (Interviews count as research).
  • You’re paying for proofreading and editing. First drafts are never “good enough.” Ask any English teacher worth their salt! And yet, when you go the cheap route, first drafts–or (very) rough drafts–are all you’ll receive. To be honest, I make the bulk of my money cleaning up after other writers’ messes. Time after time I’ve had clients come to me (or come back to me after passing me up the first time) needing content rewritten. They went for someone cheaper and ended up paying more in the long run–first the “cheaper” payment for what was ultimately unusable/trash, and then another payment to me for the real deal.
  • You’re paying for integrity. Plagiarism is not an option.
  • You’re paying for personality. This is going to be hard to put delicately but, ah, most of the discount writers don’t exactly have the greatest grasp on the English language. And when the writer you’ve hired is struggling to comprehend basic sentence structure/spelling/grammar, how can you possibly expect something more complex to shine through? You know, the things that would make the writing interesting to your readers/customers…
  • You’re paying for future sales. Good writing is an investment. A great copywriter will build you a sales page that knocks the socks off your target market. A fantastic article writer will keep your audience engaged and coming back each week for more. When you purchase professional writing: You get what you pay for–and then some. The returns almost always outweigh the initial costs.

Three Quick Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Freelance Writer:

  1. If all a potential writer asks you is how much you’re willing to pay, they aren’t asking enough questions. Buyer beware! One of the earmarks of a pro is they ask a lot of questions. They get to know you, your needs, your subject matter. If they’re not right for the job, they let you know. Discount writers tend to only be interested in the bottom line–focusing on speed (in order to get paid faster!) rather than quality. They’re not looking out for your best interests and will often take on jobs regardless of whether they can perform them well or not.
  2. Contracts are a good thing. They protect you as well as the writer. True professionals never, ever work without a contract.
  3. Good writing takes time. Remember all that researching, proofreading, and editing I mentioned earlier? It’d be mighty hard to get all that done in just a couple hours. Good writers do occasionally take on rush jobs, but if you want consistently good quality–and if you want to show that you respect our time–you’ll give your writer enough time to get the job done right. (And, don’t worry, we’ll let you know exactly how much time we need before we get started. Because we’re pros!). <3

On a More Personal Level…

The above is just what you get back from us after paying. The part you can see.

There’s also a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff your money is paying for when you hire a freelance writer…

  • Taxes and fees. We don’t get to keep all of the money you pay us. Not by a long shot. Out of each payment, we have to set aside some for our state and federal taxes. Oh, and even though PayPal is the preferred method of payment for most writers (it’s just so convenient!), we actually take a loss there too thanks to their fee policies. So the $100 you just paid for that carefully-crafted article ends up looking a bit like this: $100 initial payment – $4 in PayPal fees – $19 set aside for taxes = $77 we get to keep…most of which gets invested right back into our business!
  • Medical, dental, and other emergencies. As freelancers, we don’t have a boss or company to provide us with insurance or look after our health. We have to do all that ourselves. I recently had to pay–sans insurance!–to get an impacted wisdom tooth removed. That was a real kick in the wallet, lemme tell ya!
  • The supplies we need to get the job done. Pens, paper, printer ink, laptops (I’ve gone through about 1 per year since I started writing full-time), extra hard drives to back up our work, various softwares, an Internet connection, a reliable cell phone, website maintenance (domain name, hosting, security), business cards, files… And that’s just the stuff off the top of my head! Most of which would be provided for us if we had a “normal” job.
  • Education. When you’re a freelancer, you cannot afford to stop learning. Your education never truly ends. For our own good and the good of our clients, it’s part of our job to stay on top of things and constantly strive to improve ourselves. But all those books and e-courses we buy to keep our skills updated come at a price!
  • The basics. You know. Stuff like food and shelter. And…that’s pretty much it. When someone makes the choice to become a freelance writer, they’re also making the choice to give up a lot of other things. New clothes, eating out, salon haircuts, and socializing with friends become luxuries we simply can’t afford. (I haven’t visited with a friend in person since Sept. 23, 2012! That was over 9 months ago at this point.).

Writer Chuck Wendig once compared freelance writing to punching yourself in the face.

There are no days off. A day off is a day we go without pay.

When we aren’t working on projects for clients, we’re out there marketing ourselves trying to get clients.

It can be a very hard life.

So why do we do it?

We do it because we love it.

Because we’re good at it.

Because we love helping you, our wonderful clients, through the magic of our writing.

And that is the truth about freelance writers.

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