Why You Should Never, Ever Pay Per Word or Per Hour For Content
Here we go – one of my personal ‘pet peeves’.
Those of you who’ve personally spoken with me have full permission to sit this blog post out, as you’ve likely heard it all before.
But, for those of you who haven’t yet heard my views on this, or are just looking for the best way to hire a freelance writer, gather round. It’s time we talked.
So You’re Looking to Hire a Freelance Content Writer.
Firstly, congratulations. Getting to the stage where you’re looking to hire a freelance content writer means either –
- You don’t have the time to write
- You don’t want to write
- You know someone else can write it better
I applaud all of these reasons – so good for you!
However, when it comes to the nuts and bolts of rates when you hire a freelance content writer, there are several things you really need to know.
And, luckily for you, I have some very. Strong. Feelings about this very subject!
‘No No’ #1: Paying Per Hour
Personally, I’ve never really understood the ‘paying per hour for content writing’ phenomenon.
It just doesn’t really make sense: if you’ve ever hired (or at least, made the decision to hire a freelance content writer) via Upwork, you know that most of the freelancers on there prefer to be paid per hour. You get the chance to sit and watch their work diaries fill up with the number of keystrokes they’ve made per minute, and can even see screenshots of the work they’ve done in the hour you’re paying them for.
Unfortunately, when it comes to content writing, the ‘per hour’ model just doesn’t really work.
This is for two main reasons:
- Some freelance content writers work faster than others
- The content writing process contains many moving parts – how long will it take your content writer to do the necessary research? How fast can they type? How long will it take them to edit their work?
I’ve learned this the hard way, you see: back in the old days, before All This Content was even a ‘thing’, I decided to put one of my per-hour freelance content writers to the test. He was a legacy hire, and one that I’d reluctantly taken over from a former colleague.
He worked per hour, and for every hour that he worked, I swear I had to match it in personally editing his work. He’d type, type, type (I assume) and then self-report his weekly hours, for which the company would gratuitously overspend and receive nothing of substance in return.
So, one day, I asked him to give me a breakdown of those hours of work we provided him with – we needed regular, in-depth 1000-word reviews of our brands. He told me that each task would take him the obscene time of 5 hours – 2 for research, 2 for writing, and 1 for editing.
(If you’re interested, I have a related rant about how writers and editors are two separate job roles and skill sets, but I’ll save that one for another time)
And so, dear reader, I took it on myself to see how long it would take me to produce the same work, which I’d then send to an impartial colleague in another team to judge (who would be presented with two writers to choose from, and not know that I’d produced one of the drafts).
To put a very long story short – the same work took me a grand total of 50 minutes – the last ten minutes of which I ended up being distracted, and had to start the editing process all over again.
Not surprisingly, my draft produced in 40-50 minutes was chosen to be better written, more informative and better edited.
And yet, the company continued to pay the writer for those 5 hours of god-knows-what, each and every time.
The fundamental issue I see here, is that how on earth does anyone in a creative profession know exactly how long research is going to take, unless they’ve done the exact same task before? What if the research takes a shorter amount of time (because it usually does)? What if it takes longer? What if there’s a definitive lack of research available online? How would they even know until they start?
I’ve since seen hundreds – and yes, I mean hundreds of potential writers who have wanted to work with us here at ATC, who’ve insisted on being paid per hour.
And I’ve told them each and every time that it’s my way, or the highway.
For someone like me who writes and reads at the speed of light, and for whom their entire existence is based around writing, paying per hour would be a fantastic career move.
It would just mean either –
- Attempting to gauge and estimate how long a task might take to write, then feeling either cheated, resentful or irritated if this is underestimated (hint: it’s always an underestimation)
- Openly lieing to everyone in the surrounding environs about the actual length of time a task takes, in order to maximize the day’s available work hours.
Please note – I’m not trying to accuse freelance content writers who enjoy being paid per hour to be liars – I’m sure that the majority of them are honest folk, just looking to get paid for the work they’ve done.
My point is that charging for a creative process, such as content writing, per hour is completely the wrong medium.
‘No No’ #2: Paying Per Word
When I first started my content writing career, I was always confused with the inevitable ‘how much do you charge per word?’ question.
And why was this? Because when it comes to academic writing and the news, you have to ensure the item at hand is adequately explained – regardless of whether that’s a fast-paced news story, or an explanation of the latest research.
As in, the discussion was never about how many words you’d be paid for, but how much you would be paid per piece (obviously, word counts were important – but not for when it came to payment).
Fast forward to my burgeoning career as a content writer, and I’m asked to price my experience, my understanding, my creativity – my entire worth per word.
For some writers, mainly content writers, this approach makes sense. They estimate how much they would like a piece to pay, and therefore divide it according to the number of words in that piece.
So far, so simple, right? Well, not quite, because it’s actually a minefield –
- Should the content writer charge you for the keywords provided, which could make up a good 50+ words that you’re paying them for?
- If the writer adds notes, should you be paying them for these words?
- Should you pay the content writer for any instructional or directional tags they use – e.g. ‘Meta title’, ‘Add image here’ etc?
- What happens if, after a round of edits, the client decides to make substantial cuts to the content produced? How does the writer charge for the final product?
- On a similar note, what happens if the writer has to make substantial edits? How can they quantify the new, edited and additional words they’ve written over existing ones they’ve produced?
- It can be hard to budget exactly with this approach: if you ordered a 1000-word article, you can guarantee you’re going to receive at least 10% over that amount – which you might not have budgeted for, and which will almost always be added fluff in the name of making more money.
…And that’s only a few of the issues involved with paying per word for a freelance content writer. I haven’t even touched on the ‘word haggling’ that occurs when expectations of projected word counts are exceeded in the name of a good piece of writing.
At the other end of the writing spectrum, copywriters get a far worse deal when it comes to paying per word: their entire profession is taking a lot of information and condensing it down to the (highly convincing) nuts and bolts. Paying them per word doesn’t do justice to their craft, which often involves a fair few hours of competitor research, wracking their brains for synonyms and putting pen to paper, then returning to rewrite everything they’ve produced (a fair few times).
So if paying per hour and paying per word isn’t the best approach, how should you be paying an outsource or freelance content writer?
The Best Way To Pay and Hire a Freelance Content Writer (or Copywriter)
Here you go: we’ve been on a long blog post journey together, but finally, I’m going to answer the question we’ve all been waiting for:
How should I agree to pay, and therefore hire a freelance content writer or copywriter?!
The answer, my friends is simple:
Per piece, or if you’re lucky enough to have found a good ‘un: per batch.
Unless you’ve skimmed this entire post and have scrolled down to find the correct answer, this might sound a little strange to you. If so – go back and read from the ‘No No #1’ heading. I’ll wait!
Paying your freelance content writer or copywriter per piece is fair to both sides, and allows you to set expectations for work produced, as well as building a more productive working relationship.
A freelance content writer can give you the price they think is fair, and this way, everyone knows where they stand: the client can budget according to the given price, and the freelance content writer can work according to their preferred hourly or per word rate (or to whatever they choose).
In fact, batch pricing works even better for both the client and the freelance content writer…that is, if you’re comfortable working together, and you’re certain that the writer can handle bulk requests.
Batch pricing allows you, the client, to negotiate a slightly lower unit price for multiple requests…and therefore ‘reserving’ the writer for yourself, ensuring that you’re their priority.
Phew. This has certainly been a long post – and thanks for reading, if you’ve made it this far!
I feel this post is vital in explaining the hows and whys of paying an outsource or freelance content writer, especially since it’s a conversation I have multiple times a day.
That and, if you’re looking for a fantastic outsource content partner for the long-term, get in touch and talk to me personally about your content needs.
Maybe, just maybe if you ask nicely – I’ll even write for you personally!