Getting paid for your work as a freelance writer is hard enough, never mind discussing terms you’re happy with. In a lot of cases, clients will want to pay you on their own schedule, so it’s important to understand what the most common freelance writing payment terms are.
Right off the bat, I can say you’ll almost be never be paid in full upfront – it just doesn’t happen. In fact, you’ll often have to wait a while, so you need to adjust accordingly.
In this article, we’ll discuss the four most common types of freelance writing payment terms. I’ll break down how they work, how you should adapt to them, and if they’re worth it for you. Let’s talk about payments!
The 4 Most Common Types of Freelance Writing Payment Terms
Ideally, every client would pay as soon as you submit your work. However, that’s almost never the case, no matter what type of freelancer you are. In my experience, payment terms fall under four categories.
1. Payment Before Delivery
Getting paid in full before you deliver work is pretty rare unless your reputation as a writer precedes you. Considering that freelance writers usually get paid by the word, it can also be a bit unpractical.
Deposits or partial payments at the start of a job, though, are another matter. In most cases, I recommend you ask for partial payment upfront. That goes particularly if it’s your first time working with a client or if we’re talking about an assignment that’ll take a long time.
For long-term gigs, you usually won’t get any partial payment up front. That’s normal. We’ll go over what kind of terms you can expect in a minute.
How common are partial payments up front: Pretty rare, but you should insist on them for new clients (unless they’re referrals) or particularly long assignments.
2. Per Month and Net-XX Payments
When you start moving into the world of long-term writing gigs, you usually won’t get paid after each individual assignment. That is because you may be doing a lot of work per month for a single client, so sending that many payments can be a hassle for them.
For long-term gigs, it’s more common to get paid at the start of the month for work done during the previous one. Some clients, on the other hand, will negotiate what we call ‘Net-XX’ terms. Net-30, for example, means you get paid 30 days after submission or when that particular billing period ends.
Net-XX terms are somewhat common when you’re working for businesses instead of individual clients. They often process payments in huge batches, so getting ahead of the queue can be pretty hard.
If you need cash on hand, then try to avoid Net-XX terms, because asking clients to send money ahead of schedule can look pretty unprofessional.
How common are per month and Net-XX payments: These types of freelance writing payment terms are common for long-term gigs. However, they’re not very beneficial if you’re only doing one-off assignments.
3. Payment Upon Delivery
A lot of new freelancers expect clients to pay right away after they submit work. Once you start working, however, you’ll quickly realize there’s almost always a delay involved.
One of the hardest parts of adapting to the freelance lifestyle is getting your finances in order so you can weather payment delays. If you work for multiple clients (as is most common), you’ll have a lot of payment windows to juggle, and sometimes money won’t get there when you need it the most.
Getting clients to agree to payment upon delivery is pretty rare and I recommend against you insisting on it. The only exception is when you submit one-off assignments, since it makes sense to get paid for those right away (on top of an initial deposit).
Aside from those cases, you’ll usually want to submit an invoice with a payment window. That way, clients know they have until a specific date to pay, but it doesn’t sound like you’re pressuring them.
How common are payments upon delivery: For the best results, you should leave clients a window of time to pay when you submit an invoice.
4. Payment After Publication
This type of payment term is pretty rare in the world of freelance writing, but it does happen. Usually, it’s big publications that don’t pay their freelancers until after they decide to publish a piece.
During my years as a freelance writer, I’ve run into this type of arrangement a couple of times. The first time it was a popular tech website that publishes a lot of tutorials. I was excited to write for them, until I found out they paid writers around three months after receiving their work.
They argued they only paid after publication and since they’re a big website (I won’t be naming names), they got away with it. Since then, I learned to run away from these kinds of payment terms and look for better gigs elsewhere. When you agree to this, you lose all control over when you get paid, because you don’t decide when and if your work will see the light of day.
How common are payments after publication: Pretty rare outside of print publications and online magazines stuck in the last century.
How to Negotiate Your Own Payment Terms as a Freelance Writer
With some clients, they’ll have processes in place to deal with payments to freelancers and getting them to budge can be a chore. When you run into these situations, you can decide whether the terms work for you or walk away. However, trying to get paid sooner will almost always end up with you looking unprofessional, so think it over well.
Under other circumstances, you’ll get to negotiate the terms you want with new clients. That means some back and forth while you settle on something that looks good to you both. Here’s what I usually aim for when I’m trying to woo new contracts:
- Some type of deposit for new clients and one-off gigs.
- A reasonable payment window after I submit the work (a week almost always goes over well).
- Late fees in case clients don’t pay within that window.
Those are the main points you need to cover. However, you also have to make sure you agree beforehand on how clients pay. PayPal is pretty universal among freelance writers so if you want an alternative, make sure the client is on board beforehand.
Once you’ve crossed all your Ts, make sure it’s all written down in a contract. No matter how small the job, having a contract in place will give you some additional security and make you look professional.
Waiting a month or more to get paid is all too common as a freelancer. However, you can also say the same of regular jobs. The real problem comes when clients want to make you wait even longer or you need to chase after them.
For one-off jobs, you should always get partial payment up front and the rest after delivery. Long-term gigs, on the other hand, usually pay on Net-30 or 60 periods, depending on the arrangements you make. What you should never do is accept payments only after the work gets published since that timeline is not up to you.
Do you have any questions on what kind of payment terms you should aim for as a freelance writer? Let’s talk about them in the comments section below!
Image credit: Pixabay.