Most jobs pay by the hour and it makes complete sense. You wouldn’t pay a programmer depending on how many lines of code they write or a manager on how many calls they make. However, when it comes to freelance writing, by-the-hour gigs aren’t common at all.
As freelance writers, most of us get paid by the word. The more you write, the more money you make. In theory, it’s a pretty sweet deal. It means that clients pay for the exact amount of work you do.
In practice, there are pros and cons to both approaches to billing as a freelance writer. In this article, we’ll discuss both of them and when it makes sense to use each. Let’s talk about words!
How Billing Works as a Freelance Writer
When it comes to freelance writing, most projects will have a specific word count. That means clients will ask you for pieces of a specific length and then pay you for each word you write.
Say, for example, you have a customer who wants you to write one weekly blog post for them. They give you a range of 1,500-2,000 words. You settle on a rate of $0.08 per word, and you get to work. At the end of the month, you’d end up billing them anywhere between $480-640 depending on the length of each piece.
That word range is important because it gives you some flexibility when writing. More importantly, it means that you can’t go over budget without the client’s approval. This prevents arguments over payments.
Per word billing is the standard when it comes to freelance writing. However, depending on who you’re working for, sometimes you may have to switch to a per hour approach. Let’s talk about how both approaches compare.
The Pros and Cons of Billing Per Hour vs Per Word
We’ve already covered a few of the upsides to per word billing. However, let’s go over the main pros again:
- You get a clear picture of how much each project will net you.
- It keeps things simple between you and your clients.
- If you’re a fast writer and you have plenty of work, you can maximize your per-hour earnings.
In most cases, I recommend that you prioritize looking for jobs that pay by the word. A lot of clients that pay on a per project basis tend to low ball their offers a lot because they’re looking to attract writers who don’t know any better.
However, for per word billing to work, you need to be a relatively fast writer. If it takes you two hours to write an article that’ll net you $80, that’s great. However, it if takes you four or five hours then you’re effectively working for very little money.
Depending on how you like to approach writing, billing per hour might make more sense. Plus, there are several upsides to this type of billing as well, including:
- You get paid for all the extra work you may do, including editing, formatting, Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and more.
- You don’t have to keep track of the number of words you write.
- Usually, you negotiate a minimum of hours per project.
Per hour billing is a solid approach for most industries. However, it’s not a particularly great fit for freelance writing.
Imagine you’re working on one of those hypothetical 1,500-2,000 word articles we mentioned before. You negotiate a rate of $40 per hour but it takes you about ten hours to finish the project. That means you’d charge your client $400, which is a bit steep unless it’s something highly specialized.
On the other hand, if you’re a very fast writer and can wrap up that same article in an hour, you’d end up billing $40. Compare that to the $120-160 you would’ve gotten charging $0.08 per word. You can see why hourly rates can get so tricky.
How to Know When to Bill Per Hour Instead of Per Word
In my experience, most job listings for freelance writers will tell you right away whether they pay on a per project, hour, or word basis. That means you get to cherry-pick which types of gigs you want to throw your hat in the ring for.
For the best results, I recommend you stick to job boards that focus on per word projects. If you have plenty of experience in a niche and you’re a fast writer, you can maximize your earning potential as a freelancer.
If you’ve been freelancing for a while, though, you know that in most cases we do a lot more than just writing. You also have to format your work, take screenshots, find images, and know some Search Engine Optimization (SEO) basics. ‘Extras’ like that are what set apart well-paid freelance writers.
Depending on how much ‘extra’ work you do, it can make sense to pitch clients the idea of paying you on a per hour basis. However, it can be hard to get people to agree to pay you by the hour unless you’ve been working together for a while since they may be wary of over-billing issues.
A better approach can be to offer new clients both options while you’re still discussing the terms of each project. As an example, you might mention you charge $0.08 by the word or you can also work on an hourly basis for $40, and break down what that includes (writing, SEO work, etc.).
By giving potential customers the option to choose what type of payment scheme they prefer, you can make yourself a much more appealing choice. For that to work, of course, you’ll need to have enough experience to make sure your per hour rate matches what you would make if you charged by the word.
Per word billing is the standard in freelance writing. Most clients will give you a range or ‘word count’ to aim for so you have a good idea of how much money you’re going to earn. For me, per word billing makes all the sense in the world, but it’s only a good deal if you’re a moderately fast writer.
Depending on how you approach writing, per project or per hour billing can make more sense. With per hour billing, you can give clients an estimate of time and agree on a range beforehand. That way, they won’t be surprised when the bill comes around.
Do you have any questions about per hour vs per word billing for freelance writers? Let’s go over them in the comments section below!
Image credit: Pixabay.
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