Everybody knows you get what you pay for, but that’s not much help when it comes to budgeting or cutting a check. Like your regular employees’ salaries, freelance pay depends on lots of factors, including market, experience level and assignment complexity. While there’s no cut-and-dried answer to the freelance pay question, there is an overriding principle: Treat your freelancers like you treat your employees. Are you the kind of business that lowballs your people? Or do you subscribe to the theory that better pay makes better workers? Also, keep in mind that the same writer can come in at different places on the pay scale depending on what the project is.
So here are a few questions you should ask yourself to determine what’s fair for you and your writer, and where on the scale you should land.
How much are you being paid?
The more your client is paying you, the more you should be paying your writer. Subcontracting out a multimillion-dollar project? Better pay at the top of the scale. Experimenting with a new content marketing plan that may or may not have legs? You should be able to get away with paying less (just not forever).
How experienced is your writer?
This is the most obvious consideration, but don’t gloss over it. Because it’s not just a question of cost—it’s also one of quality. A recent college grad will work for much less than an established writer, but the caliber of their work will be lower, too. Crappy writers mean more work for editors. Sure, you pay more for a pro, but you will likely also spend less (not just in money, but in time) on the back end. If you’re in a time crunch, you’re probably going to prioritize getting the job done right the first time vs. raising your profit margin by a point or two. That means landing higher on the scale.
How complicated is the assignment?
We often ask writers to do a lot more than write. When deciding how to compensate them, think about every task they’ll have to perform to create a piece of work, then pay them accordingly. Research takes time. Interviews take time. Setting up blog posts in WordPress, or emails in MailChimp, takes time. Finding images takes a long time. Extra steps should equal extra pay.
How much information are you giving the writer?
Even if you’re not asking them to post or blast their work on social media, there’s still a sliding scale of difficulty depending on how much info you’re seeding the writer with in the beginning. Giving them a vague concept and asking them to fill in the blanks will take more time and effort than giving them a fleshed-out idea, or (gasp!) even a well thought-out outline.
What’s the frequency of the work?
The freelance world can be pretty uncertain. In general, getting packages of work is beneficial for your writers. If they can count on you for a certain amount of business each month or quarter, it’s usually fair to give yourself a bit of a discount—around 5 to 10 percent for bulk assignments. So, instead of paying $200 for one blog post, you might pay $180 each for a batch of five.
Does the job require specialized skills or knowledge?
If so, it’s worth paying extra. iostudio does a lot of work with the military. If we’re contracting out a military-specific project, we expect to compensate writers with inside knowledge: recruiters or veterans. Speaking the audience’s language, knowing all the ins and outs of the subject matter—that’s what makes content connect. And it’s hard to place a value on the authenticity and credibility it adds to the final product.
For more, check out this list of hourly rates from the Editorial Freelancers Association that can be used as a baseline for pitching and budgeting. Remember, this is only the tip of the iceberg, and every project is different.