At times, the freelancing lifestyle can feel a bit like the Wild West. You have to use unconventional methods to remain employed, you don’t generate income unless you put in the work, and even then, you won’t get paid unless you take the unpaid time to bill your clients.
If you’re either a freelance writer or thinking of becoming one and you know that sending invoices and managing money isn’t your strong suit, here’s a primer to help you keep your finances on the right footing.
Getting Paid Well as a Freelancer
There are two important aspects to getting paid as a freelancer. There’s the actual payment process, which is covered further down. Before discussing the nitty-gritty regarding things like invoices and negotiations, though, it’s important to start by stepping back and considering what “paid” means to you as a freelancer. Typically payment for a freelance writer can take one of three forms:
Cold Hard Cash
Okay, “cash” is a bit of a dated word at this point, but money in digital or physical form is what we’re talking about here. Unless you’re living off of a huge nest egg or you fell heir to a fortune, the number one goal of your freelance writing is likely to earn money.
Another form of reimbursement is exposure. If you typically charge $.10 per word, but you’re able to write an article at $.5 per word for an audience of several million people, the lower rate will likely be offset by the amount of exposure that you’ll be getting.
The gig will show off your writing to a huge audience, many of whom have the potential to become future clients …who could pay you at $.10 per word or more.
While the exposure concept focuses on reaching a huge audience, at times writing can also serve to strengthen your individual relationships.
For instance, if you go above and beyond to produce excellent content for a client, over time you’ll earn their respect, their trust, and their approval. This can lead to either higher rates or referrals as they spread the words about your excellent services.
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The Freelancer Payment Process
While networking and exposure generally tend to take care of themselves, if you’re writing to generate a financial income, you typically have to put in a little extra leg work to get the money into your bank account.
Here are the four steps that should be followed in order to ensure that you’re paid fairly and on time for everything that you write.
1. Negotiate and Agree
The payment process typically starts before you ever set pen to paper or type a word in a Google Doc. When you initially begin to work with a client, you must agree on a rate that you’re both satisfied with.
As the writer, it’s important that you have clearly defined rates going into the negotiation. These can change between clients and behind the scenes. However, once you’re actively discussing rates, you must have solid numbers that don’t shift around.
That said, it’s typically best to have an ideal rate as well as a lower threshold. As you negotiate — either in-person, over the phone, or online — start with your higher rate, but be willing to shift a bit if it helps you land the client.
2. Track Everything
Once you’ve set your rate, it’s time to track …everything. Set up spreadsheets or download an app so that you can keep track of every penny that you earn — whether it’s through the number of words you write or hours you work (depending on how you’re being paid). In addition, record all of your expenses.
Having these detailed numbers is invaluable. It can help you figure out if the work is worth the rate you’re being paid, if you’re spending too much on expenses, and how much you should be setting aside for taxes.
3. Send Invoices
Once you’re done working, it’s time to invoice your client. If you’re fortunate, the client may be able to set you up with a direct deposit option. If not, you may have to use an app like PayPal or Venmo to receive cash.
Either way, you’ll likely need to report how much work you submitted and what money you’re due in the form of an invoice. You can use an invoice generator or you can invest a little money into streamlining the invoicing and payment process.
When it comes to actually exchanging the money itself, always make sure to take steps to protect yourself from cybersecurity threats, too. Providing cybersecurity protection is a reality that the e-commerce world has been facing for a while now, and online-operating freelancers are just as vulnerable as an unprotected e-commerce website. There are countless ways that criminals can try to get their hands on your money through scams and third party software, so make sure to use a reputable company like PayPal or Propay for every interaction.
4. Follow Up
Finally, set a schedule for following up with each client after you invoice them. The specific timing and manner of the follow up can vary depending on the relationship you have with each client, but you should always have a structure in place.
This will ensure that you don’t lose track of unpaid invoices, which is obviously important. The truth is, at times you’ll run into a client that ghosts you or truly refuses to pay, but often money is never exchanged simply because the client and the freelancer alike forget about it. Don’t let that happen to you.
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Getting Paid as a Freelancer
The freelancing life is liberating, exhilarating, and adventurous. However, it also has a variety of entrepreneurial responsibilities that must not be neglected.
Getting paid is high on the list of those administrative duties. So review the four steps above, create your own personal payment structure, and then begin implementing it on a regular basis to ensure that you’re paid every penny that you’re worth.