Online writers can get paid by hour. By the project. By the word. By the page view. And by leads generated, such as email signups. Most writers prefer to be paid for their time, but few potential clients will tolerate that without having the writer on site. The next most common method of getting paid is by the project, in which case the writer provides an estimate detailing the scope of work and associated fees.
Performance-based compensation would seem to make the most sense for online writing, except that many variables come into play beyond a writer’s control that can negatively impact performance. What happens when the writing is sheer genius, but the page takes 10 seconds to load due to rotten web development? The viewer will be gone, girl, gone before the lead capture device even appears.
The real problem with writer compensation is that apples and oranges are mixed in the same barrel. You have experienced, full-time freelancers and inexperienced side-hustlers vying for the same clients. And clients honestly do not see why they should pay more for the “same thing” by a pro versus someone who also has a nice website with good grammar.
The pro copywriter has a difficult time justifying their own cost. Which is a huge change for the industry.
Back in the day, clients could not access writers without going through a trade contact. Usually, they asked their printer for a recommendation. The printer would only recommend someone who could perform reliably. So, in those days, rates were uniform and well-established. It was apples against apples, and all senior apples with a certain amount of experience charged $50 an hour or $300-$350 a page. It was relatively easy to build a reputation as a freelancer if you were any good.
Today, anyone can hang a shingle on the internet. Most clients, including many small digital agencies, do not understand what they are are buying. They equate copywriting with content. The value of content is low… generally, it’s about word count and style, not the big ideas.
Excellent copywriters have a nearly impossible task trying to survive as content writers. Generally, the pay works out to $12.50 an hour when all is said and done. Big idea writers – the creative powerhouses – are likely to stay employed in a traditional agency where the salary for a senior writer is around $80,000, rather than strike out on their own full-time.
To make it work, pro copywriters have to do a superior job of marketing themselves. The best self-marketers (as far as copywriters go) are often the worst idea-generators for clients. Time and time again, I see mediocre samples on well-known copywriter sites… including the sites of writers who run copywriting schools.
Really great writers are motivated to do great work. It is in their DNA. If they find a client who appreciates what they do, pays a tolerable wage, and is friendly to work with… well, they will give their life’s blood in superb work. A little praise goes a long way toward compensating a writer. If you find a strong writer who is honest with you and sincerely cares about your business, paying a little more for their services will put you ahead of the game in the long run.