Negotiating with Writers (17 Tips for Publishers)

Writers are people trying to make a living just like everyone else. They will often want to negotiate their rates, it’s expected and totally fair to try and increase your revenue by increasing your price tag.

What this article is about, refers mainly to onboarding new writers and agreeing on a starting rate. I’ll also discuss some tips related to increasing the rates of current or long-time writers.

Negotiating with writers – 17 things to know

The following list of tips is meant to help hiring managers or website operators hire freelance writers without too much back and forth haggling while keep everything transparent and professional.

1. Do your research

Understand the market rates for content writers in your niche, level of expertise, and the type of content you require. This will give you a good starting point for negotiations. Even if you’ve been in the niche for a while, maybe you haven’t hired in a while… and as we know prices for everything are changing all the time.

Every niche is different and expertise in different niches demand different pay rates. This can sometimes be hard to research, but you should be able to come up with a suitable range based on what you know about your niche. Work within that, and stick to it pretty closely.

2. Set a budget

Before you begin negotiating, have a clear budget in mind based on your existing knowledge and previous research. This will help you stay within your financial limits while still providing fair compensation.

You may want to leave some wiggle room in case an amazing applicant comes along that demands more, and is clearly worth it. This brings us to the text tip, that you shouldn’t always focus on price.

3. Focus on value, not price

Instead of focusing solely on the cost, consider the value a writer brings to your project. High-quality content may cost more upfront, but it can deliver better results, saving you time and money in the long run.

With that said, many writers think they are worth more than they are. There are writers that overvalue themselves, writers that undervalue themselves, and everyone in between. Some writers value themselves high because they are worth it and they know it. Then it becomes a matter of opinion, do you think they are worth what they are asking? If your gut tells you no then it’s probably right.

We want to avoid the writers that overvalue what they bring to the table. Just because someone has written 100 articles about pets, does not make them a pet expert. You’d be surprised how many writers don’t understand this.

4. Be clear about your requirements

Clearly outline the scope of work, deadlines, content guidelines, and any other expectations. This will help writers understand your expectations and allow them to provide more accurate quotes.

Whether it’s in a job posting or you are onboarding a writer from another channel, always be very descriptive about the job they are applying for. You also don’t want to be too verbose, most don’t read the whole applications anyway.

Just get a concise job offering up with some of the main bullet points of your requirements you need from the writer, your pay rate that you’re offering, and some info about the content they’d be writing. Don’t forget to ask for live samples if available, you can tell a lot from reading their content that has already been published.

You are really just looking to start a back and forth to see if you and the writer mesh well.

5. Offer a trial project

If you’re unsure about a writer’s capabilities but like their qualifications, offer a small paid trial project to assess their skills and compatibility with your needs.

I’ll often just pull a topic off of my spreadsheet and assign it to the potential writer with some instructions and see how they do. This first work can also be very telling.

Always pay them for it no matter how bad it is. If it doesn’t work out then you got a piece of content that can hopefully be salvaged and you ruled out an applicant on your list.

6. Be flexible, but not too flexible

While you want to get the best rate possible, it’s also essential to seem fair and flexible to the freelancer. Be willing to compromise and find a middle ground that works for both parties. Sometimes the writer won’t meet you halfway and that’s something you often have to deal with by parting ways.

I’ll often include something along the lines of “rates are negotiable to the right applicant”. This way it looks like I will negotiate if the applicant demands a higher pay rate, and I absolutely will. Unfortunately most of the time the ones who demand the high rates are merely writers that have been writing for 10 years or more.

They aren’t necessarily experts in the niche, and that’s really what demands more in my book. Get specialized to get higher rates if you’re a writer and are reading this. It’s called EEAT and it’s a real thing. Jack-of-all-trade writers aren’t as valuable as they used to be.

7. Attempt to establish long-term relationships

I don’t go into the hiring process looking to hire one-off writers. I’m looking for people that want to stick around. Unfortunately most writers have a short shelf life. Many writers are just trying freelancing to see if they like it, or get burnt out quickly by all the writing, or have other personal reasons why they choose not to go on.

But if a writer consistently delivers quality work, and has been with you for a while, consider offering them more work or even bringing them on full-time in the form of a promotion… if they were receptive to something like that. This can provide them with more stable income and may result in lower rates for you.

8. Consider bulk discounts

If you require a large volume of content, ask if the writer is willing to offer a discount for bulk orders. If you guarantee someone an order of 50-100 articles at a time then they might be more likely to negotiate their higher rates down. The problem with this is that as the site owner you aren’t likely to make this type of commitment with an untested writer.

Sure, maybe they’ve written 5,000 articles in their career, but you need to know for sure that they are a good fit for your site. So in a case like this you may want to agree on the bulk rate and then try a few test articles first before committing to a large amount that costs thousands of dollars.

9. Make payment terms clear

You don’t have to discuss payment terms before you have agreed on an amount in my opinion. Once you’ve agreed on a rate though, discuss things such as payment platforms, upfront payments, milestone payments, or payment upon completion. Freelancers may be more willing to negotiate rates if the payment terms are favorable.

I use PayPal for all of my writers because I don’t like dealing with 1099s at the end of the year. If a good writer ever made a big stink about it and wanted direct deposit or something I would consider it, but no one ever has.

10. Communicate openly and respectfully

Throughout the negotiation process, maintain open and respectful communication. Be honest about your budget and expectations, and be willing to listen to the writer’s perspective.

Sometimes it’s never good enough. Sometimes no matter how clear you are about your position you are hiring for, applicants don’t read the text or misread and construe your words. They’re either baiting you or are going to be difficult to work with. Either way it’s a no go from me.

11. Avoid writers with hostility or unprofessional behavior

During the negotiation process, pay attention to any red flags that suggest a writer may be difficult to work with or exhibit hostility. It’s essential to maintain a professional relationship built on mutual respect, and working with someone who displays negative behavior can lead to issues down the road.

I’ve interacted with unprofessional writers more than once unfortunately. If you notice a red flag like being overly sensitive to constructive criticism, it may be time to go your separate ways.

If a writer ever begins hurling insults at you, or anything of this nature…. pay them what’s currently owed and cut ties immediately. It’s often best to not even reply to emails anymore. Yes, I’ve had this happen when an unqualified writer applied to job post and demanded more than the job offered. I made the mistake of explaining why they didn’t meet the criteria I was looking for. That was my mistake, now it’s just a yes or no.

12. Seek referrals or recommendations

There are of course many freelancer platforms and job boards where writers can be found, but sometimes it’s good to think outside the box.

If you’re unsure where to find skilled content writers or are tired of the same old channels, ask colleagues or peers for recommendations. Writers who come highly recommended by others are likely to be more open to negotiation and willing to work within your parameters.

13. Be transparent about potential future work

If you anticipate additional projects or ongoing work, let the writer know upfront. They may be more willing to negotiate rates if they see the potential for a long-term partnership.

Going in, the writer may want highball you because they aren’t sure what kind of client you’ll be. If they realize that you could equal steady work for a long time, then they may compromise their price.

14. Explore different pricing models

Some writers may prefer hourly rates, while others work on a per-word or per-project basis. Being open to discussing various pricing models can open your options to new writers.

With that said, this is just one thing to consider. Most writers are fine working on a per word basis and it’s pretty much the industry standard. What that rate actually should be and for who is what is a constant debate.

15. Showcase your brand

If your brand or website is well-regarded, you may be able to attract niche experts at a lower rate. Writers may be more willing to negotiate if they see value in associating themselves with your brand. Or, if your site’s brand has a large following of enthusiasts, tap into that for writers. You could find a diamond in the rough.

I’ve done this before, it doesn’t always work well. Sometimes writing is difficult to teach. Just because someone is passionate about your content, doesn’t translate to them being a good writer. But it’s something to consider. Hit up Facebook Groups, Reddit subs, YouTube channels, and forums to find these often untrained potential writers.

16. Offer non-monetary perks or other work

If you can’t increase the payment rate for the writing, consider offering other incentives such as flexible deadlines, high or low workloads, article attribution (byline or author bio), or even the opportunity to work on other sites or in other ventures.

You could say something like, hey I can’t pay you that much for content, but if you would consider working at this much I may have some hourly social media work for you.

17. Maintain professionalism

As mentioned, you will likely come across some unpleasant people. It’s not common but when you are doing a lot of hiring it does happen. Learn to identify the red flags and sever bad relationships before they even get started. Nobody needs the hassle of a high-maintenance writer. The same goes the other way too, a writer doesn’t want a high-maintenance client.

With that said, you should always conduct negotiations in a professional manner. Be respectful, considerate, and honest in your interactions with potential writers. This will not only help you secure a fair rate but also foster a positive working relationship.

If ever a writer begins to get nasty with you, stop replying to them and move on to the next applicant.

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