You’re a professional writer, now how are you going to get paid for your writing? This little lecture will help you structure your writing business so you can get paid for things like …
- Book sales on Amazon and iBooks
- Selling eBooks, courses and subscriptions on your writer website
- Copywriting work you do for clients (via invoice)
- Work you do on jobsites like Upwork, Guru and Airtasker
- Sales you make in person at writer’s festivals, markets and workshops
- Royalties from book publishers
- Commissions from affiliate partners
Let’s get started.
Get Paid For Your Writing
When setting up a writing business, create your payment methods early.
Now this probably seems like ‘no-brainer’ type advice but you’d be amazed how eagerly we want to get writing and neglect this important part of our writing business. When suddenly an overseas publisher or blogger wants to pay us, quickly we open a bank account or PAYPAL with no time to consider what’s best for the longterm growth of the writing business.
At other times, we excitedly rush in to open a flashy business account and merchant facility (to get paid for all the those books we’re gonna sell) only to find a few years along, we’re weighted down by fees and hidden charges we didn’t anticipate.
Oh yes, that’s exactly what I did when I first started out!
Writing Business Structure
Before you open a bank account for your writing business you need to decide on a business structure. Most writers setup their writing business as sole traders (also known as a sole proprietors in the USA). Sole Trader is the simplest and least expensive business structure to operate: and in most countries you don’t need a business bank account to receive payments.
Other business structures like partnerships, companies and corporations require a business name, legal registrations and official business bank accounts. Check the government links below for details on the business structures that operate in your country.
- Australia (BUSINESS.GOV)
- USA (US Small Business Administration)
- UK (GOV.UK)
- Philippines (Department of Trade and Industry)
Registering your writing business for tax
All writing businesses require some sort of registration for a tax ID number. You will need to display your tax ID number on your invoices to client and customers. Then if you decide to open a business bank account you will need that tax ID number and a hard copy of your business registration papers to give to the bank. Authors wanting to sell books on platforms like Amazon, iBooks and Kobo also need a tax ID.
In some countries (like the USA) you’ll need both a federal and state tax ID number. In Australia and the UK you’ll also need GST/VAT after your income reaches a certain threshold. Learn about tax ID and registration in your company by followings the links below …
- Australia: Australian Business Number (ABN)
- USA: Employer Identification Number (EIN)
- UK: Unique Taxpayer Reference (UTR)
- Philippines: Tax Indentification Number (TIN)
Writing businesses don’t start out as lucrative cash cows, so take the time to get yourself a bank account with minimal fees. Oh the money I’ve wasted on business bank accounts and merchant facilities!
Personal Bank Account
Many sole traders start out with a personal account because the bank fees are much lower. The biggest headache with personal accounts is you usually have all your home income and expenses lumped into the account.
Also, if you are an author selling books or services internationally (Amazon, iBooks or Kobo etc) you will need a BIC (Bank Identifier Code) or SWIFT code. It’s an international identifier containing exactly 8 or 11 digits. Not all banks have SWIFT codes so check before opening an account.
Yes! This happened to me too, and because my bank did not have an SWIFT code I had to change banks before I could receive payments from Amazon. Do your research first.
Business Bank Account
A business bank account is essential if you are trading as a partnership, company or corporation. You’ll also need a business bank account if you want a merchant facility with Point of Sale (POS) equipment. Business bank accounts attract higher fees but the customer service is definitely better, and many banks give you access to your own business banker.
For Australian writers, National Australia Bank has a little business account with no fees (limited transactions) which is great for Australian writers just getting started. I’m sure there are others out there too. As your business grows you’ll need a more sophisticated banking system, but in the early days when every dollar (or peso) really counts, don’t spend money when you don’t have to.
All writers should open a PAYPAL account. A lot of bloggers, online journals and magazines like to pay their freelancers using PAYPAL. If you’re a freelancer using jobsites like Upwork, Guru, Airtasker, and PeoplePerHour you can also receive your work fees via PAYPAL (though the processing fees are higher).
If you have a writer website or Facebook store, PAYPAL enables you to accept payments for books, courses and eZine subscriptions. PAYPAL is easily integrated with eComm platforms like WooCommerce and eBay.
PAYPAL enables customers to pay you with their credit card (as well as their own bank bank account) so PAYPAL can be a much cheaper alternative to a traditional merchant facility.
PAYPAL offer both business and personal accounts, the difference lies in the fee structure. The business account becomes more cost effective as your number of monthly transactions increase. If you’re just starting out I suggest you open a personal account, you can always update it later.
A merchant facility allows you to receive transaction payments from a customer’s credit card or bank account (you know the EFTPOS swipers). If you are selling your own books at writer’s festivals, workshops and markets, being able to accept more than cash payments is a major bonus. Accepting credit card payments means you can take advance payments for upcoming books releases, or bill your customers for monthly subscriptions and recurring membership fees.
Traditional merchant facilities like EFTPOS machines and credit card swipers provided on contract by the major banks can be ridiculously expensive. Totally cost prohibitive for sole traders getting started! Back in 2006 when I was selling books, printer consumables and coffee through an online store I eagerly signed up for a merchant facility with a BIG4 bank. Locked into a contract, and finding the fees were consuming my already tiny margins, I sighed with dismay at the cheaper alternatives and wished I’d done a little more research before signing the contract.
By all means investigate the merchant facilities offered by your bank, but read the contract carefully and make sure you fully understand the fee structure. If you are a sole trader selling your books at markets and small festivals, it’s unlikely a BIG4 bank merchant facility will be a cost effective solution for your writing business.
Listed below are a few alternatives to traditional merchant facilities. Please note that I have NOT used any of these myself and the links are NOT affiliate links. This is for informational purposes only. Tread carefully before spending your money.
PayPal Here is a card reader that pairs with your smart phone so you can accept payments anywhere. Accept MasterCard, Visa or American Express payments using your mobile phone. The card reader is AUD$49 and there are no monthly fees or lock-in contracts.
- Compatible with iOS and most Android devices
- Customers receive an SMS or emailed invoice
- Sync transactions automatically to your accounting software
- Take tap and go, chip and PIN, magnetic swipe or manual entry payments
- Fees vary depending on your country
Other payment methods
Knowing that your writing business is setup correctly gives you the peace of mind to get back to doing what you do best. Writing. I made so many expensive mistakes setting up my first consulting and online businesses so I hope this little post gives you the information you need to setup a cost effective payment method for your own writing business.
© 2018 Melinda J. Irvine