I am in the midst of revamping the way we do sales.

One of my questions is this: Do you give your sales staff a base salary AND commission or just commission?

Do they work five days a week?

Currently, our salespeople work four days a week, pull in a small base salary, and get 20% commission. My goal is to get them at least alternating work on Fridays - to drum up more sales.

I have also adjusted commissions and discounts, and am in the midst of updating our line rates.

We also have zero presence for online sales right now, but we launched a new website a few months ago and that is on the agenda.

They also pay into an investment fund, of which The Eastern Door puts in a good chunk of change to match their contributions weekly, along with a weekly gas allowance.

Steve Bonspiel, Editor/Publisher

The Eastern Door, Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada, www.easterndoor.com

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We've used a pretty good plan for nearly a decade that works like this:

We give them a base salary (in most cases, $300 per week)

We then pay 15% after they reach $8,000 in sales for the month. If you take 15% of $8,000, you get $1,200. Divide that by the typical four weeks in a month and you have $300 a week. Reaching the quota covers the base salary.

After they reach the $8,000 threshold, then we pay 15% commission on sales above that number.

Having the quota to cover your base salary costs really helps. Nearly every sales rep I've had understands that we have to cover their salary, and reaching $8,000 in our market is not unattainable by any means, even with our small rural market and picky advertisers. It's a goal that is reachable (especially if they are doing their job and building up a good base of regular, weekly customers) and it rewards them fairly quickly without complicating things or making goals impossible to reach.

On the flip side, if a sales rep isn't reaching that quota for a few months in a row, you can make adjustments, corrections or changes with personnel. It's been my experience, though, that once they only get the base salary for one month, they get out and hustle the next month to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Over the past decade, we've only had a handful of times when a sales rep made just the base salary, even in the lean months of January and July.

Paul Keane, Publisher

The Wayne County News, Waynesboro, Alabama, 601-735-4341, www.thewaynecountynews.com

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Our sales staff is on commission only. The percentage we use wouldn't work most places since we have a very large distribution, but the philosophy works. The sales staff makes a larger commission if they sell more. There are three steps such as starting at approximately 10%, going to 12% and 15% based on sales. We pay on collections not sales to make sure we only pay commission on money we receive. We start new sales people on a salary for six months (it used to be for 3 months but in this economy it takes longer to get a base established) and then require them to go to commission. If the sales person shows promise but hasn't built a big enough account base, we let them go a bit longer on salary.

If you want your sales staff to work 40 hours, you just need to require that. We also require they attend sales staff meetings and submit a weekly call list of 20 non-advertisers called on each week. And called on means making a contact, not just leaving a paper, rate card and business card. The way to build your advertising is by going out and meeting potential clients. Nothing else works. Sales people are driven by their results and by competition.

Elliott Freireich

West Valley View, Avondale Arizona

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First, I would mandate a 5-day week.

What we do:

$100 per week plus 15%.  Gas allowance (currently $80 per month, adjusts with price of gas, currently $2 per gallon here.) $60 per month to help with their cell phone bill, which is a valuable tool here. We might go to a 20% commission after they hit a bonus target. For instance, March 2015 sales, $15,000. For March 2016, I pay 20% on all dollars over $16,000. Stuff like that. Good reps reach for that, and you win.

Susan: You’re $300 base is too generous. Decent pay for showing up and fogging a mirror.  Cut the base to $100, pay a percent from dollar 1, and pay more as sales go up. For instance, $100 base, 15% for first $2000 per week, 20% for next $2,000 per week, and 23% beyond that. (or something similar…I don’t know your numbers.) They must be incentivized to work harder. Good ones will. And when they do, note it and buy them a gas or coffee card.

Thomas V. Ward, publisher

The Valley Breeze, 6 Blackstone Valley Place, Suite #204, Lincoln, RI 02865, Tel: 401-334-9555, ext. 123

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‎Suzanne,

Pay them straight commission with a non recoverable draw. Figure the draw on a 20-hour work week.  

Also set up daily, weekly and monthly goals. I came from a sales background. I worked for a sales driven paper company. 

Dan Mancuso

Illinois Valley News, Cave Junction, Oregon, 541-592-2541

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Updated Feb. 15, 2017

I don’t have an editorial question today, but rather questions regarding commission sales.

We are looking to branch out and advertise for the position of an outside sales person that would seek out new markets. We’ve been rather complacent of late and are used to the business coming to us, but it’s time for a change.

Before the ad hits the paper, I’m looking for thoughts on the following questions:

• Should this job be straight commission or be a draw against commission (base salary plus commission)

• What’s the industry standard rate of commission?

• What constitutes new business? Should there be a minimum number of weeks an ad must go in the paper to be considered a full-fledged account? When does a new account become a house account?

• If a new account becomes a regular account does the new sales person continue to service it and still receive commission? Or a reduced commission? Or does it get turned over to our in-house sales person?

Alicia McCutcheon, editor

Manitoulin Expositor, Little Current, Ontario, Canada, www.manitoulin.ca

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A copy of the straight-commission contract is shown as the PDF icon “Sales Rep Contract” that I signed with sales representatives. It's based on a template provided to me by my state newspaper association

Dan Robrish

The Elizabethtown Advocate, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, U.S.A.

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Updated August 19, 2019

This is a question for those editors who also wear the hat of publisher.

We are a small community weekly serving a rural base. I am considering adding a commissioned sales rep to hit the nearby major urban centre. This is something we haven’t done in the past,  but as ad revenues dry up in the smaller communities we serve (all lured by social media promises! for now) we want to reach out to city businesses that need to connect with county readers.

My question is, for those who have same, what is the structure? Base plus commission? If so, how much base and what is the commission percentage? 

If you have a rep that is completely commission based, what does that look like?

Rebecca Dika

Town & Country News, Beaverlodge, Alberta, Canada, 780-354-2980, 780-882-5869 (cell)

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Our four sales reps are all commission-based: 18 percent on print sales, 20 percent on digital sales (which we're trying to incentivize), and 10 percent on inserts (which are costly to us because we are U.S. mail-delivered).

During a new rep's ramp-up period, we guarantee they will make minimum wage, and we sure hope that doesn't go on for more than a month. Best-case scenario, we have some "live" accounts to turn over to the new rep on Day 1.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this method; it's the low-risk method we've used that's become traditional in our shop. 

We have been burned badly a couple of times by offering a generous base to someone who seemed to have good credentials, then proceeded to sit around and do nothing for more weeks than were healthy for our budget. On the other hand, I believe we've probably missed the chance to hire some good people over the years because of our all-commission structure.

We also pay mileage if the rep keeps a good call sheet and tells us where he/she drove and how many miles.

Since you are sending someone new into a brand-new territory, I think you'll need to offer a base plus commission. Maybe figure $10 per hour, or minimum wage for the base, plus a reasonable amount of sales to expect, and figure what percentage of commission on that would bring the person to a decent living wage in your neck of the woods?

Example: You need this rep to bring in $2000 a week in sales, and have reason to think that's realistic. For a 40-hour week, you pay a $350 base, plus 12 percent commission, so the rep makes $590 a week, or $14.75 per hour. (That may or may not be good enough, but you've got the basic math.)

If you don't have an indication within a month or two that the sales target can and will be met, something will have to change, and your new rep needs to know that from the get-go.

Barb Shepherd

The West Volusia Beacon, 110 W. New York Ave., DeLand, Florida, 386-734-4622

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What do you do now? Straight salary? 

Thomas V. Ward, publisher

The Valley Breeze, 6 Blackstone Valley Place, Suite #204, Lincoln, Rhode Island 02865

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I don’t have a salesperson, other than myself as publisher.

This would be a new position

Rebecca Dika

Town & Country News, Beaverlodge, Alberta, Canada, 780-354-2980, 780-882-5869 (cell)

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Assuming 40 hours per week, I’d pay a small base (maybe $100 per week) and a sensible commission; anywhere from 13 to 20% depending on your prices, etc. (This also assumes no benefits like health care). 

If it’s “mother’s hours,” say 9 to 2:30, I’d pay straight commission and let them get going. Maybe 20%. I’d pay a small base (maybe $250 per week for 3-4 weeks) to help them get off the ground. If they do little in weeks 1-2, let them go. Wrong person. 

The way I see it, I “pay” little. They “earn” a lot. (My 5 reps make 60 to 90k each, but they have to work hard. Their base is $100 per week, and 15% of every dollar. 

You can also incentive them to stretch. ( I wish I had….) 

Maybe 13% or first $500 in sales, then 16% of next $500, then 19% of next $500, then 22% over that. 

Thomas V. Ward, publisher

The Valley Breeze, 6 Blackstone Valley Place, Suite #204, Lincoln, Rhode Island 02865

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We had a sales person who was completely commission based. We inherited the setup when we purchased the newspaper. We found that the sales person would sell like crazy for a couple of weeks and then coast, not always working full weeks.

After she left, we went to a salary plus commission setup, which worked better. We set it up so that the overall compensation was about the same as the straight commission, but we leveled out our revenue stream.

Jim Johnson, Publisher/Owner

The News, 419 B Ave./P.O. Box 430, Kalona, Iowa 52247, 319-656-2273 (w), 319-310-9452 (m)

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We had a commission structure similar to Barb's. We had a few differences. We would pay a good base salary for the first 3 months to tell the new employee we believed in them. After which they generally went to straight commission. If they were progressing well they could go to commission earlier (but not go back) and if they were not quite there but we felt they were going to be good salespeople, we would extend the salary. The goal was to make them successful. We often did extend the salary to as many as 6 months. 

We also needed to keep the salary for a longer period because we only paid commission on money received. The salesman doesn't get paid until we do.

Also when that person leaves they are paid for advertising published while they are employed and paid within two pay cycles after the ad is billed. That way any advertising scheduled but not published while the person is employed can go towards the book of business for the next person who takes the job. 

We also had a hybrid pay structure of some salary plus a smaller commission but good reps didn't want it because they would make more money on straight commission. 

My paper was a free weekly with every home distribution to approx. 65,000 homes. So our ad rates were much higher than most weeklies.

Our salespeople were all on straight commission after they realized it was a better deal for them.

0-$6,400 9%

$6,401-10,200 10%

$10,201-13,000 11%

$13,001-and above 12%

All monthly sales were paid those commissions, not the first $6400 at 9%

Mileage paid at federal rate.

I don't have rate cards close by or I would give you samples of full page prices. I also don't have those starting base salaries or base plus commission rates right now.

Elliott Freireich, retired former publisher

West Valley View, Avondale, Arizona

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Not 100% on "All monthly sales were paid those commissions, not the first $6400 at 9%," but guessing that means if the volume was 13,000, then the commission was 11% of that total?

Mayumi Elegado, Publisher | Editor-in-Chief

Moonshine Ink, Truckee, California, (530) 587-3607, x3, moonshineink.com

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Updated July 27, 2021

Our ad sales person — with us for 10 years — resigned in June. To date, we’ve not even had a nibble on our ads (Indeed; our own paper, website, and Facebook; and area colleges and community colleges)  for a new commission sales person. We’re wondering if “commission” compensation is old school or a poison pill.

If you’ve successfully hired an ad sales person recently — How did you find the person?  How is your compensation structured? 

Same compensation question for those of you who have a “happy” sales person.

Cheryl Wormley

The Woodstock Independent, Woodstock, Illinois, 815-519-4702

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We don't pay by commission. We never have. Our salespeople are on straight salary, and in years when we've done really well (sadly, those seem to be a thing of the past!), we've given nice bonuses out to all staffers. I've found it's much easier to hire based on a straight salary, and I've been lucky in that I've found people who really work hard, regardless of whether or not they get a commission. At one point I hired someone and gave a 10% commission on anything above and beyond the previous year's sales for that territory, on a monthly basis.

Jen Chciuk, publisher

West Essex Tribune, Livingston, New Jersey, www.WestEssexTribune.net

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I pay a base plus commission (and mileage), which helped get my sales reps through the past year. My most recent hire came from a neighboring paper when it got bought out. They wanted to keep her but she walked out and came to my office and asked if I needed anyone. We both attended Merchant meetings so she knew me by reputation and she’s turned into a powerhouse. One of the most successful sales people I ever had come to work as a typist and wanted to earn a little extra money so she started selling (over the phone) and did amazingly well. Sadly, she passed away unexpectedly. I think my point here is that sometimes a person you wouldn’t think has the skills  absolutely does. I don’t think a degree is required — I’ve had one sales person for 25 years who has a culinary arts degree. She can’t spell so I won’t let her send emails but she has the personality and drive and her customers love her. There might be someone personable working at a convenience store who has solid social skills who you could groom for the position.

As to compensation, I pay 12% commission for the 25-year veteran. They don’t get paid until we get paid. The new hire is 10% and that’s where I would put it. I am pretty flexible with hours and want them to be involved in our communities to some level.

Kathy Tretter, Editor and publisher

Ferdinand News & Spencer County Leader, Ferdinand, Indiana, 812-367-2041

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I recently hired a young woman. She and her boyfriend moved to Brandon in late May from Fargo, both looking for jobs. She saw the ad we were running in our newspaper and shopper, and applied for the position

She was a bit shy at first and is now a month and a half in with us and is becoming more confident in her role each day. She has a great work ethic, which isn’t always easy to find.

I started her at $500 per week base pay and 10 percent commission, which is paid when we are paid.

This is her first “big girl” job, and I think she appreciates making a livable wage. We’ve got a couple of big projects coming up on back-to-back weeks in August, and she has really concentrated on selling those, so I’m glad I took a chance. She does not have a college degree, but again, has a good work ethic and a desire to succeed. I have to admit, I was skeptical at first, but believe she could have a great future here.

Jill Meier, Publisher/Editor

Brandon Valley Journal/Trader, 1404 E. Cedar St., Brandon, South Dakota 57005, Office: 605-582-9999, Cell: 605-321-8423

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