It can be hard for a new freelance writer, especially, to figure out how to set prices for writing jobs. When I first started my freelance writing business, I didn’t know what to charge, so I looked at the websites of other writers to see what they were charging. I now understand why not many of them put their prices on their websites. The project must decide on fees after taking many things into account.
In my first year as a freelance writer, I joined Guru.com’s group of freelance writers and had to bid on projects. I felt overwhelmed by the number of writers and project leads, but I had already paid the yearly fee to join, so I decided to give it my best shot. Often, I didn’t get the job I really wanted, or the pay was very low. I bid low so I could get paid, and I took any job I was given. I was making less than $8 an hour and was about to start working for myself. Once I had built up a portfolio of my writing and felt more confident in my writing skills, I had to raise my rates just to make ends meet.
Print ads didn’t get much attention and were also expensive. I decided to do some online marketing with a newsletter, and it didn’t take long for people to sign up to get it by email every month. I joined a few groups for networking, and soon I had regular clients coming to me. Then I ran into a new issue. I couldn’t work fast enough to take care of all of my clients and do marketing at the same time.
Even if you have a lot of projects, you still need to market your business. If you don’t, the well will dry up and you won’t have any work or money after you finish the current tasks. I raised my prices again, thinking that I might get fewer clients but make more money from each one. As more and more leads came in, I knew I needed help. I asked a writer friend if she would be interested in taking over some of my projects and writing for me as a subcontractor. That worked out so well that I hired another writer and did more marketing and networking. As word of mouth spread, the snowball kept rolling. Soon, I had six writers on my team, and most of them were busy. Some of them agreed that my prices made them think of a circus, which is another way of saying that I was working for nothing. The going rate on Writers Market was much higher than what I charged, so my team and I set our project rates to compete with the going rate.
WHAT TO THINK ABOUT WHEN SETTING RATES
Ability to Pay: A corporate client can pay more than an individual or a nonprofit organisation, but there needs to be fairness and consistency. If someone has a project but doesn’t have a big budget, I might be willing to work with them if they’re willing to pay me a portion of my fee through advances and royalties. However, I have to be pretty sure the client’s book will get a publishing contract, or I could end up working for free. I’ve traded my services for things I needed, but I’m not a horse trader, and I can’t depend on bartering to pay my bills.
Demographics: The cost of living in different parts of the country is another thing to think about. If you live in New York, $40 an hour might not seem like much, but if you are a single parent in Mississippi, it is a lot of money.
Writing Speed: Each writer works at a different speed, and my team quickly realised that charging “per page” was not the best way to do it. Some writers could write a 250-word page in 30 minutes, while others needed more than an hour. To guess how many hours a project will take, you need to know how fast you work. I give each project a rough estimate based on how much research, interview time, phone calls, emails, etc. it will take to get the information I need and how many hours I think it will take me to write and edit the piece.
Amount of Work: Pricing also depends on how much time will be spent on research, interviews, and phone calls for the project. It’s not always easy to know how much time these things will take before you quote the project to the client.
Your own experience and expertise: A writer who has been writing for 20 years will have more marketable skills than a new writer. When talking to a client who is looking for experience, it helps to have a strong track record and a lot of writing samples to show them. Most of the time, they are willing to pay more for a writer with a lot of experience than for someone with less.
Type of Project: There are different amounts of money for different kinds of writing. Most writers know that writing articles for blogs pays less than writing ads or copy. Whether or not the ghostwriter’s name is on the cover may affect how much they get paid. You might be willing to work for less money if the book’s author is willing to put your name on the cover. That depends on how well-known the record’s author is and how many copies you think will sell. If your celebrity client has a contract with a major house and is willing to give you credit on the cover, you could ask for an advance and 50% of the royalties. A book with your name on the cover and a famous person on the cover could earn you more than the difference between what you would have charged for the project and what the celebrity would have paid. If the client is an unknown author who doesn’t have any publishing contacts and hasn’t decided if he wants to self-publish or not, get the money up front so you don’t risk not getting paid if the book doesn’t get published.
PRICING OPTIONS Flat fee or project rate are the most common ways for freelance writers to charge. – Hourly rate – Daily rate – On retainer – Per word – Per page I use a mix of these methods, except for per diem and retainer. Each pricing option has pros and cons that depend on the assignment, how fast you write, and what the client wants.
Flat Fee or Project Rate: If you agree to a project rate or a flat fee before you know much about the job, you might be disappointed if the job turns out to be bigger or more complicated than you thought.
Hourly Rate: Freelancers who write more slowly might be better off charging by the hour. The best way to charge me is by the hour. This isn’t because I write slowly, but because it’s hard to know ahead of time how long a project will take. I give an estimate to my client of how many hours I think a project will take. So that the client knows what to expect, I add or take away 20% of the number of hours I estimate. For example, if I think a project will take me 10 hours, I’ll give the client an estimate of 8–12 hours in case I need to change my mind. If I finish in less time than I thought I would, I only charge for the time I actually used.
Per diem rate: If you’re going to a client’s location to write for them, you’ll have to leave all of your other projects behind. You will need to think about where you will stay, how much it will cost to get there, what you will eat, and how much you make per hour. You will also need to include a sum to pay for someone to watch your kids or pets while you are gone. There is no set price per day. You could give the client a day rate, which is your hourly rate times the number of hours you’ll be there, but you could also ask them to pay for your expenses.
On retainer: If a client wants you to be ready to work on his or her project at any time, you might have to drop everything to take care of that client’s needs. If you clear your schedule to work on her project for a certain number of hours and then she doesn’t need your help that month, you’ve lost the money you could have made. In these situations, a retainer could help you make sure you still get paid even if the client doesn’t finish the project.
Page Rate: At first, our team used a per-page rate (a page is 250 words). A per-page rate is good if you work quickly. But I found that we weren’t getting paid for the time we spent doing research, talking to people, and talking on the phone, so if we charge by the page, we charge separately for research and interview time.
Word Rate: The per word rate is used by a lot of journalists and magazine writers. I’ve seen some charge $1-2 per word. One thing to keep in mind about the per-word rate is that you may do the same amount of research for a 250-word article as you do for a 500-word article. This means that the amount of time you spend will be about the same, with a little more time spent on writing the longer article. If I charge per word, I might also charge by the hour for research. You should always get a deposit up front, no matter what method you use. We usually ask for a one-fourth down payment and send out bills every month based on the number of hours or pages we’ve worked on.
THE GOING RATE
Whether you charge by the project, the hour, the word, the page, or some other way, you want your prices to be in the same range as what your competitors charge. If you charge too much, the client may look for a different freelancer. If you ask for much less than the going rate, the client will probably think you are not a professional and will again look for help somewhere else. In 1996, members of the American Medical Writers Association were asked how much they made per hour for writing. The average rate was between $60 and $70. Keep in mind that some of their work is paid for by pharmaceutical companies that pay much more than average. A good piece of advice is to never give a price on the spot if you don’t know everything about the project. If you’ve done a certain type of project a lot, you might be able to set a fixed rate.
Find out as much as you can about a project and think about the lowest rate you’d be willing to take. Then think about what would happen if you took that low of a rate. Think about your hourly rate, how long it will take you to finish the project, and how much you charged for similar jobs in the past. Don’t take a job that pays less than you are worth, even if you lose a project.