Learning how to set fees for freelance writing projects can be confusing especially for the beginning freelance writer. When I first started my freelance writing business, I had no idea what to charge, so I looked online at Web sites of other writers. Not many of them posted their fees on their Web site and now I know the reason. Fees must be set by the project after taking many factors into consideration.
In the first year of my career as a freelance writer, I joined the pool of freelance writers at Guru.com where I had to bid for projects. There were many writers and lots of project leads, and I felt overwhelmed; however, I had paid my yearly fee to join so I decided to give it my best shot. Many times I didn't win the bid for a project I really wanted, or the pay was minimal. I bid low to garner a wage and took any project I was awarded. I was working for less than $8 an hour and was about to take the plunge into self-UNemployment. Once I built my writing portfolio and gained confidence in my writing skills, I raised my rates just to survive.
Print ads didn't bring much response and they were expensive to boot. I decided to do some online marketing through a newsletter and quickly had subscribers agreeing to receive it as an email each month. I joined several networking associations and soon I had clients coming to me regularly. Then I had a new problem. I couldn't work fast enough to service all my clients and still have time to do marketing.
Yes, you have to market your business even when you have plenty of projects. Otherwise, the well dries up and you have no work or income once you’ve completed the current assignments. I raised my rates again thinking I would probably attract fewer clients, but I'd make more from each project. The leads kept coming in and I realized I needed help. I asked a writer friend of mine if she would like to take some of my project leads and do sub-contracted writing for me. That worked out so well, I took on another writer and did more marketing and networking. The snowball kept rolling as word of mouth kept growing and soon I had ten writers on my team and most of them were staying busy. Some of them agreed that my rates reminded them of a circus -- in other words I was working for peanuts! My prices were much lower than the going rate on writers market so my team and I set our project rates to compete with the going rate.
Things to consider in setting rates
Ability to pay -- A corporate client is able to pay more than an individual or nonprofit organization, but there needs to be fairness and consistency. If someone has a project but truly doesn't have a large budget, I might be willing to work with them if they are willing to pay me a portion of my fee via advances and royalties, but I've got to be pretty darn sure the client's book is going to get a publishing contract or I could end up working for free. There are times when I have traded my services for something I needed but I'm not a horse trader, and I can't depend on bartering to pay my bills.
Demographics -- Another thing to consider is the cost of living in different areas of the country. While $40 an hour doesn't seem like much to someone living in New York, it is a lot of money to a single parent in Mississippi.
Writing pace -- Each writer has their own pace and my team quickly found that a "per page" rate was not the best way to charge. Some writers could write a 250-word page in 30 minutes; others took over an hour to write a page. You have to know how fast you work in order to estimate how many hours a project will take. I ballpark each project based upon the amount of research, interview time, phone calls, emails, etc required to gather the information and the number of hours I think it will take me to write and edit the piece.
Amount of work involved -- Pricing also depends upon the amount of research, interview and phone time the project will require and that isn't always easy to determine ahead of time when you are quoting the project to the client.
Your personal experience/expertise -- Someone who has been writing for 20 years is going to have more marketable skills than a writer who is just starting out. An impressive track record and large writing portfolio gives credibility when dealing with a client who is looking for experience. They are usually willing to pay more for a writer who is highly skilled professional than someone who has little experience.
Type of project -- Different types of writing pay different amounts of money. Most writers know that commercial writing or copywriting pays more than writing articles for blogs. Rates for ghostwriting a book may depend upon whether or not the ghost gets credit on the cover. You might consider working for a lower fee if the author of record is willing to put your name on the cover of the book. That depends on the notoriety of the author of record 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 such you might ask for an advance plus fifty percent of royalties. A book with your name on the cover with a celebrity could earn you more than the difference in what you would have normally have charged for the project.
If the client is an unknown author with no publishing contacts who hasn't decided if he is going to self-publish, get your money up front rather than risk the chance of not getting paid for the project if the book isn't published.
The most common pricing options for freelance writers are:
-- Flat fee or project rate;
-- By the hour;
-- Per diem rate;
-- On retainer;
-- By the word;
-- By the page.
I use a combination of several of these methods with the exception of per diem and retainer. Each of the pricing options has advantages and disadvantages depending on the assignment, your writing pace, and your client's wishes.
Flat fee or project rate -- If you commit to a project rate or flat fee before you know much about the job, you could end up disappointed if the project becomes bigger or more complicated than you originally thought.
Hourly rate -- Also, hourly fees may be the best approach for freelancers who write at a slower pace. For me, an hourly rate is the best way to charge -- not because I write slowly, but because it is hard to tell up front how long a project may really take. I give my client a ballpark on the number of hours I think a project will take me. In order to let the client know what to expect, I give them a margin of 20% more or less hours than I estimate. For example, if I think a project will take me 10 hours, I'll quote the client 8-12 hours just in case I need to adjust once I get into the project. If I finish in less hours than I expected, I only charge for the hours I used.
Per diem rate -- If you are going on site to write for a client, you will have to leave all other projects behind while you travel. You will need to consider not only lodging, travel expenses, food, and your hourly rate, you also need to include an amount that will cover the help you have to hire to tend to children or pets while you are away. A per day rate is not set in stone. You may give the client a day rate (your hourly fee times number of hours on site) but also ask for expenses to be covered.
On retainer -- If you have a client who wants you to be on call and ready to take his or her project on a moment's notice, you may find that you have to drop everything to tend to that client's needs. If you have cleared your schedule to allot a certain number of hours to her project and she ends up not having an assignment for you that month, you have lost the money you could have made otherwise. A retainer might come in handy for such cases to insure that you have some income even if the client doesn't come through with a project.
Page rate -- Our team started out using a per page rate (a page is 250 words). If you work fast, a per-page rate is advantageous. However, I found that we weren't being compensated for our research, interview and phone time, so if we charge by the page, we charge for research and interview time separately.
Word rate -- A lot of journalists and magazine writers use the per word rate. I've seen some charge $1-2 per word. The thing to remember about 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, so your time spent is going to be about the same with some extra time added for the actual writing of the longer article. If I charge by the word, I may also ask for an hourly fee for research.
No matter what method you choose, you should always get a deposit up front. We normally ask for one-fourth as a down payment, and invoice monthly according to the number of hours/pages we have completed at the end of the month.
The going rate
Whether you decide to charge by the project, hour, word, page or some other method, you want to set your rates within the range of rates earned by your competition. If you ask much more, the client will probably look for another freelance. If you ask much less than the going rate, the client will probably think you are not a professional and, again, will seek help elsewhere.
In a survey of members of American Medical Writers Association in 1996, the average hourly rate for writing was between $60 and $70. Remember that some of their work is sponsored by pharmaceutical companies who pay much more than average.
A good word of advice is to never quote a price on the spot. That is one of the reasons I don't post my rates on my Web site. Another is because I don't want a client to assume they can't afford my rates or think that because I didn't list a particular project that we can't do it. Get as much information as you can about a project and consider the lowest rate you would be willing to accept. Then weigh the consequences you would have if you accepted a rate that low. Consider your hourly rate, how much time it will take you to complete the project and your price for similar projects you have done in the past. Even if you lose a project don't accept a job that pays you less than you are worth.
I use a timer to clock my hours and a spreadsheet to log my project records. In it, I list every task performed during a job and the amount of time each task required. I use this data not only to show a client an accurate account of my billing but to determine future projects. Important items to include are:
-- Client meetings, emails and phone calls;
-- Research on the background of a company, product or person you are going to write about;
-- Interview time;
-- Writing the draft;
-- Developing tables and figures;
-- Editing the draft;
-- Creating and formatting your works cited and bibliography;
-- Making changes after the document comes back from the reviewers;
-- Postage, faxes, travel, lodging and other incidentals.
For more information about setting fees for freelance projects I recommend: Secrets of a Freelance Writer: How to Make $85,000 a Year by Robert W. Bly and How to Write What You Want & Sell What You Write by Skip Press.
All things considered, the right fee is a price that is fair to the client and adequately compensates the writer.
Yvonne Perry is a freelance writer and the owner of Write On! Creative Writing Services based in Nashville, Tennessee. She and her team of ghostwriters service clients all over the globe by offering quality writing on a variety of topics at an affordable price. If you need a brochure, Web text, business document, resume, bio, article or book, visit www.yvonneperry.net. While there be sure to subscribe to the RSS podcast feed and the free monthly newsletter about writing, networking, publishing and marketing. Read more on Yvonne's blog at yvonneperry.blogspot.com.© 2008 Yvonne Perry
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