As freelancer writers, we’re on our own for just about any aspect of our business. Nowhere does it sting more than when it comes to money. Worse, when you try to gauge how much you should charge, the numbers other writers quote can range from the outrageously-high to the pitiful lows—just how can you determine your rates as a freelance writer?
In this article, we’re going to take a look at what factors are involved and what exactly you should consider when it comes to determining your rates as a freelance writer.
First, a Dose of Reality…
Let’s get a number of uncomfortable truths out of the way.
- If you’re reading this article to find out if your rates are too low, then I have a revelation for you: they probably are.
I’m sure that when you first started writing, the idea that someone would pay you for your writing talents seemed miraculous. I know it did for me, but I soon became aware that there was a robust market for this type of work once the paychecks cleared. This initial “high” eventually subsided and I came to my senses. It was work, yes, but I felt an insatiable yearning for more renown, less drudge-work, but ultimately—more money.
- Another uncomfortable truth: Clients don’t have any incentive to pay you more than you ask, and why would they?
If you’re cranking out earth-shattering work for bargain-basement prices, clients can keep their overheads low while you tear your hair out trying to make ends meet. Here’s a regrettable story from way back when:
When I first began my freelance writing career, I had no idea what to charge. I started working for an abysmal $.015/word for an international client that wanted batches of 30 articles at a time. That’s $15 for 1,000 words NOT including PayPal currency-exchange and transfer fees. I labored like this for quite some time, but what made the entire ordeal worse was that I also had to track my client down to get paid. Sometimes, he’d disappear for a week, leading to more stress and promises, trying to alter my sleep patterns to match up with time-zone differences.
However, I discovered a pattern: I’d only get paid once a new assignment was assigned, perpetuating this cycle. I decided to stand up for myself once the money cleared, demanding $.02/word. He protested, but this must have broken his budget. We parted ways and I learned a valuable lesson.
Just about every occupation grumbles about their pay rates. The advantage of being a freelance writer is that this responsibility falls on your shoulders.
If you haven’t done so already, read our article about three concepts related to nearly every project: cheap, fast, and good. Because you want to make more money (the “cheap” part), you are left with two parameters to play with: Fast and Good. Written for clarity, they are Speed and Quality.
Speed: Your turnaround time is valuable to clients—the sooner an assignment is finished, the sooner they can move on the next phase of their work. Scaling your business, whether it is hiring subcontractors or automating some portion of the workload, all make you more valuable in a client’s eyes. And it follows logically that the more work that you undertake, the more money you make.
Quality: When you’re trying to figure out how to determine your rates as a freelance writer, consider your quality as a writer. What makes your skills sought after in the market place versus other freelancers?
Don’t forget that quality goes beyond just words on a page. It can also be a part of your public persona, your platform/expertise, or even just the likelihood that your audience may be interested in your client’s projects.
So, How Much Am I Worth?
Okay, now that you’ve considered both concepts on how to determine your rates as a freelance writer, how do they apply? That’s on a case-by-case basis and I can’t speak for your capabilities. HOWEVER, here are a couple of methods that can answer the all-important question of how to determine your rates as a freelance writer.
1) Survey the Competition
Take a look at what other freelancers are charging and compare their level of quality. Freelance websites like Upwork and Freelancer have freelancer profiles that you can search. Simply look up whatever brand of writing your specialize in (i.e. “Academic Writing”, “Content Generation”), and look at as many profiles as you can.
Find the freelancers that have many completed and active assignments with lots of positive feedback. How much are they charging? What services do they provide? Therein lies the answer of what you may need to improve—or already possess—to command a similar rate.
Taking the previous method one step further, shadowtesting gives you deeper insight into what other freelancers are charging. Basically, you’re creating a fake “job” as a client and allowing freelancers to bid on it, getting feedback from the results.
For instance, I once wanted to know how much I should be paid to ghostwrite an ebook from scratch. Creating the project, I received dozens of replies, with price quotes that were all across the board. This was expected, but the experienced professionals gave me no-nonsense pitches, asked the right questions, and the prices were very similar. I also had the opportunity to see what a real pitch actually looks like. I adjusted my rates for contractual work and won more than a few assignments afterwards.
3) Fuzzy Math
If you’re mathematically-inclined, simply looking at the numbers can be illuminating. If it takes you 2 hours of writing to complete a $50 magazine assignment, you can safely assume that your rate is $25/hr, right?
Nice try, but you’re wrong.
- As a freelancer, you have to consider a number of factors. Here’s a few:
- Did you write an article in a two-hour sitting, or was it done in separate sessions?
- Were there revisions requested during/after you submitted the document?
- Did you have to change your schedule to accommodate people that you’d interview?
- How long did it take for you to find this work?
- Did you spend time doing other non-writing activities (i.e. shopping, cleaning) while brainstorming the article?
Each of these factors (and more) offsets your hourly rate. Worse, if you’re doing contractual work, it’d be almost impossible to determine exactly how much time goes into a project before it actually is assigned. Nevertheless, it can give you a ballpark figure that you can pitch to clients. Example: if I’m working on revising a client’s ebook, I know that I should factor in how long it actually takes to read the darn thing from start to finish.
4) The Paid Internship
There are certain assignments that I’ll gladly undertake beneath the market rate as a self-styled “paid internship.” The trade-off is that I’m actively acquiring job skills, recommendations, and portfolio pieces that can help me acquire new work. Short-term monetary gains should play a role in how to determine your rates as a freelance writer, but don’t forget about that long-term strategy.
Remember that measly $.015/word job? It sucked, but I learned about business concepts, like the aforementioned shadowtesting, that greatly benefited my business down the road. That is, after all, how I came to write this article…
5) How Much Should I Care?
Going back to the Speed and Quality factors, not all clients want your work to shine, nor do they want it in less than 24 hours. Essentially, when trying to determine your rates, it helps to know how much you should care about an assignment based on your client’s needs.
Let’s take, for instance, what’s going on in this article. It’s an “evergreen”-styled article, so its subject matter shouldn’t be too specific. It will be read online in perpetuity with my byline attached, so it is in my best interest to create a quality article that makes my client happy and entices future clients. It’s also submitted before a deadline. However, this isn’t a college-entrance essay that follows a stringent style guide, nor is it a speech for a politician to persuade lobbyists. Therefore, I price accordingly. After all, who cares?
6) How Busy?
Take your workload into consideration when determining your rate as a freelancer. If you’re desperate for work, you may be inclined to lower your rates to attract more clients. There’s certainly no shame in this and may reflect circumstances beyond your control. Conversely, raising your rates can be a way of filtering out low-balling clients and aiming higher.
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If you’ve read this far, you’re probably frustrated to not have any definitive numbers to aspire to (or undercut). No one can answer these questions for you. Determining your rates as a freelance writer is deceptive because each assignment holds its own challenges and parameters, nor does every freelance writer possess the same skills. However, using these methods can help you learn how to determine your rate as a freelance writer that fits your business.