Setting Freelance Writing Rates: 5 Things to Know Before You Quote

I’ve made frequent mention of the fact that there are many, many subpar writers out there. They undercut professional writers by charging just a penny or two per word then deliver work that matches the rate.

I take personal offense to that. It’s not just being underbid. I don’t much mind that, because once the client sees what he’s getting when he hires these people, he usually comes back to me anyway. He’ll find he’s spending more time and money to edit their “writing” than he’d had spent had he just hired a real writer in the first place.

What I don’t like is that these people give us a bad reputation. Freelance writers should set rates that they know they’re worth, and produce deliverables which prove that worth.

Having trouble setting your own, realistic rates? You know, the kind of rates that don’t give freelancers a bad name? Here’s how to do it.

Know your competition

First, research the competition. There’s really no set “going rate” for a freelance writer in the same way that there is for a vehicle inspection or a babysitter.

But once you determine what type of writing you’d like to do, look around at other successful freelancers and see what they’re charging. (Hint: it’s not $.00005 per word.)

Do you specialize in resume writing? Press releases? Blog posts? Are you setting up websites for small businesses? Ask around and see what others have paid to your competitors. That will give you a good idea of a starting rate and you can then set your prices competitively.

Know your speed

What do you want to be paid per hour? I won’t work for anything less than $80 per hour, although my rates frequently reflect much more per hour than that.

I know how long it takes me to create a blog post of 1,000 words. I know how long I take to research. I also know that I love my coffee breaks, and I don’t expect clients to pay for them.

With that said, I very rarely introduce an “hourly rate” to clients, because it would be phenomenally high. I’d charge something like $200 per hour for a 700 word blog post, knowing that it would only take me about 30 minutes to write.

Figure out how much you’d like to make per hour then set your rate accordingly.

Know the project

What does the project entail? Will you have to interview someone over the phone? Will you have a lot of research, or is it likely that you’ll frequently have to stop and look up technical terms?

Factor this into your price. Calculate how long you think the project will take, then use your hourly rate to determine the fixed cost. Don’t forget to add a little padding if you feel you might need it.

Get a feel for your client, too. Be sure the two of you have a clear understanding of the scope of the project.

I once had a project which I’d estimated at about three hours of work. It took me all. Damn. Day. It was an editing job, and the initial sample the client had sent me was quite good. It was well-written and I didn’t foresee a lot of problems.

When I finally got the material, it was a mess. English was not the client’s native language and I had to ask for a lot of clarification. The thing ended up taking me ten hours to edit.

Know the project before you set your rate. There will be times when you accidentally do it wrong, but just learn from it and move on.

Know how to stand your ground

There’s nothing more unprofessional than a freelancer who waffles on her rates. If you charge $.15 per word, own it. Don’t offer “cheap” work to your client just because you think he’ll be more likely to hire you.

If you’re scared you might miss out on some work, you have every right to be. But trust me. Branding yourself as the “discount writer” will only serve to attract clients who won’t value your expertise. You’re in for a world of mess if you charge less than you’re worth.

I have a few long-term clients who, every now and then, I’ll offer a freebie to. One in particular has found himself in a tight spot now and then, so I’ve offered to help him with posting, edits or whatever else he needs.

That’s why he’s my long term client.

And the fact that he’s my long term client, and that I know he values me is the only reason I’ve ever given anything away. He knows my time is money. Your clients should, too.

Be forthcoming with your rates and don’t beat around the bush.

Know your client’s budget

There may be a piece you’d like to write that you’d love to include on your portfolio. Or maybe there’s a non-profit you’re dying to work with.

In this case, just use your best judgment.

By the same token, your client may simply not have the budget to accommodate you. But he can offer you referrals to other great clients or some other service. (I’ll admit it – I’ve rocked personal training sessions in exchange for monthly blog posts.)

My advice to you would be this: don’t advertise discounts. Don’t let every Tom, Dick and Mary know that you’re willing to work as an unpaid servant to whatever client happens to come your way.

Hold your head high and charge what you’re worth. Only if there’s an opportunity you can’t pass up should you charge less than your normal (and predetermined) hourly rate.


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