As a freelance writer who has been around long enough to go grey (due to age, not due to work), I am often asked, “How much should I charge for corporate writing jobs?” I am asked this question by other freelancers – especially aspiring freelancers or freelancers looking to move from periodical writing to corporate writing. However, some veteran writers looking to boost their income also have asked me the question.
In reply, I tend to ask questions, as I often do. (Someone once suggested that I was a student of Socrates in a past life. I took it as a compliment.) Questions include:
- Do you know how to define the scope of a job?
- Do you know how to estimate the hours it will take you to complete the job based on the scope?
Most writers say, “Yes” or “More or less.” To which I say, “Cool.” And tell them to multiply the hours they’ve estimated times their hourly writing rate (or editing rate or website design rate, as this applies to many other services).
Here’s where it gets interesting. I think I’ve answered the question, but the questioner tends to pause, blink and then say, “Yes, but how much should I charge for a writing job?”
It turns out that a lot of writers have never sat down to determine what they should charge per hour. So I offer them a simple formula:
Annual desired income dived by number of weeks they want to work divided by number of billable hours (hours they are actually getting paid to work; not hours they are doing marketing, accounting or filing) they want to work each week equals rate.
Let me simplify that mouthful by giving you a rate formula example. Let’s say you want to:
- Earn $50,000 in a year
- Work 50 weeks per year (that’s two weeks off for good behaviour)
- Work 20 billable hours per week.
Here is your rate calculation formal:
- ($50,000 / 50 weeks) / 20 hours = $50 per hour
As I said, the rate formula is only an example. If you want to earn more, you have to charge more per hour and/or work more billable hours per week. I know corporate writers who charge $75, $95, $125 and more for their work – and they are working full tilt. Of course, if you want to earn less, well, you know what to do.
When you are asked to quote on a job, it is your job to define the scope of the gig and to estimate the hours it will take you to complete the work based on the defined scope. You then multiply the hours you’ve estimated times your hourly writing rate and, presto, you are ready to issue a quote.
There are, of course, some caveats.
Vague or complicated. If a client is vague about what needs to be done, or wants you to work on a variety of projects, it can be difficult to define the scope of the job. In that instance, you would tell the client something like this: “I charge $x per hour and will keep a timesheet. I’ll invoice on a bi-weekly basis.” You might, of course, invoice on a monthly basis or invoice when you hit certain milestones.
New type of job. It can be difficult to define the scope of a job you have never done before. Part of what you need to do is break any job down into chunks and estimate how long it will take you to complete each chunk. Chunks might include meetings, interviews, background research and reading, outlining the document, writing (of course), revising once or twice based on client feedback, working with designers to ensure copy fits the design, and so on.
Scope creep. You might also want to build a 5% to 10% scope creep contingency into your quote. However, if the scope really creeps – the client wants you to attend more meetings, conduct additional interviews, write more copy, or write different copy than originally discussed – you can say, in a politely but professional manner, “We need to talk. My estimate was based on the scope of the job, as originally discussed. The scope has change and we need to discuss a revised estimate.”
More or less time to complete. If a job takes you a couple of hours longer than you’ve estimated, it’s no big deal. Live and learn and revise future estimates. If you come in under estimate, enjoy the bonus. I find it all works out in the wash.
A couple of other caveats
Writers have asked me, “Isn’t there a standard hourly rate for writing projects?”
My answer is simple: “No.”
Writers have asked: “Isn’t there a standard rate for some types of writing, such as media releases or case studies?”
My answer is simple: “No.”
But I have a follow-up: Some writers may have standard rates for such projects, but there is no standard rate. What if a client wants you to meet with him and then visit and interview several of his clients before you write a 1,500-word case study? Would you charge that client the same rate as you would charge someone who wants you to conduct a short phone interview with one of his clients and then write 700-word case study? Define the scope. Then quote.
Writers have asked:, “What if I quote $x and the job goes to another writer who has quoted lower? Have I quoted too high and blown the job?”
My reply: “According to your estimate, it was worth $x. Why would you want to do it for less?”
Writers have asked: “What if I quote $x and land the job? Have I quoted too low?”
My reply: “As long as you have estimated accurately, you are being paid what you think the job is worth. If you get what you have asked for, be happy and do the work.” Mind you, if you land every gig you quote on, you might want to consider revising your annual revenue forecast and bumping up your rates over time. I visit and revise my business plan, which includes my annual revenue forecast and rate formula every year. I’d suggest you do that too.
But before you can visit your rate formula on an annual basis, you have to visit it once to start. Now might be a good time.
Paul Lima is a freelance writer, copywriter, business writing instructor and media interview trainer. He is also the author of several books on the business of freelance writing, including The Six-Figure Freelancer: How to find, price and manage corporate writing assignments.