From Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing: Ch. 38: How Much to Charge? (Everything You Wanted To Know About Freelance Writing). Read all excerpts from the book here
Chapter 38: How Much to Charge?
We’ve talked a great deal about money in this book. Money is important. It’s not the be all and end all, but it allows you to do other stuff, the stuff of your life vision. (Don’t worry. I am not going to make you create a life vision.)
At some point, all this planning and marketing will begin to pay off. Potential clients will start to call or e-mail you. You will hear that little voice in your head, “Now you’ve done it.” You will have to discuss dollars and cents. That might involve some back and forth negotiations, which is not unusual. It’s your job to be prepared, be professional, and be flexible—to a point. In other words, do not sell yourself down the river for a pittance when setting your fee and issuing quotes.
Arriving at a quote
You can arrive at a quote for a project in several ways, depending on the needs of the client and the nature of the job. But before you submit a quote, it is a good idea to know what your corporate rates are (see section on “setting corporate rates” in this chapter) and approximately how much you would charge per project, such as for writing a media release, a website page, a direct response brochure, and so on. As you’ll see, what you actually charge will vary, but you should know how much per hour you want to make and your minimum fee for a particular type of job.
To help you wrap your head around arriving at a quote, let’s look at how clients might approach you—what they might need or want.
Here is exactly what we need
The client spells out the details of the assignment and asks for a firm quote. You clarify the details (more on how to do this in the next chapter) and quote on the job. The client says yes, no, or maybe (as in “maybe if you can come down to this price”). You may or may not mention your hourly or per word rate, but you need one on which to base your quote.
How much do you charge? How long will it take?
The client may want to know how much you charge per hour and how long you think it will take to complete a job. The client is looking for an estimate but expresses a willingness to be flexible because the scope of the job may not be clearly defined. Generally, with this method, you keep a detailed timesheet and let the client know when you are coming close to reaching your estimated number of hours. The client then authorizes additional hours.
We need you almost exclusively
The client may want you to be on call for a series of jobs and will pay you an hourly rate. Usually you do not have to generate a quote. But you have to agree to an hourly rate and you have to keep a detailed timesheet so the client knows exactly what you’ve done, when you did it, and how long it took you to do it.
How much per word?
Sometimes the client will want to know how much you charge per word and will ask for a document of x-number of words. You still want to define the scope of the project (again, more on this in the next chapter) before you issue a quote. For instance, will you have to go in for meetings? How many? Will you be making revisions based on feedback from the client? If so, you want to take all that under consideration before you present your per word fee (the more work you have to do, the higher your fee should be). Speaking of revisions, you will most often write several drafts. Get used to revisions and make sure your quotes take them into account
Beware of charging a per-word rate on advertising copy, video scripts, or promotional e-mail. You may write only a few words of finished copy, but you will do a great deal of research, synthesizing, processing, creative brainstorming, writing, and revising before the job is finished, and you should be paid for all that brain power, not just for the final word count.
Per-word proofreading or copy editing
The same thoughts as above apply to per-word proofreading or copy editing. If no meetings or research are required—you just receive the work and edit it—you can price the work based on the number of words of original document and the type of editing that is required.
For instance, you would charge less per word to proofread a relatively clean document (ask to see a sample of the work before you quote) that you would to copy edit a poorly written document because it’s going to take you more time to do the copy editing. You would charge even more for a substantive copy edit, one that required major revisions.
Notice how I used three terms here: proofread, copy edit, substantive copy edit. In each instance, the client might ask you how much you charge to proofread. You ask to see a sample of the work you have to edit so you can clarify what is expected, and how much time it might take, before you quote on a job.
Some clients will ask you how much you charge for editing, and then ask you to turn a 2,500-word white paper into a 750-word flyer or brochure. That’s not editing. That’s writing. I would probably charge an hourly rate for such a job, but if the client wanted to know your per-word rate, you would have to clarify if they were paying you to edit 2,500 words or to produce 750 words.
In short, if you do not clarify situations like this up front, you could have a billing battle on your hands down the road. “I just assumed…” doesn’t cut it when you are debating an invoice.
This approach is appropriate for many editing projects. As above, base your quote on the number of pages you receive from the client and the type of editing you have to do. Look at a sample of the writing before you quote. Not only do you want to evaluate the writing, you also want to know whether the copy is single-spaced or double-spaced and whether the type size is 12 point or eight point. In other words, you can cram a lot more words on a page if it is single-spaced eight-point type rather than double-spaced, 12-point type.
Per-hour editing or writing
You will quote many jobs on a per-hour basis. You don’t, however, always keep a time sheet. This may be a tad repetitive, but it’s an important point: in many instances, you define the scope of the project (see next chapter) and issue a firm quote based on the number of hours you estimate it will take you do the job. The client doesn’t need to know how much you charge per hour or how long you think the job will take.
On the other hand, as mentioned, you might quote an hourly rate and keep a timesheet if the work required seems vague or involves multiple meetings and/or interviews, or involves a great deal of research and minimal word count (ad copy, promotional e-mail, headlines for ads, slogans, video scripts, and so on), or involves you working on multiple jobs simultaneously. In other words, if the client doesn’t know exactly what he wants, wants you to work on a complex job, or wants you to work on a number of documents, making it difficult for you to issue a firm quote, then you want to be charging by the hour. But how much do you charge per hour?
Setting corporate rates
When it comes to setting rates for the corporate market, you have to know the following:
• How much you want to gross per year
• What your time is worth
• What skills, ability, experience you bring to the table
• At what level you are working
What do I mean by “at what level”? When it comes to corporate communications, there is a rate hierarchy. From top to bottom, it goes something like this: strategic planner, consultant, project manager, writer, researcher, editor, and proofreader. I’m sure editors and proofreaders would disagree. And I know we need them (or that I need them). But that rate hierarchy is there.
Strategic planners and consultants give high-level communica-tions advice (and may do some writing or hire the writers). Project managers usually co-ordinate all aspects of large communication projects (a major corporate video or annual report, for instance) from start to finish. They may also do some writing or hire the writers, designers, printers, or video crews. And, yes, project managers may do some consulting and consultants may manage projects.
For the most part, writers write. It’s possible that as a writer you will give advice, make suggestions, give the client options, help develop strategies, and move the project forward in some way. However, primarily you write and revise. That’s what you charge for. But if the client asks for more (part of your job when quoting is to define—in consultation with the client—your role), you also ask for more.
How much do you charge?
There is no one right answer. I know many writers. They charge anywhere from $35 to $250 an hour. They charge anywhere from $.50 to $5 per word. You determine what you are worth and/or what a job is worth, and set a rate. Of course, if you want to charge $250 per hour, then you have to find clients willing to pay that rate—which is not an impossible task.
Once you set your rate, you negotiate with prospects based on that rate. When negotiating, you choose whether there will be any give and take. But take before you give.
Still find yourself saying, “Yes, but… How much do I charge?” Let’s review the math you did earlier.
How many billable hours do you think you can work per day? Billable hours do not include functions such as market research, marketing, invoicing, filing, or paying your taxes. That you do on your own nickel. With that in mind, let’s say you work, on average, four billable hours per day, five days per week, 50 weeks per year.
Some days you may work more, far more, and some days you may work less, far less, but let’s say you average five billable hours per day.
Here is the formula
Here is the billable hours formula:
- Billable hours per day x 5 = billable hours per week
- Billable hours per week x 50 = billable hours per year
- Billable hours per year x hourly rate = gross income
Plug in an hourly rate and you know how much you can earn, gross (before expenses and taxes), per year. Let’s say you plug in $50 per hour:
4 hours/day x 5 days/week x 50 weeks/year x $50/hour = $50,000/year.
Plug in $100 per hour, and you will earn $100,000 per year—as long as you work four billable hours per day, five days per week, 50 weeks per year. You could charge more and still work four billable hours per day, five days per week, 50 weeks per year. You could charge more (or less) and work more (or fewer) hours. That all depends on how well you market yourself and on the nature of the clients you acquire.
If you are just getting started, you might find it difficult to come up with $50 or $100 per hour gigs, especially if you are selling your services to small businesses or under-funded not-for-profit organizations. If you have been doing corporate work for a year or more, $50 per hour should be your absolute rock bottom rate. Take $50 per-hour clients only if you have no other work to do. In fact, you might be better off investing time looking for better-paying clients.
Some writers I know charge $100 or more per hour, but offer small businesses and non-profit organizations a discount, as I have done. However, when I invoice the client, I put my full rate on the invoice and then add the discount. It helps me demonstrate and maintain my value. It also helps me boost my rate after working with the client for a while.
Would it be nice if the corporate world paid one rate for writers so we wouldn’t have to figure out what to charge? If that rate was set at $100 per hour, the writers who earn $250 per hour wouldn’t think it was such a hot idea. So think about you, what you offer, and how much you want or need to earn. Set your hourly rate and look for clients who can pay it.
If you want more information to help you establish rates, go to What to Pay a Writer (www.writers.ca/whattopay.htm). Although it is a Canadian site, the rates listed would be of interest to writers anywhere in North America. Allow me to summarize the suggested corporate writing and editing rates on the site. I don’t agree with all fees posted, and think there are many factors you should take under consideration before you quote (as I will explain). However, the list should give you a good ballpark as to where you want to position your fees.
From What to Pay a Writer
You can use these rates as guidelines. Assess each job, though, before you issue a quote.
• $350 to $500 per page
• $750 to $1,000 per project for brochures
• $75 to $150 per hour
Advertorials (articles commissioned by advertisers)
• $0.40 to $2 per word
• $100 to $3,000 per article
• $40 to $100 per hour
Reports/Marketing Plans/Technical Writing
• $1 to $2 per word
• $300 to $12,000 per project
• $50 to $125 per hour
Varies according to publication/project
• $30 to $60 per hour; $500 to $20,000 per project
Articles: Generally 2-3 times the usual newspaper or magazine rates
Books: $10,000 to $50,000 flat fee; entire advance + 50% of royalties
• $1 to $3 per word
• $500 to $100,000 per project
• $50 to $125 per hour
Writing only; layout extra
• $0.30 to $1.50 per word
• $400 to $6,000 per issue
• $50 to $80 per hour
Varies widely; “business” sites pay higher
• $1 to $3 per word
• $60 to $100 per hour
Radio (highly variable): $40 to $80 per minute of script
Television (highly variable): $60 to $130 per minute of script
• $500 to $8,000 per speech; $60 to $130 per hour
Literary: $0.10 to $0.20 per word
Other: $0.25 to $0.60 per word; $40 to $80 per hour
These rates can guide you. Ultimately, however, you have to decide what you are going to charge and you have to issue the quote. Conversely, if offered a particular amount of money for a gig, or if a prospect offers a lower fee than you’ve quoted, you have to decide if you are going to take the gig.
Knowing how much you want to earn per year, week, and hour will help you make informed decisions, decisions that are in sync with your business plan.
From Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing. Read all excerpts from the book here. Everything You Wanted to Know About Freelance Writing is based on The Six-Figure Freelancer: How to Find, Price and Manage Corporate Writing Assignments and Business of Freelance Writing: How to Develop Article Ideas and Sell Them to Newspapers and Magazines.