How Much Should You Charge as a Freelance Writer?
Set up a sustainable freelance writing business by knowing the three major ways to charge and the pros and cons of each one.
Today freelance writers are in serious demand. From content writers turning out articles geared for SEO to copywriters crafting compelling sales copy that drives revenue, companies are more comfortable than ever in outsourcing writing services.
While that's good news for freelance writers, it means that writers must also be prepared to decide how to charge. There are plenty of models out there, but three are the most popular because clients have familiarity with them. Read on to learn more about each one and how to decide if it's the right fit for you.
Charging by the Hour
Most new freelance writers have a comfort level in starting off with an hourly rate if they're coming from other industries. Whether an office job or some other position was your most recent, you were likely paid by the hourly or had a salary rate that converted to an hourly rate.
Hourly rates work well for beginning freelance writers because those writers don't yet know how long it takes them to write a blog post, social media caption, or even book. Setting a modest hourly rate can make it easy to get started with work, but it's also challenging to charge hourly because clients almost always have a budget or fixed rate in mind for writing.
A client who has to choose between a writer who charges $100 flat rate for a blog and someone who charges $40/hour without clarity on how many hours they'll need to complete the work only leads to confusion. If it takes the $40/hour writer six hours to complete the piece, the client might feel as though they've been taken advantage of. So writers should always include a range or cap based on their best guess of how long it would take them, such as:
- "I charge $40/hour and estimate this will take 3-4 hours."
- "I charge $40/hour and expect to spend several hours working on this."
This makes hourly rates both easily accessible to freelancers and harder for clients, who don't really have a sense of how long certain projects take. So while it can be a decent starting point, the goal for new freelance writers should be to track how long it took them to do something so they can turn this into a flat rate.
Charging by the Project
The easiest way to charge once you know what you're doing is by the project. This eliminates trading dollars for hours on the freelancer's end. It also helps the client know the max they'll pay for out of the gate.
Charging flat rate or by the project is hardest for beginners because it's very easy to undercharge, especially if you're not familiar with writing the length in question. It takes a different level of work to write a 4,000-word whitepaper than it does a 1,000-word blog post.
For writing, take into account all the work you do to get to a finished piece, which might include things like:
- Selecting topics or keywords
- Interviewing people
- Reading transcripts
- Adding bells and whistles like links, images, or captions
In order to charge a fair project rate, a writer has to know which of those tasks above will apply to the project at hand and be able to estimate them pretty quickly. For an experienced writer who has several projects to look back on in that respect, it's a little easier. But it's not as simple for a newbie. Newbies might be better off working on hourly projects with ranges of hours spent or taking on shorter/simpler pieces so they don't lose as much if they get their pricing wrong.
For example, maybe you quote $75 for your first blog post but quickly realize after one project you should have charged more based on the time it took you and the level of work involved. That's far better than taking on a $5,000 project and realizing you were undercharging significantly, because at that point, you're committed to a massive project and the pain of being off cuts much deeper.
Charging by the Word
In the journalism world and across even some digital companies, charging by the word is the most common. This method works well when the client has a variety of projects in play for you and all of them have different lengths. Maybe you discover that in order to cover a topic in-depth you need 3,000 words. You'll get paid for every word you write, whereas if you quote upfront for a 2,500-word article but turn in 3,000, the client isn't going to agree to up your rate to accommodate that in most cases.
By the word does keep the math simple and is popular with agency models because they can pay a lot of writers the same per-word rate but still allow for some of that customization in projects based on length.
Reasons to Consider Shifting from Hourly to Project and Per-Word Rates
The bottom line is that there's no wrong way to charge for your work as a freelance writer. More experienced freelancers prefer not to charge by the hour because it's a subtle but important value shift: with project/word rates, your clients are paying for your expertise, not your time.
When I started freelancing, it took me longer. Over time I developed systems, invested in software, and generally got faster at what I did. I didn't want to be punished for getting faster. Likewise, a "slower" freelance writer shouldn't feel pressured to speed up because a client thinks four hours is too long to write an article.
Whether it takes you two or ten hours to complete the project is not their business. Avoiding the hourly route also removes the possibility of a client arguing with you about how long it "should" take to complete something. Their perceptions might be incorrect based on your systems and process and shifting the value perspective over instead to the finished product at a flat or per word rate means you can focus on meeting deadlines instead of feeling like you need to justify how long it did or didn't take you.
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