Do You Quote by the Hour or by the Word?

How do you quote jobs for new clients? Not everyone is specific about what they are looking for when they ask for a quote, unfortunately. I know some freelance writers talk about how much they charge per hour, but I want to focus on why it may be a better idea to offer a per-word rate than an hourly one.

If you quote a client an hourly rate, the client may not understand what they are getting for their money. Although the freelance writer is probably more likely to eat some time than pad his or her bill when charging by the hour, the client wants to keep a close eye on costs. They may feel more comfortable knowing from the outset how much something is going to cost, and the client doesn’t want to imagine the project they anticipated paying $X for taking longer and costing more than they had anticipated.

Providing a quote per word or for the entire project means the client has a much better idea of how much it’s going to cost. There may be an advantage for the freelancer, too, in quoting this way: he or she knows how much they are going to be paid. If the job ends up taking less time than the freelancer originally estimated, he or she doesn’t have to charge less for it.

Charging by the word is a clear way for the freelancer and the client to understand how the fees are being calculated. An hourly rate may be too vague, since the client can’t picture how much work can be done in 60 minutes. I know I have times when some hours are much more productive than others, and I suspect that other freelance writers are the same.

I prefer to keep it simple and quote per word, per page or per post when talking to a client. How do you handle quoting rates?


9 responses
  1. Wendy Sullivan Avatar

    I tend to quote by the word for blog jobs and by the hour for other projects, such as press releases, marketing letters and website content.

    .-= Wendy Sullivan´s last blog ..My Schedule is All Off =-.

  2. Erik Hare Avatar

    I quote by the word, but I find that a lot of bloggers who are looking for content don’t really understand those kinds of rates. I think it’s important to be flexible on this score, but I do lead with a rate per word.
    .-= Erik Hare´s last blog ..I Report, You Decide =-.

  3. Lucy Smith Avatar

    I quote by the hour. Seems to be the done thing in this part of the world. I do get paid by the word when I do more reporter-style magazine writing, but for my copywriting and editing clients, by the hour is the way to go. I’m very good at estimating my time (so far I’ve never been out by more than half an hour, and I always quote a range to cover myself, like 3-4 hours) so no problems there, and I think I make more money this way. For the magazine job I’m working on at the moment, the per-word rate is good but the time it’s taking is killing the hourly rate – it’s good exposure though and getting my name out to a lot of people I want to know, so it’s okay 🙂

  4. Brook Avatar

    I typically charge a flat rate for everything, and stay away from per-word unless specifically directed by the client (normally regular clients) to keep the content in a pre-determined word count range. However, I have been charging by the hour for special projects – a PowerPoint for a sales presentation, a training manual for which the client is unsure many words they want, etc. But today, my hourly project ended up taking longer than the estimate, and the client was unhappy about paying for the extra time. So I’ve decided that an hourly rate is not the best idea, even for special projects. Instead, I’ll probably just raise my rates across the board.

  5. Skippy Avatar

    I always first ask if we can discuss a flat project rate. If that doesn’t work, I then go for per page or per item and see if that’s an option. I can’t stand doing by the hour, as I feel that one of my best assets as a writer is my ability to work really fast. So if I’m getting paid by the hour, I feel like I am choosing between either shorting myself financially or not taking the opportunity to show off a quality that employers value.

    I just started a project for a company that is paying per hour. I’ve worked for them before and really like them. One time they paid per item, but another time they paid per hour. However, they gave me the amount of hours they expected it to take and seemed okay when I charged the full amount. This time they’re giving me the same info in the contract: a rate per hour and the number of hours they think it should take. But I’ve just looked at the guidelines and think it will take more hours than they list. I’m not sure if I should broach this with them in advance, wait until I finish and see how many hours it took, or whether I should just suck it up and charge their set amount of hours no matter how long it takes, in order to preserve a positive relationship…

  6. Jodee Avatar

    @ Skippy: I would suggest that you tell the client from the outset that you think the job is going to take longer than what they anticipate. You could give them your best estimate of how long the job will take and perhaps offer to cap your fee at a certain amount for the project. That way, the client doesn’t get a surprise when you submit your bill and you don’t have to make a decision at that point about how much time you have to eat.
    .-= Jodee´s last blog ..Freelance Writers: How Other People Perceive Us =-.

  7. Phil Avatar

    By the word for some types of writing (typically articles), by the project for others. I feel that hourly rates are bad for both sides. Client doesn’t know how much time you really spent. Even time tracking programs can be fooled. Also, my hour(s) will not go uninterrupted, due to phone, e-mail or the munchies.

    Hourly not fair to me because an inexperienced or poor writer can charge much less per hour, but (a) may take more hours, so client bill is actually higher; or (b) will produce far inferior work.

    Have to use project rate when dealing with clients that are unfamiliar with word-rate concept, which tends to be a little more “old school” journalism.

  8. Amanya Avatar

    Yes,Phil, I agree. Rate per word is ‘old school’ journalism. It’s what papers would pay a reporter, if they didn’t pay for “column inch.”

    I attempt to quote a flat rate for the type of work: article, blog, book, etc. I don’t even know how much a per/word rate is anymore.

    Basically when I quote something, I figure out how many pages (using the traditional 250 words per page count), tack a time onto that page, based on my level of effort (i.e. if I’m editing, researching, rewriting or writing.)

    Also, in order to get work, I’ve had to drop my rates of late. With the economy, everyone thinks they are a writer. There is a lot of (inept) competition and they make a lot of very low quotes.

    In thinking about the per/word rate, I just calculated that I’m about 10 cents a word now. My hourly rate is anywhere from $20 and up, with probably $25 being the average. My highest rate a few years back was $55. How things change!

    Even though I give a flat quote for the task, I calculate that quote by figuring my hourly rate x effort/time. Then I hope I’m guessing correctly! I’m usually very close, actually, if I’ve been able to get enough information from the client up front. I use a contract with a change-order agreement, so that if something changes (usually the client’s mind), it’s an add-on and the meter starts anew with that. This works very well.

    Erik, you are right. Our clients don’t understand the writer’s world; they barely understand what they think they want.

    And heaven forbid you ask them if they want to follow the Chicago Style Manual or another one. Well, that’s a topic for another discussion thread.

    I’d be interested to hear what some of your rates are, and if you also use contracts.

  9. Phil Avatar


    White paper work is typically $1 word, which I think you will find to be standard to a little low. Others are all over the map.

    Typically clients, who are typically magazines and online publications, handle the contracts. I was told years ago that letters of agreement are much better than contracts (still enforceable, less intimidating), but typically, I don’t have huge clients, though one came back this week after a nine-year hiatus. But even with that one, who went bankrupt while owing me $5,000, came good on the money. My uncollectible accounts typically are less than 1 percent of revenues. Don’t like to lose that, but trying to collect in court, contract or not, would be too much trouble.

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