Freelance Writer Billing: By the Hour or by the Project?


Here’s a scenario that most, if not all, freelance writers who have been working for a while are familiar with: you start communicating with a prospective client and discussing a project. It sounds like something you would be interested in taking on, and you can fit it into your schedule without too much difficulty. So far, so good. Everything seems is lining up really well. Then either you or the client brings up the subject of the budget for the project and how you will be paid. You are asked to give a quote, now that you know the scope of the project – are you better off telling the client that you will be billing by the hour or by project?

First of all, this situation is not as sticky as it sounds. There are times when it may be to your advantage to quote an hourly rate and instances when your best bet is to charge a flat fee. Getting back to your client who is waiting to find out how you are going to quote this job, your first step should be to talk to your client.

Ask if Your Client Has a Preference

As a courtesy, it’s a good idea to ask whether the client has a particular preference about how they would like to structure the pay arrangement. They may have worked with freelancers in the past who charged by the hour and expect that you will charge the same way.

This is an opportunity for you to explain the way that you prefer to bill your clients (if it is different from what the client is expecting) and have a discussion.  If you can’t come to a workable arrangement, then you may have to walk away from this particular gig.


Freelance Writer Billing: by the Hour

If you are freelancing, pricing your services by the hour makes sense if the project includes intangibles like time spent researching or interviewing subjects as well as writing. This type of arrangement will likely work out better for both of you if you have very clear expectations about how much time will be spent on certain aspects of the project.

The client may expect you to be in contact by phone, e-mail, or IM to provide regular updates on your progress so that he or she doesn’t feel that the hours are adding up with not a lot of real progress being made. (You will need to clarify in advance how much you will charge for consultations of this type.)

Another way to keep a handle on expenses when working on hourly projects is to put a cap on the number of hours that will be spent on the project in your contract. As the freelancer, you will need to make sure the cap is a reasonable estimate for the number of hours the project should take, but this also protects the client from going over budget.

Freelance Writer Billing: by the Project

Giving a quote by the project is an easier way to charge for your services. Both you and the client know from the outset how much the job will cost, and there won’t be any surprises. The disadvantage to charging by the project is that if you happen to get bogged down doing some work is that you can’t charge more for your time.

The good part about being paid a flat rate is that if you happen to get the work finished more quickly, your hourly rate goes up. Some freelancers dislike getting paid by the hour, since they feel they are being penalized if they happen to work quickly. Even if you are charging all of your clients by the hour, not all of the time you spend on client projects will be billable. You’ll likely find that you will end up having to eat some time, for various reasons, and at other times you will end up coming out ahead.

Billing by the hour or by the project – which one is better?

There is no way to answer that question for anyone else. Depending on who you are – and more importantly, who your clients are – you will need to decide the answer to that for yourself. You may find that one method works for you at one stage of your career and that you switch to another one at a different stage. You can also choose to use different billing methods for different clients.

It’s your freelance writing business. Use the pricing method that makes sense to you and that will get you the gig – and get you paid.

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One response
  1. Alisha Avatar

    Not to be picky, but this sentence needs some help. Thought, I’d let you know. “There are time when it may be to your advantage to quote an hourly rate…” It sounds very wrong. Maybe, ‘There will be a time when it may be to your advantage…’?

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