How Much Should I Charge as a Freelance Writer?

I think starting at the very beginning is always a good place to dive into a new blog community, so let’s start our journey together on Freelance Writing Jobs by talking money.  After all, that’s usually the thing people are most interested in, right?

It’s hard to know how much to charge for your freelance writing services because job opportunities run the gamut in terms of pay rates.  I’ll leave the discussion about whether or not you should apply for low-paying freelance writing jobs to another day (yes, I do have an opinion about that, which I’ll share later this week).  Today, we’re going to look at freelance writing rates from the writer’s perspective.  In other words, how much money do you need to make to live on?

Truthfully, the best way to establish your freelance writing rates when you’re new to the field is to determine how much money you need to make per hour to pay your bills or meet your personal goals.  Each individual has very different needs from their writing career, so it’s impossible to compare your rates to another person’s.  Doing so is like comparing apples to oranges, and will only confuse or frustrate you.

Take the time to analyze how long it takes you to write different types of content based on the amount of information you have to complete the task and all the extraneous bits and pieces that go into completing the task (such as research, adding images, citing sources, linking, and so on).  Now, compare that amount of time with your required hourly earnings.  Do a little math to determine how much you need to charge for a specific project presented to you based on the amount of time it will take you to complete that project.  That’s the rate you need to charge for that writing gig.

Employers are used to working with writers with vastly different hourly rates based on their experience levels and abilities.  Until you know where you stand in that rates spread, use the calculation below to determine the rate you need to charge in order to make enough money to pay the bills:

# of hours it will take you to complete the project  X $ you need to make per hour to live = Project Rate

Check back later this week when I’ll talk about my views on adjusting your project rate, taking low paying writing jobs, and writing for free (don’t go crazy until you read that post).

How do you determine the rates you charge on writing projects?  Leave a comment and share your tips.

Image: stock.xchng


10 responses
  1. Paul Novak Avatar

    Although this is the often practiced procedure, I am still of the opinion that rates are TOO variable. Although it’s fine to use your own expenses and needs to build a baseline, there is too much variability in that for anything cohesive to form. As Freelancers, there are no real rules or guidelines, and we adhere to pretty much one credo, “It better be good or it wont sell”.

    I think this has resulted in way too much confusion, and although it will probably get folks to sharpening the pitchforks and lighting the torches, we more than likely need some kind of regulation. Something that will set some basic standards of quality that will help to weed out the $1.00 an article manglers and assist the hard working producers of quality.

  2. Amy Avatar

    I’m still at a loss with how much to charge. I currently work for a website as a travel writer. They set the rate themselves. I actually get paid well per project but they only allow me to complete so many projects per month so, in the end, I’m not making very much. However, I love the work so I keep at it. I recently landed a really great gig as a ghost writer for a truly amazing project. We have not worked out the terms yet and I have no idea what my terms should be. We are currently living off my husband’s income and we do ok. The bills are paid. So, where does that leave me? I want to be fair and reasonable but I also do not want to short change myself. So far I know I want to cover the cost of the sitter I’ve had to hire so I could be in meetings about the project. But where do I take it from there?

    I’m interested to see what you have to say about working for free. I’ve done it. I’ve done volunteer blogging for places like animal shelters. I enjoy the work and it all goes into my portfolio so I still feel like I’m getting something out of it. I also take low paying jobs now and then. If I have time, I’ll do it. Every little penny helps and every job keeps my writing muscle flexed.

  3. allena Avatar

    I always divide my pay by the number of hours spent on the project. When I first left the cube, I did a “shot in the dark” goal of double my cube pay (you knowm because you’re losing insurance, etc). So if I made $30 in cube pay, my goal was $60 per hour for freelance projects. Sometimes that is hit or miss– I STILL over or underestimate “how much time will this take?” but it is all aided by my spreadsheet in which I record EVERY HOUR WORKED. Then, when I am offered a job, I can look back 3 years into my spreadsheet and find a similar project and have a better guesstimate of how many hours it will take.

    1. Susan Gunelius Avatar

      Allena, I’m impressed that you have a spreadsheet that goes back 3 years. That’s a great idea, particularly for beginner writers. Thanks for sharing the tip. I’m sure readers will benefit from it!

  4. Murlu Avatar

    I think it can depend on many factors:

    Previous work with a client
    Your income you need to survive

    So it’s hard to gauge what a good price would be but I think by looking at what others are charging, factoring in your skills and what you need to do to make a living should put you on the right track for correctly pricing.

    Remember, never sell yourself short!

    1. Susan Gunelius Avatar

      Murlu, That was very well said, and I completely agree!

  5. Rob Avatar

    I wonder if anyone answers this question to their satisfaction. I know I haven’t. I started out writing online out of desperation, so I took whatever I could get. I wrote as if I was getting paid for my best work and built my portfolio and confidence from that. The money I was getting wasn’t enough to live on, so I started asking for more from new clients. That strategy worked and now I can pick and choose a little more.

    Now I’m at an impasse. As an ex-pat in a third world country, I don’t have to earn as much as someone in the U.S., the U.K. or Australia, but why shouldn’t I? On the other hand, I know I’m bidding against others who are still at the desperate stage, so I don’t want to price myself out of a job. My current solution is to up the ante again and see what happens.

    The one thing that counts, it seems to me, is to give every assignment your best effort. Those who are willing to pay for quality will only pay for it when they’ve seen it, unless you have a killer resume to back you up. Even then, I think, most people aren’t looking for War and Peace – they’re just looking for some decent, descriptive, compelling writing.

    That’s my opinion, anyway.

  6. LIsa Avatar

    I have to say I disagree with this approach to pricing. “What you need to live on” depends entirely upon your circumstances. I own a house and have two kids – does that mean my writing is worth more than the work of a single adult who is sharing an apartment with a friend?

    You don’t pay your grocery bills on the basis of the farmer’s monthly bills… nor do you pay your doctor on the basis of her desire to own a new Mercedes.

    In the business of writing, there are typical fees – though those fees vary based on location, type of business and type of product. If you, as a writer, charge half of the going rate, several things will – or may – happen.

    First, there is a good chance that a prospective client will see your rate and assume that you’re a rank amateur with no idea of what your product is worth. And they won’t hire you. I’ve had that happen more than once on projects like grant and exhibit label writing.

    Second, there is a likelihood that you will wind up making far less than you’re worth – and while you may be just able to make ends meet, you will have to work far too many hours just to earn minimum wage. In other words, you’ll wind up making less as a writer than you would flipping burgers.

    Third, of course, you MAY have a negative impact on the industry overall. This, IMO, has happened to those writers who work for pennies: they and their employers have grown accustomed to the idea that an hour of writing is worth less than minimum wage.

    My advice: find out more about the going rate for whatever it is you want to write. Intern or volunteer to build some credentials in that field. Then present yourself professionally, and charge an appropriate fee.

    Lisa Rudy

    1. Paul Novak Avatar

      You’ve hit the nail on the head Lisa.

      “This, IMO, has happened to those writers who work for pennies: they and their employers have grown accustomed to the idea that an hour of writing is worth less than minimum wage.”

      Agree 100% It has happend and is a big problem on the bidding services.

  7. Phil Avatar

    Lisa’s hit it on the head.

    What one needs to live on should go into the determination of the time you spend working, not the rates charged. I live in a higher cost area than some, but a lower cost area than others. I have one kid in college and another going next year. My rates have nothing to do with this. Basically, you set rates based on the market and the amount of work that you want — if you have too much, raise your rates. Too little, lower your rates or change what you’re doing to acquire clients at that rate.

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