Value-Based Pricing: A Smarter Way to Set Freelance Writing Rates

Value-based pricing
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Want to level up as a freelance writer and start landing bigger contracts and better-paying clients? In The Creative Class, Paul shares the pricing, marketing and productivity skills he’s honed in his 16+ years of freelancing.

As writers, we’ve all been there. You talk to a potential client and they ask: “Well, what is your hourly rate?”

And if we answer, we’ve no doubt heard some variation of: “Oh, that’s a lot of money. My college buddy is a writer and he only charges half of that/my cousin charges $15 an hour/that kid down the street from me will work for Mars Bars.”

That’s because the value of the work we do as freelancers can’t simply be summed up in an hourly rate. And beyond that, the more experience we get and the faster we get with our craft, the less time we’d be able to charge for. We’d basically get punished by having to charge less simply because we can do our work more quickly.

There is another way: associating your price with your deliverables, not with the number of hours it takes to complete a project.

The basics of value-based pricing

Let’s start with two scenarios:

  1. A seasoned writer quotes a client $300 to write an article.
  2. A seasoned writer quotes a client $300 to write an article that’ll take 60 minutes to write.

In both scenarios, the article takes 60 minutes to write, but the second quote commoditizes the work and clouds the client’s judgment.

Who’d hire a writer at $300 an hour? That sounds like what you’d pay a plumber to fix your hot water tank on a holiday, after midnight!

In reality, a writer with the right experience, skills and knowledge can create a brilliant article in one hour that perfectly matches the client’s content marketing strategy. The client receives the same benefits in both scenarios, but the first connects the price with the value of the result, while the second associates the price with the time it takes to write.

Linking cost with time turns you and your skillset into a commodity. This is how Fiverr or Elance work — basically, the person who can do the work at the cheapest rate, gets that work. It also means you’re punishing yourself for working quickly and efficiently. Time-based pricing is a race to the bottom, because someone will always be willing to charge a little less per hour and undercut your rates.

Instead, why not focus on attaching cost to value, instead of to time? How much is the end result worth to the client? That way, they’re paying for your expert problem-solving skills and your ability to deliver something truly valuable.

How to start charging by value

How does this work in practice? When quoting a client’s project:

1. Break tasks down into a separate line items with individual deliverables (i.e. what the client will receive, such as new copy for an about page).

For example, if you’re a copywriter charging by value, break down the price into deliverables you’ll give a client, not by how many hours it’ll take.

You should also always include some optional pieces that other clients typically want, like additional blog posts and newsletter copy, social media share examples, newsletter automation content and/or onboarding strategy. These become negotiation points, since you don’t discount your services, but you can take off optional pieces if the client can’t afford the entire job.

2. Create a price for each deliverable (e.g. About page, $500)

While the client only ever sees the price for each deliverable, internally I know how long each will take to complete (on average, based on previous projects).

I base my pricing on a formula that’s worked for me for 15+ years. If I’m booked for more than three months in advance, for more than three months in a row, without a rate increase during the last six months, I raise my rates by 15 to 20 percent.

I’ve raised my rates 700 percent since I started working for myself in the ‘90s based on the above formula (but then again, I was charging far too little back then).

3. Since all projects require timelines, attach a timeframe to each deliverable (e.g. About page, $500, two weeks)

Don’t indicate how long the project will take to complete in terms of hours you work, but rather when you’ll be able to deliver it to the client.

I base my timelines on the average of previous projects and at least triple it. So, if I know an about page will take me three days of solid work, I quote nine days.

I do this because something always comes up to delay work. Plus, I know I’m always working on more than one project at a time. Either from life or other projects, I’ve learned the hard way that unless you pad your schedules for deliverables, you’ll always be late (which is the worst thing that can happen for a freelancer if they want their client to be happy).

If I get the work done early, instead of sending it right away, I sit on it so I can work on other projects. The client gets it when I said I would deliver it, and sometimes a tiny bit early — to under-promise and over-deliver. And, since they expect it on a certain date, they leave me to my work — whereas if I said the work would take me X hours to do, they’d be emailing me after X hours, even if that was in the middle of the night.

Laborers charge hourly — Leaders charge by value

Pricing by value instead of by time emphasizes quality and benefits, not quantity or speed. Good freelancers price their work by the value they provide to their clients, while others price by the hours they need to complete a task.

This is where some freelancers set themselves apart from others.

You can find a labourer on Fiverr or Elance who charges just a couple bucks an hour to complete a task (from web design, to copyediting 1,000 words, to rapping the lyrics you write). They’re interchangeable, too — if a client gets rid of one, they can easily swap that person out for another cheap freelancer. Laborers compete on price, and it’s a race to the bottom of the price ladder.

Leaders are respected for their skills and the unique way they transform client problems into smart solutions. Clients hire leaders specifically because of who they are. You can’t take one leader out of the equation and swap another in, since the results and problem-solving approach would vary significantly.

Leaders are teachers whose opinions support good decision-making. Leaders differentiate themselves on communication (how they understand their clients, provide solutions and apply their expertise to teach) and quality (how well they apply their expertise).

With hourly pricing, you’ve set a cap for yourself on how much you can make, since there are only so many billable hours in a day. When you remove the time it takes to complete your work from your pricing equation, you can make more money as you become more efficient and skilled.

Pricing is not a simple task. You’re not only being hired for the billable hours of completing deliverables, you’re also being tasked with solving problems. That involves communicating with the client (and possibly their audience), research, revisions, formatting, searching stock websites (or just grabbing photos from Unsplash) for articles and any number of other tasks related to the deliverables you’ve got to create.

Your price also takes into account the years you’ve spent learning your craft (either at school or through work) and the years you’ve spent working with previous clients and learning through those projects.

Remember: Your price is not just for the task at hand, but for all that you bring to the table.

To minimize the risks, and to increase your expert status, make sure you always communicate the value of your work. Demonstrate how the end result will benefit your client. Separate cost from time and focus on the final price of each deliverable.

Your client wants results and an end product, so relate what you suggest creating for them to that above all else.

Finally, what you’re “worth” isn’t what you get paid — otherwise we’d all charge ONE MILLION DOLLARS per project. And if anyone asks you to work for free, “for the exposure,” tell them that people die from exposure.

Your work is more than the number of hours you log at your desk or on your couch (hey, I don’t judge). It’s also an accumulation of learning, exploration, focus, creativity and experience that adds up over time.

How do you set your prices as a freelance writer?

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Paul Jarvis is a web designer and bestselling author who’s obsessed with nature and hairless rats. His latest book, Everything I Know, is a guide to freelancing as a creative professional (... .

Paul Jarvis | @pjrvs

Paul Jarvis
The Creative Class

Featured resource

Creative Class

Move from irregular client work and crappy pay to being a freelance leader in your field. Paul Jarvis, who’s been freelancing for 16+ years, shares his advice on pricing, positioning and more.


  1. Great reminder to pad your schedule and use the under-promise and over-deliver strategy. I’m still trying to figure out how much padding time to include. It’s tempting to promise a new client a fast turnaround time, but you’re right that doing this can turn out badly.

  2. Some great advice here, Paul, thanks. As the wise man once said: “If you’re too cheap, they’ll think you’re no ****ing good.”

  3. Best article I’ve seen on the subject. Amazing. It doesn’t make any sense for freelancers to charge hourly rates.

    You also have to remember that the person who hires you *can’t* write an article in an hour or two, even if they balk at the hourly price. You are not being paid for your time– you are being paid for what you bring to the table.

  4. Thank you for the article, Paul!
    It’s always been hard to me to choose the price wisely. So you helped me a lot with that.

  5. Hey, Paul, don’t knock a couch as a work place for writing. As I work, my butt is on the couch, my feet on the coffee table and my laptop is in my lap, where it belongs. And I can bang on it for hours, usually until a cat jumps on the keyboard demanding dinner. Thanks for the insight, by the way, I agree with you and use the same logic. One more reason for not charging by the hour is my basic laziness and a preference for setting my own hours, when I feel for it. Another problem with the hours of work is that it is very easy to go on a tangent when researching, which can be construed as time wasting, but it is oh so much fun.

  6. This is excellent advice for freelancers! Everyone should listen to Paul. I started out offering very low rates because I felt I didn’t have the experience in a copywriting position to justify asking for more – even though I had done extensive writing in other roles for several years… Once I got brave and started asking for more, especially for pieces that encompassed my industry expertise, I found out that most clients were happy to pay it. Most great organizations want quality, expert content – not junk. I now turn down clients that want “quick and dirty” content and stick with those that prefer researched, thoughtful pieces. And the best part: I’ve tripled my rates. 🙂 My best advice for anyone who is freelancing is to know your value and demonstrate it to clients – that’s the difference between being a broke freelancer and one who has a full plate of great clients.

  7. What is a good base pay to consider for a beginner? I realize it may not be a set rate, but what is selling yourself too short when you are just “learning the ropes”?

    • I would also be interested in an answer to this question. I’ve done some tech writing for my current company (which I am leaving to pursue freelancing PT), but other than that, I don’t exactly have an extensive portfolio.

      What are your thoughts, Paul, on a value-centric baseline for a new freelancer?

  8. Hey Paul, this is such a timely read for myself. I am currently a freelance writer and I am a student of the copywriting course sponsored by AWAI. What intrigues me the most about placing value on the deliverable is the fact that most people are willing to pay for quality. Regardless of experience level, one must remember the client is in need of a service they are either not qualified to do, don’t want to take the time to learn it, or is perhaps not satisfied with a previous writer, thereby automatically increasing the value of your service as a freelance writer. What do you feel about per word pricing and is that applicable in all cases?

    THanks again Paul and enjoy your day.

  9. As a freelance editor, I have found it important to KNOW my hourly rate, even when I don’t CHARGE by the hour. I found out quickly that although publishers pay freelancers by the hour for copyediting and proofreading, authors are more comfortable with flat per-project rates. (I also offer an hourly option for those who are more comfortable with that, but it’s rare.) Nonetheless, I set that flat rate after taking a look at each specific project and estimating how many hours it will take me. I scrupulously keep a log of hours spent to make sure my estimates are coming out on target, and at times have had to tweak my estimating procedures.

    Sadly, sometimes what a self-published author has budgeted for editing is not an amount that will be worth my time, and they choose to go to someone who can do it at a below-value price. (I am convinced that race-to-the-bottom sites like elance are part of the reason authors so often underbudget for editing; they have seen unrealistic prices and naively think they are the norm.)

    If I quote an hourly rate, it’s even worse, because people forget you have to cut it at least in half to know what the equivalent would be for an employee being paid for all hours worked (including marketing, bookkeeping, and vacuuming the office) and receiving benefits like health insurance and retirement contributions. If you expect to pay $15 an hour for an editor, you are essentially saying that you want your book edited by someone who could just as easily be making french fries for minimum wage. You should expect french-fry editing at that price.

    I suggest that freelance authors, especially those who are new to per-project pricing, make a habit of logging the hours spent on a project to make sure they’re not forcing themselves to do french-fry writing.

    • Samantha says:

      Dead on,Trish. You can expect to not make what you like when you start out. Even if you are an accomplished writer, if you are new to freelancing, you are new. In that case, you may know about how long a project may take to write, but consider that you won’t have the resources readily available that your former employer probably did (a library, co-workers, contacts, “history”). Trish, your comment ‘completed’ Paul’s excellent article. Kudos to both of you.

      • Thank-you for your kind words, Samantha. Much as new freelancers like the “freedom” of their new way of life, it is important to keep detailed records (including hours spent on flat-rate projects and how the rate and the time spent translate into an hourly rate), even if the record-keeping isn’t always fun.

        Trish O’Connor
        Epiclesis Consulting LLC

  10. What you all have said is correct . I am new to freelance and I just spent nine hours researching and writing two articles for about 750 words , and the offer was nothing much to say about . So I am back to exploring the field and hoping to gather experience on the way . Thanks for putting my mind at ease especially with what we bring at the table.

  11. Paul Jarvis is always clear, coherent and concise!

    ENJOYED this article…

    Thanks Paul 🙂

  12. Of course, I see this post minutes after I post mine. Dude – this awesome. Adding it to my blog as something to read.

  13. Jeff Peterson says:

    Thanks for the informative article! I, like Treva in the post here, am a beginner when it comes to having to make bids or proposals for jobs. I’ve been told there are websites out there that can give me a general idea of what fees to ask for for assignments, but I’m not even really certain where to go with that, to be honest. I do like the idea of just charging a flat-rate for each article, and don’t like the idea of charging per hour at all. I would appreciate any information that could help me to see where others are at in terms of setting a flat rate for, say, a 500 word article. Any help would be appreciated!

  14. Fantasic article, really useful tips. I recently started charging rates per project vs rates per hour since I now have a good idea of how long certain projects take. I think it also makes you seem more professional than quoting hourly. Great tip on padding the deliverables timeline, will start doing that…thanks!

  15. I’m not an expert writer but I’m with you. No peanuts rate for writers from now and forever, whoohoo!

  16. Great pricing strategy! I am really struggling with applying this (or any pricing?)to an atypical project I am being asked to quote:

    Subcontracted by Social Media Consultant (whose client is a self-published children’s author) to social media services including:

    1) Initial Research: Target Markets with a social media presence, Curating Content Sources, People/Businesses to follow

    2) 2 social media posts per day, M-F (including, but not limited to, linked content of value to target market, “snippet teases” from authors’ book, Posts in the voice of book characters, retweets

    There are many more posts/articles about NOT outsourcing social media, than there are about what to charge for these services. How would I convert an hourly copywriting rate of $55 to something like this, or should this project even be priced with that rate in mind?

    Appreciate any feedback.

    • Wendy, I suggest, given that you already have a sense of the hourly rate that is worth your time, that you make your bid by timing yourself performing the tasks involved, figure out about how much time the project will take, and multiply by your hourly rate.

      This technique does require you to invest some time in preparing an estimate without any guarantee of getting the job, but it’s the method I developed after being burned a few times with projects that turned out to be more time-consuming than I expected.

      Good luck!

      Trish O’Connor
      Freelance Editorial Services
      Epiclesis Consulting LLC

    • Wendy,

      (My apologies if this is a duplicate post, but the first one didn’t seem to take.)

      I suggest, given that you already know what hourly rate is worth your time, that you prepare your bid by first timing yourself performing the various tasks involved, then figuring out how many hours you expect the total project to take. Multiply by your desired hourly rate, and add about 15% to give you a safety margin (things always take longer than expected, I find), and also to give you a little wiggle room for negotiation.

      This method does involve an investment of time without any guarantee that the bid will be accepted, but I went to this technique after being burned a few times on projects that took longer than I expected. Don’t lowball yourself!

      Good luck!

      Trish O’Connor
      Freelance Editorial Services
      Epiclesis Consulting LLC

  17. You’ve made some excellent points Paul. I’ve been working as a freelance writer for nearly 10 years, and have always charged by the project / write-up.
    Thanks for the informative article!

  18. Aargh! Why didn’t I see this article yesterday? Today I was asked to give an hourly rate for a writing project. I debated, I researched, I finally settled on something (I’m back in the game after being years out). After reading this article, I wish I had requested a project fee. I could have still figured out what I want to earn per hour and estimated how long the project would take and come up with the fee that way. I know this particular employer likes an hourly quote so he can bill it back to his client (I’m a sub-contractor), but I think in the end a project fee would have made his cost analysis and billing easier, since it’s a project with a budget cap. Anyway, Paul, I’ll take your advice on the next go-round. It’s solid. Thanks.

  19. No one (untill now) has been able to clearly explain why to charge by the project.

    Leaders price Value, wheras Labourers price time. . .
    “Pricing by value instead of by time emphasizes quality and benefits, not quantity or speed. Good freelancers price their work by the value they provide to their clients”

    Let’s value time and NOT time the value!


  1. […] Like when is the best time to send emails or schedule meetings (Fast Company has the scoop) or how to price your services effectively (Paul Jarvis shares his system over at The Write […]

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