To us freelancers, time really is money. So why is earning what we’re worth such a challenge?
Easy methods like charging by the word or the page seems great — until you get hosed by higher-than-average research requirements or a helicopter client who calls every hour to check on your status. Then suddenly an article that should have taken you eight hours to finish takes closer to fourteen and your fee-to-profit ratio has sailed down the drain alongside the Ty-D-Bol Man.
I know my fees on a per-hour, per-page, and per-word basis, but I rarely bid them straight up.
Alone, they almost never translate to the work an individual project will require. Instead, I use a formula I’ve refined over many years.
It accounts for multiple factors including research, client communication, and other ghostwriting tasks. I share it so you, too, can use it. And if you improve on the formula, even better ⏤ drop me a comment and let me know how.
My bidding formula
As stated, there a several key factors in accurately estimating a ghostwriting project. The five factors I account for are as follows.
- Hourly rate (HR): My rate varies from $75 to $200 an hour based on the level of expertise required, as well as turnaround time (yes, freelancers, you should charge a rush fee.
- Interviews (I): This accounts for live, in-person (phone or video) interviews. These are more often a significant factor in long-form projects than in shorter articles or blogs, but are overlooked only at the peril of one’s profit.
- Research (R):These are your Google searches, the articles you dig up in the library archives or the news clippings your client emails one-by-one like a slowly dripping faucet.
- Client communication (CC): Every email you read, every phone call you answer is an investment of your time. Plan for it.
- Hours per final page (HFP): I know how long it typically takes me to write a single page (250 words) of content. Like other freelancers, this is insight I’ve gained with experience. As I calculate by final page, I account for editing time in this number as, well. Typically, I reduce the time per page by 50 percent for each draft. For example, if I average one hour per page to write a first draft, I calculate 30 minutes per page for a second and 15 minutes per page for a third ⏤ or 1.75 hours of work per final page.
HR x ((I + R + CC) + (HFP x page estimate)) = Fixed fee estimate
HR x ((I + R + CC) + (HFP x page estimate)) / estimated word count = Fee per word estimate
Putting the formula to real use
I had a client contact me about co-writing a 50,000 word memoir.
She was an established writer and had already done significant outlining and research.
However, she was struggling to identify her core message and to gain sufficient distance from the work to tell an honest story. After discussing the work, she asked me for a fixed fee bid.
Here’s how I calculated it:
HR: $75. Knowing she was an accomplished writer in her own right, I knew that working with her was not going to be strategically or editorially heavy. I kept my hourly fees on the low end.
I: Minutes into our initial meeting I could tell that my potential client was a talker! That’s fine, I enjoyed our conversation. But it did mean that getting the information I’d need from our interviews would take longer than usual. I added 25 percent to my typical estimate for interviews.
R: The client had already done and compiled significant research, so I reduced my research hours by 25 percent.
CC: The client asked several questions about how often she could call me and how often we’d touch base. She wished to be able to pick up the phone whenever she had an idea come to mind. Again, I don’t mind that, but it does affect my estimating. I added 15 percent to my estimate.
HFP: The key challenge for this client was finding her core message, so I knew we’d have to invest time in initial outlines and drafts. However, her skill as a writer offset the additional time required for finding a message. I used my standard HFP.
75 x ((12 + 12 + 16) + (2 x 200)) = $33,000
75 x ((12 + 12 + 16) + (2 x 200)) / 50,000 = $.66 per word
Giving a client an estimate in the tens of thousands of dollars is never a breezy conversation.
However, performing due diligence in my estimates grants me the the confidence I need to defend my fee. And it gives my clients insight into the work I undertake on their behalf. Per-word and per-page fees are easy to give, but harder to defend. I feel I owe it to my clients to do better.
I’d love to hear your formula for estimating your projects. What works for you?