Here’s a Better Way to Set Your Freelance Writing Rates

Here’s a Better Way to Set Your Freelance Writing Rates

When you first get started as a freelance writer, you charge whatever you think is “normal.”

In the process of determining that rate, you consider the pay scale of jobs you’ve worked in the past, consult industry pricing sheets, and read every “How much should I charge?” resource you can get your hands on.

And after reading all of those blogs and getting pep talks from the best writers out there… you still turn around and charge $15 or $20 an hour for all kinds of writing services.

I know why you do it. I was there. I started my writing business charging $35 an hour and I felt pretty darn lucky to get the business that came in (and, truth be told, I was indeed lucky to get it because I was just getting started).

Because no matter how many articles I read telling me to charge more, I never quite understood why I should charge more, or how I should go about it.

Well, new writers, your day has come! Here’s a look at the real consequences of charging $20 an hour to write and how to make the switch to a more profitable rate you deserve.

What’s a minimum writing rate?

The truth of the matter is that a minimum writing rate is however low you’ll go when you need money.

It’s important to know that number for business purposes, but using that number to guide your pricing is a huge mistake. It points the nose of your plane at the ground and limits your ability to earn from the get-go.

For some, it’s thrilling to surpass the minimum wage at $15 per hour, and it beats unemployment. Many others, including myself, realize after a few months that charging this low rate is not the equivalent of a full-time writing job, and is simply not sustainable.

Beyond the threat of going out of business because you aren’t making enough, charging too little makes freelancing stressful and hard. It makes you work overtime, and on projects (and with people) who don’t feed your love of writing.

If you love freelancing and you are getting great feedback from your clients, the time has come to raise your rate. But trust me, if you go from $20 to $100 an hour, you’ll lose all your clients.

So how do you do it without alienating the people you want to work with?

What’s better than hourly?

Here’s the rub: Raising your prices when you work hourly is extremely difficult. Going from $20 an hour to $50 an hour will feel like an unwarranted hike for your clients and you’ll feel the need to justify every dollar of that increase.

And worse yet? It still won’t help you achieve the freedom you want to achieve. Even charging $100 per hour (which few clients will pay for writing) won’t disengage you from the need to be active in your business 40 hours per week, because of all the unpaid time spent invoicing, marketing, paying taxes, and hunting down new work.

All hourly pricing turns your time into a commodity. Instead, you need to shift to the most profitable way of charging for you and the most convenient form of billing for your clients: Value or project-based pricing.

Making the Shift to Project Pricing

When switching your current clients from a low hourly rate to an equivalent project rate, you don’t have to make it a huge deal. Simply translate how much you are billing your client hourly right now and match it with the tasks you’re performing. Then round up to get a “project rate” for the assignment.

For example, let’s say you’ve been writing four blog posts for a company at $20 an hour and you’ve been invoicing four-to-six hours each month for the past few months for a total invoice of $120. Simply take the six-hour rate ($120) and turn it into a per-post rate of $40 for each of the four posts.

Boom, you have a project rate.

Here’s a simple email template you can use to switch your clients to a project rate in that scenario:

Hello Client,

Thank you so much for paying [most recent invoice]! I really enjoyed working on this project, and I can’t wait to get started on [next assignment].

Regarding my future invoicing, I am shifting my business to a project rate model. This won’t affect our relationship very much — in fact, this will make it easier for you to predict your invoice each month and we won’t have to track pesky hours all the time.

Instead of charging $20 per hour, I’ve analyzed the data from our invoices the past few months and set an equivalent project rate of $40 per post. Moving forward, I’ll bill at this itemized rate so you can know exactly what you’re getting into with each new project.

Let me know if you have any questions — I’ll be happy to discuss this with you over the phone!

Sincerely,

[You]

Now that you have this project rate established, you can start implementing the secrets all high-earning freelance writers use to maximize their income: Learn to write faster (thereby increasing your hourly income) and (over time, of course) raise your project rate so you make more with each project.

You can also pitch new kinds of more valuable work (email copywriting, white papers, and website copywriting) at a higher project rate, thereby avoiding the discussion of hourly rates altogether as you grow your business.

Why should people pay writers this much?

One of the deepest issues writers have with charging a high rate is confidence in what you do. You naturally love to write, after all, so who are you to charge for something that comes easily to you?

I cry baloney!

Listen: Businesses make money selling ideas to their customers. Those ideas are expressed in words on their marketing material, websites, blogs, and product descriptions. Therefore, the only way any of these businesses ever makes money is…

You got it. Through the words they use.

If a business is successful or unsuccessful, it’s because it is communicating its value — with words — to clients who agree to buy. If you’re a part of that process, you’re a valuable business asset that is worth investing in — and paying more than $20 an hour.

And if you can help a business understand this process by pricing your rates according to the value you bring, they will begin to understand why investing in the best writer for the job at a market project rate is in their best interest.

Do you absolutely have to stop charging $20 per hour for your writing? Only if you want to stay in business.

Take this post as an opportunity to sit down and think through your pricing strategy so you can get on track to succeed as a freelance writer today.

What strategies have you used to determine or raise your freelance writing rates?

Filed Under: Freelancing
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13 comments

  • Tal Valante says:

    Great advice, Sarah. Raising per-hour rates always raises objections from existing clients, which are smoothed away by the transition to a per-project model.

    Per-project also gives you more freedom: you can create higher-quality work much faster without feeling like you’re being ripped off.

  • Alicia Dara says:

    Sarah, this is fantastic! I’m going to share it with my writing clients and let them sit with it for awhile. Seeing this concept spelled out simply, the way you’ve done here, is going to have a big impact on them. Great work!

  • Robert says:

    Rates are probably one of the most difficult things to figure out as a freelancer. You want to charge what you’re worth but not too much. It can create a major headache for the freelancer. The trick is to do the research on what others may be charging.

  • Megan Nye says:

    Awesome advice, Sarah! I’ve absolutely found that per-project pricing is the way to go. Tracking hours is a huge headache, and billing is so much more uncomplicated with a project-based fee. Thanks for your advice!

  • Gaines says:

    I have heard the same advice many different times and while I agree to an extent, I do not follow it and it has made me all the difference (a Robert Frost reference…as in you are actually suggesting people take the populated road).

    I have come to the realization, after more than a decade as a freelancer, that pricing is complicated. I have priced by the project before, but it doesn’t really work for me or my niche. I say this because I want simplicity and a set hourly rate gives that to me. Also, it doesn’t mean that I short change myself.

    For example, auto mechanics charge an hour for a brake job that they may finish in 20 minutes. I charge based on past experience, but I may actually finish a project earlier. I make this possibility known to my clients and tell them I will stick to the original estimate. For example, I will tell a client that it takes me X hours to finish a 1500-2000 word article based on experience. If I finish early (I am very rarely over) my client understands and pays based on my estimate. I make sure and estimate as close to the actual time as possible (being ethical is very important if you want to retain clients) and am actually given bonuses for finishing early many times.

    So, I basically charge a flat rate per hour and then provide a consistent timeline for the completion of the piece based on experience. I look to fill at least 25 hours per week (100 per month) and I am very satisfied with the money I make.

    I guess what I am saying is that your solution works in some cases, but I find that mine works better for me. I think freelancers find what works for them based on a number of factors (niche, type of projects they do, where they live – I charge less because I live in an area of the country that has a very very low cost of living, etc). Pricing, I should say best pricing, is not as simple as per project or per hour. It is all about maximizing your standard of living…at least it is for me. And I find that per hour pricing works best.

    • Ian Anderson says:

      Agree, it certainly makes for a less stressful day too. You can concentrate on the job in hand and not whether you’re making money or not.
      I worked for decades on fixed prices, but find that now people want to hire me without a real fixed end point and they love the flexibility of just being able to leave me a list of things that need doing. And I like the fact that when I’m at work I’m being paid well and I don’t need to worry about how long something tricky is taking…..

  • Ian Anderson says:

    I already on ‘fixed prices’ in my business and often quote against others, but when pressed about prices (I’m not cheap but I care about what I do) I always ask the question…

    Why would you accept the lowest bid?

    Do you do that when you go to a restaurant or into a car showroom? No? Great, that means you understand the relationship between the cost of time and materials and how that relates to the final quality of the job. Doing a great job costs more than a shoddy one. It’s simple really.

    The customers you want always get it. The ones who don’t would only bring you pain anyways. Let the ones who want to lay the least go with the lowest bidders, then everyone is happy!

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  • I moved to a country where the costs of living is low. Being a writer I can write from anywhere in the world. So Currently I have no fixed home address and live as a nomadic blogger and writer. That makes it easier to get by on a lower rate.

    But for me it depends on subject and time. Some jobs are easy done and I do not want to over charge, so I set my rate accordingly.

  • Kathleen says:

    My biggest issue is what to charge. I started by looking at the Editorial Freelance Association rates and went by that. I thought it was fair. The bottom line amount is $30 an hour for a simple proofread. I tell people that rate for writing and they STILL think it’s too much! How do you get potential clients to see that it is a fair rate for what you do? I don’t even want to consider raising rates given I’ve had potential clients walk away when I say I charge $30 an hour.

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