Ah yes … we work for money, don’t we.
And we should. After all, you wouldn’t choose to spend your afternoon writing a press release announcing ACME Balloon Rental’s new vice president of inflation instead of working on your novel, would you? Nor would you pop out of bed in the morning thinking, “Finally, today I get to write a brochure about widgets instead of finishing my screenplay!”
The fact is, as freelance writers, we work to eat, and to eat, we must charge for our work. But there’s the rub: What should we charge?
Let’s cut to the chase. I currently base my fees on $75 per hour for anything clients ask me to do, whether it’s writing, ghostwriting or editing. It doesn’t matter whether it’s for a brochure, Web site, book, press release or what. It’s $75 per hour. (That rate is higher than some writers charge and less than others charge. The geographical market has a lot to do with it.)
My fees are almost never discussed when I work with repeat clients. They know what to expect and seem to be okay with it. If it looks like a project is going to cost more than the client is used to, I bring this up for approval. The last thing I want is to give a good client an unpleasant surprise when he or she opens my bill.
My fees are always discussed with new clients. I usually don’t tell them what I charge per hour. That really tells them little, because it’s only half of the equation. One writer might take five hours to do the project while another would take 10 hours. So simply saying “I charge $75 per hour” means nothing. That’s why with new clients I estimate what I would charge for a project, based on all the information I have been given. I also let the client know to expect changes in the estimate if the project’s parameters change midstream. An up-front estimate eliminates sticker shock when the client receives the invoice. (By the way, you could call it a “bid,” but I like “estimate” because it seems a bit more pliable.)
Ultimately, of course, you can only charge what the market will bear, but the fee structure I’ve just described has worked for me for years. I have, of course, periodically raised my rate.
Don’t be afraid to turn down clients who aren’t willing to pay you what you’re worth. If you keep saying yes to these people, you will get locked into a low-level of clientele and will always be underpaid. Believe me, there are companies and individuals out there who are willing to pay the price for a good writer. If you are a good writer, you just have to find them. But you won’t find them if you’re swamped with jobs that keep you perpetually unpaid and overworked.
I have a pet peeve: writers who low-ball their rates just to get work. They make life difficult for other hardworking, professional freelancers, and ultimately they cut their own throats. I recently went online to check out what writers were charging and being offered for online articles and content. I was appalled and frankly infuriated to read that some online publishers were offering 1/10th of one cent per word! Once cent per word was fairly standard. That sort of compensation is a slap in the face to serious writers, and any writer who accepts it is doing real damage to the profession as a whole.
Let’s put things in perspective: Yesterday a garage door repairman charged me $89 to fix one of our garage door openers. He spent – I’m not exaggerating – less than five minutes! The day before, my sister paid a plumber $180 to fix a leaking connection. He spend just over 30 minutes on the job. And they’re asking writers to work for maybe $2 per hour? And some writers will do it? I can’t think about this without wanting to break something.
One last thought. Some writers wonder whether to charge on a per-word basis. This may work for magazine articles and the like, but is lunacy for most types of projects. It doesn’t take into account the time you might spend on research and in meetings, or the approval process and other variables. I once spent three days in meetings and creative time to come up with a small college’s three-word billboard headline. Had I charged per word, I would have had to charge over $400 per word. Had I told the client that I would charge $400 per word, I wouldn’t have landed the job. But telling them that I would charge about $1200 for three days of work seemed reasonable to them. And it was. In fact, it was a steal. They used the headline for years in all their marketing materials.
In my dreams, I regularly get $400 per word for 2,000-word travel articles … in my dreams