How Much Should You Charge as a Freelance Writer?

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Freelance writers are in high demand today. From content writers writing articles geared towards SEO to copywriters creating compelling sales copy that drives sales, businesses are more comfortable than ever when it comes to outsourcing writing services.

While that’s good news for freelance writers, it means writers also need to be prepared to make decisions about how to charge. There are many models out there, but three are the most popular because customers are familiar with them. Read on to learn more about each one and decide if it’s right for you.

Also see: The 9 Skills It Needs to Succeed as a Freelance Writer

Charge by the hour

Most new freelance writers conveniently start out on an hourly rate when coming from other industries. Whether you last had an office job or some other position, you were probably paid by the hour or had a pay rate that converted to an hourly rate.

Hourly rates work well for beginning freelance writers because those writers don’t yet know how long it will take them to write a blog post, a social media caption, or even a book. Setting a modest hourly rate can get you started, but it’s also difficult to bill hourly since clients almost always have a budget or fixed rate in mind for writing.

A client who has to choose between an author who charges $100 flat rate for a blog and someone who charges $40/hour without any clarity as to how many hours it will take them to complete the work is just leading to confusion. When the $40 writer takes six hours to complete the piece, the client may feel taken advantage of. Therefore, authors should always provide a range or ceiling based on their best estimate of how long it would take, such as:

  • “I charge $40/hour and estimate this will take 3-4 hours.”
  • “I charge $40/hour and expect to spend several hours working on it.”

This makes hourly rates both easily accessible for freelancers and more difficult for clients who don’t really know how long certain projects take. So while it can be a decent place to start, the goal for new freelance writers should be to track how long it took them to do something so they can turn that into a flat fee.

See Also: Start a Side Job as a Freelance Writer with the Help of These 12 Workshops

Charging through the project

Once you know what you’re doing, the easiest way to bill is by project. This eliminates hours of trading dollars on the freelancer’s side. It also helps the customer to know the maximum amount they will pay for in the first place.

Charging flat rate or per project is the hardest for beginners as it is very easy to undercharge, especially if you are not familiar with writing the length in question. It takes a different amount of work to write a 4,000-word white paper than a 1,000-word blog post.

As you write, consider all of the work you’ll put in to arrive at a finished piece, which may include:

  • Choice of topics or keywords
  • To research
  • structure
  • interview people
  • read transcripts
  • composition
  • editing
  • Add bells and whistles like links, images, or captions

In order to calculate a fair project price, a writer needs to know which of the above tasks apply to the project at hand and be able to estimate them fairly quickly. It’s a bit easier for an experienced writer who can look back on several projects in this regard. But it’s not that easy for a newbie. Newbies may be better off working on hourly projects with varying hours, or taking on shorter/easier parts so they don’t lose as much by getting their prices wrong.

For example, maybe you quote $75 for your first blog post, but quickly realize after a project that depending on the time and effort involved, you should have asked for more. This is far better than taking on a $5,000 project and realizing that you have significantly undercalculated, because at that point you are committed to a massive project and the pain of being cut off cuts much deeper.

loading by the word

In the world of journalism, and even in some digital businesses, billing by the word is most prevalent. This method works well when the client has a variety of projects in play for you and they all have different lengths. You may find that you need 3,000 words to cover a topic in depth. You get paid for every word you write. On the other hand, if you upfront an article with 2,500 words but give up 3,000, in most cases the customer will not agree to increase your price to reflect this.

The word keeps the math simple and is popular with agency models because they can pay many writers the same price per word but still allow for some of those customizations in projects based on length.

See also: 4 mistakes to avoid when working as a freelance writer

Reasons for switching from hourly to project and word rates

The bottom line is that there is no wrong way to start charging for your work as a freelance writer. More experienced freelancers prefer not to bill by the hour as this represents a subtle but important value shift: at project/word rates, your clients are paying for your expertise, not your time.

When I started freelancing, it took longer. Over time I developed systems, invested in software and generally got faster at what I was doing. I didn’t want to be penalized for going faster. Likewise, a “slow” freelance writer shouldn’t feel pressured to go faster because a client thinks four hours is too long to write an article.

Whether it takes you two or ten hours to complete the project is none of their business. Avoiding the hourly route also eliminates the possibility of a customer arguing with you about how long it “should” take to get something done. Your perceptions could be wrong based on your systems and processes, and by instead shifting the value perspective to the finished product at a flat rate or price per word, you can focus on meeting deadlines rather than feeling like you have to justify how long it took or did not take you.

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