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Fees – It Does Matter What Others Charge! A Guest Article

In the post called Setting Your Freelance Writing Fees – Part 3 – So, What’s The Number? I quoted Angela Booth’s It really doesn’t matter what others are charging. Truly, saying I agreed with her. Ron Lewis disagreed in a comment I’ve up leveled, with his permission, to a guest post:

Oh my, here’s a touchy subject. I think Angela Booth is crazy to claim it doesn’t matter what others charge. If I’m an aspiring playwright bidding on a project, and Pradeep Shakespeare is available at 2 rupees per word, how is my confidence in my ability going to make that employer pay me more? As if the sheer power of our personalities can make an employer throw money away.

Does everyone understand that writers/marketing people are over-represented in the current corporate lay-offs? If you use the freelance job (bidding) boards, haven’t you noticed how many more bids each project is receiving? The creative staffing firms here in Dallas are shutting down or seriously downsizing. My thoughts:

While it may feel good to pound some hypothetical rate out of your calculator, and work through the rationalization you hope to make to that frugal employer, I wouldn’t bother. The employer could care less about your living expenses, etc. The market and your ability to compete in it determine the rate you will be able to charge.

This is standard Marketing 101 stuff — what will the market pay for what you have to offer. For example, you may be the greatest writer, but without a portfolio, no one will pay you like one. You may have a great portfolio, but if you are horrible at marketing, you won’t earn top dollar.

On the other hand, you can be a lousy writer and still charge top dollar — if you know how to market (believe me, I see it all the time). The sad fact is, because many of our employers can’t write well, they also can’t recognize good writing and will hire a hack with a good sales pitch.

No, in my opinion, to set your rates, you start by figuring out what you can sell. You can fantasize about what you’re worth all you want, but go out there and pitch yourself at enough employers and the market will tell you what you’re worth.

Ideally, if you have the financial means, you start out chasing high paying work and drop your prices until steady work starts coming in. Without financing, you should probably start low, to get some income coming in, and work your way up as you can — but don’t expect first clients to start paying you more. You have to keep chasing higher-paying clients.

Your living expenses, self esteem, etc. only factor in after the market sets your rate. If you can’t live on the rate you can earn (my situation) or your pride can’t stand being low-paid (fortunately, mine can), then you may have to change careers — or slowly go broke, as I am. LOL

On second thought, no, all the rest of you competi-…er, I mean writers, just set your rates at what you think you deserve.

Good Luck!

Ron Lewis


What do you say, does it matter what others charge? Why or why not?


{ 24 comments… add one }
  • Damien Balderrama

    I believe at some point we have to think about our on self worth. Or as I like to call my philosophy of EQUITY and it simply says this: “I must first appraise my own self worth, before life will pay me any rightful dues”

    Anne I Thank You for your work here, I would still be lost in my journey as an aspiring Writer had I not found Your website. At least now I have more knowledge into freelance writing. Hopefully soon I’ll get an actual gig to bring more experience. Despite what it pays, I just want my work published to get it out there.

    Knowing what I’ve learned here though, I won’t sell myself short.

  • Just to add to Karl’s last point, if you’re writing novels, it’s all the more important that you get used to rejections. Most novelists hear the word “no” many, many times before they hear the word “yes.”

    You shouldn’t beat yourself up over rejection, whether you’re writing marketing material, articles or novels. It’s nothing personal in any case. And you can’t let it stop you.
    .-= Debbi´s last blog ..Quotation for the Week of July 5 =-.

    • Anne

      It’s true, and not just about novels either…

  • Having been an ICT consultant for over 15 years, I recall a mentor giving me a piece of advice that has held true for many years.

    Never charge for time. Charge what it is worth to the client. If it is not worth enough to the client to make it worth while for you, then don’t take the contract.

    Now, as I start moving into freelance writing, I see no difference in this approach. Sure, you will be undercut many times. But it is a numbers game, the more people you talk to, the more you will likely get a contract at the rate you want.

    Rejection is pretty irrelevant in business. Unless you are writing your own novel or similar to get published, you have no reason to take it personally or beat yourself up about it.

    • Anne

      Well said, Karl. Totally off topic, I’ve sailed with Kiwis in the south pacific… 😉

  • Anne – my mother tongue is English, but I am also extremely fluent in French. I am from Quebec, where 90 percent of the population speaks French as a first language, so Anglophones are in the minority. Most government services, etc are provided primarily in French.

    In addition to my freelance writing, I do a lot of translating work as a result of my fluency in both language. As someone who has worked in a second language for many years, I understand where Tini is coming from.

    Benjamin Hunting’s last blog post..How To Protect Your Car From Mice

  • admin

    Benjamin, now I’m curious… what’s your mother tongue and what’s your second language?

    Tini, yes, the net is double edged, sometimes I think even triple or more edged. otoh, your in the Phillippines, I’m in the US (San Diego) and Benjamin’s site says he moves between Boston in the US and Montreal in Canada… without the ‘net I’d have never heard of either of you… my life is richer because we meet here.

  • That’s true about the Internet. But many of my latest clients either are people I’ve met or been referred by people I’ve met. I’ve also done business with people around the country (in my case, the U.S.) who I’ve never seen. But some of my best work has come from personal referrals.

    So all is not lost for us here in the states. 🙂

    Debbi’s last blog post..Quotation for the Week of March 15

  • Tini Abadicio

    You have a point. I guess in a country like the Philippines (where I am) where the dollar can buy more than if spent in the US, you can afford to lower your rates. But that’s competition, I guess, and lower price for comparable work quality will always have an edge. The Internet truly is a double-edged sword.

  • Tini – as someone who works in more than one language, I didn’t mean to disparage non-native speakers. I am obviously only a native speaker in one of the languages I work in. I understand that quality work can be performed in a second or third language.

    My comment was connected to the pricing issue. A considerable portion of online writers live and work in countries where their cost of living is low enough to compete on price with writers who live in areas with a higher cost of living. As has been stated elsewhere in these posts, it is far better to establish what your own time is worth and compete on the value you can bring to a project, rather than just price alone.

    I myself grew up in a part of the world where my mother tongue was considerably in the minority, and I spoke a second language every day of my life for over 25 years – so please, don’t think I was criticizing those who work in a second language.

    Benjamin Hunting’s last blog post..How To Protect Your Car From Mice

  • Thanks, Hillary. I just believe we’re all in this together. The more we share these tips, the better we’ll all do–I’m convinced of that.

    The networking group I joined is called NRG–Network Referral Group. They’re Web site is http://www.networkreferralgroup.com/, if you want to read about how they work. It’s a mid-Atlantic organization and I don’t know where you are, but I’ve also heard of one called BNI–http://www.bni.com/–they’re a little more formal, but may cover a larger geographic area.

    Oh, and I realized later I’d totally miscalculated. Did I say I tripled my investment? A gross understatement. I sat down with a calculator and did the math, and I earned back almost 20 times what I paid to join the group (obviously, numbers aren’t my strong suit :)). And a lot of it came from one client I collaborated with, who has become a happy repeat customer.

    One of the things I did for this client was write a video script. It was the first one I’d ever written and it was so much fun, so different. I could have shied away from the project because it was something new for me, but instead I decided to embrace the opportunity. And, boy, am I glad I did! This is why I say you should go forth and market with confidence. Because chances are, you’re capable of more than you think.

    Debbi’s last blog post..What’s a Writer Worth? A Lot

  • Hillary

    Debbi, you’re awesome–thanks a ton! Quick question: what do you mean by “joined a networking group”? Can you suggest anything like that that I might be able to get into?

  • Hi Hillary,

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t be freelancing if you’re not a marketing genius or 100% successful. I know I’m not. 🙂 I’m just saying that if you’re going to succeed at freelancing you better get used to marketing. All the time.

    Frankly, I stunk at marketing when I first started out. But I caught on pretty quick that if you don’t market yourself, people won’t know about you, let alone have a reason to hire you, if they do.

    How you market depends on the kind of freelancing you’re doing. If you’re doing a lot of article writing, get to know the pubs, start sending queries and establish relationships with editor. If you’re doing business writing, get out and network with businesses you’d like to have as clients–again, establish relationships with people. (Notice I used that word twice. Relationships are crucial in this business.)

    Instead of telling people “I’m the best” (a self-serving statement that amounts to puffery), listen to what people want or anticipate their needs and tell them how you can help them. It’s all about what you can do for them, not how many degrees you have or awards you’ve won or whatever yardstick of your own worth you’ve assigned yourself.

    We also don’t all do the same thing. We have different strengths and weaknesses as freelancers. We all bring different types of expertise to the table. If you’re particularly good at one or two types of writing or subjects, you can establish a niche(s). Expertise gives you latitude to charge more for your work. It also serves to focus your marketing efforts.

    Frankly, you don’t need a huge budget to do this. I joined a networking group for $400 a year and, in less than a year, I’ve at least tripled my investment on it from the work I got out of it.

    Finally, marketing well is in large part a matter of perception. Don’t act like you have no value or that you’re a commodity; act confident that you provide a valuable service. You do. For good or ill, those who project the image that they’re good do better than those who don’t, regardless of talent–it’s one of those unfair facts of life.

    Final story: I once wrote an article about a business for a local newspaper. The article brought the woman who owned the business so many clients, it stunned me when she told me. In fact, she said, people were quoting the article to her.

    That was a lesson in the value that I could provide to a client. What was that article worth to her? I would say it was worth plenty. Had I been doing it for her as a marketing piece (instead of the publication, for pretty bad money), I would have been right to charge for the value it provided her.

    I’m sorry for turning this comment into a blog post, but I hope it’s been helpful. You did ask for suggestions. 🙂

    Debbi’s last blog post..Quotation for the Week of March 8

  • Hillary

    Debbi, I agree with most of what you say, but I think it’s harsh to say “you probably shouldn’t be freelancing.” Even a marketing goddess can only do so much with 1) a flooded market of competitors all selling more or less the same thing; 2) lack of sufficient funding to do a larger marketing campaign for her business; 3) “beginner” status (again, not necessarily connected to “beginner” skill level). I agree that a lot of it is, of course, marketing: I also agree with someone else who’d written above that clients often don’t write well themselves, and really have no way of judging an “experienced” writer who simply has a lot of web presence (marketing) from someone who is perhaps a better editor/writer.

    Debbi, what would you (or anyone else who is reading this) recommend as “good” marketing strategies? Everyone says, “I’m the best”–even when they’re not–and it’s apparently hard to be heard over the din.

  • It matters what other people charge, but you have to view your rates in context. Some clients expect to be charged more than a minimal amount. In fact, if you’re willing to work for too little, it may send the wrong message (that you’re sub-par, lack confidence, etc.).

    If you’re no good at marketing and selling people on the notion that you’re writing is worth paying more for, you probably shouldn’t be freelancing.

    Determine how much you want to make and a rate that will get you there. Compare with others who provide your services. If you need to build a portfolio, make your rates no higher than average. If you have experience, charge more and sell your work based on the value your writing offers the client. The value is real and writers should be compensated for that.

    Debbi’s last blog post..Quotation for the Week of March 8

  • Tini Abadicio

    Oh, and by the way, I’m a non-native speaker. I have seen several unfavorable comments about non-native speakers and the quality of their work, and I admit to feeling some resentment. I have seen the work of quite a few native English speakers and I wonder at their really basic grammatical mistakes that I wouldn’t dream of committing in my highschool English class, written or spoken. So what I’m saying is please don’t generalize, especially in the freelancing world. You just don’t know who might be watching.

  • Tini Abadicio

    I completely agree with Ron Lewis on this. You need to be competitive in your rates to get the jobs. If you are a good writer and can keep deadlines, your employer will want to keep you especially if your work compares favorably with the competition. However, while market forces are definitely a major consideration, you also need to keep in mind what you are willing to give up. Time is money, and timing is crucial. While you’re slaving away at low-paying projects, you could be passing up on juicier deals that you just can’t, in all honor, accept because you have made a commitment to another employer. You also need to consider whether the employer is someone you want to keep, because there are some employers who squeeze every last drop from you and still complain. Weigh the pros and cons depending on your priorities. With a market this tight, you might have to consider getting a day job.

  • Yes, I do believe it matters what others charge. I am not new to writing, but I am somewhat new to freelance on the internet. I have seen some ads for writing jobs that I couldn’t believe people actually took on for the amount of money they were paid. Come on! $1.00 for a 500 word article? And then they always add — “there better not be any mistakes in spelling or grammar and it should make sense or we will not pay you! ” I am a very broke person with lot of bills to pay, but in the time it would take me to write a 500 page article for $1.00, I could have my laundry and dishes done, which I know is worth well over $1.00 to the other people that live in my house. Thanks for letting me vent. I’ve been wanting to for months now.

  • admin

    Hillary, all true, but you can also make a name for yourself with excellence and marketing… marketing, however, is key. And when I think about it, how else would folks find me to hire me?

    Benjamin, yes, after you’ve got a few articles or whatever under your belt that are well written, there’s really no need to take the low pay work imo.

  • It also makes a difference which clients you target. Some clients will always, always be looking for the lowest possible price for their writing needs. I don’t market myself to these buyers. I market myself to clients who require well-written work that meets the expectations of their readers. These clients are willing to pay for writing that they know is well-researched and won’t require grammatical or any other form of correction before they can use it on their web sites, in their publications, or in their business materials.

    Clients in this second group would never dream of outsourcing to a non-native speaker, unless they had reams of recommendations and a healthy portfolio. So I think it’s important to keep in mind that while your prices are indeed higher than the bottom of the market, if you position your marketing attention correctly you will never have to compete with the bottom of the market.

  • Hillary

    This has been a tough one for me. Looking around at others’ rates, I see very low, I see very high, but one thing remains constant: the fact that a rate does not necessarily reflect competence or quality, nor do “years of experience” guarantee any improvement in one’s skills. I think too often we equate experience with skill, and although they’re often connected, they’re certainly not always connected. What I find truly irritating are the “experienced, ‘expert’ editors” whose websites, blogs, etc., have so many mistakes and just plain ol’ bad writing–and yet they have huge portfolios. Yes, it embitters me to the freelance editing field: it seems to be very much a matter of marketing and getting one’s name known. It’s too bad that a name might bring in the money, but it doesn’t guarantee quality.

  • admin

    I’d only add that if it turns out you can’t write well, that will out and you won’t get repeat customers or decent recommendations and referrals. But yeah, I’m one of brain surgeons of ghostwriting 😉

  • Nobody asks for the cheapest brain surgeon. If you can become an expert or specialist in your field, you can charge more. People stop paying the ‘market rate’ or minimum wage and start paying for what you know and the sense of reassurance they get from hiring someone who they KNOW is going to do a good job. People will pay to reduce risk, to meet deadlines, to reduce their own workload, to get expert insight, to benefit from experience. None of these things are reflected your word count but they are nonetheless valuable. Curiously, setting a reasonably high price can go a long way to creating the impression that you are an expert. Taking a ‘Trusted Advisor’ approach to the relationship also helps (see David Maister’s book of the same name). In addition, a healthy income and profit margin gives you the time to actually become an expert and do a superb job as well as weeding out the cheapskate and freepitching clients. So my prescription: charge twice the market rate, do half as much work but twice as good. Let your competitors fight for the scraps.

    Matthew Stibbe’s last blog post..Writing tools: concentration timer

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