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6 Reasons Why I Can’t Tell Writers How Much To Charge

frustrationWhen I get emails from freelance writers asking my what they should charge for whatever they’re currently talking with a client about I want to tear my hair out. I know I’m not always gracious in my response – maybe that’s okay.

Here are the 6 top reasons I can’t tell you how much to charge for your freelance writing.

  1. I haven’t talked with the client. Which means I don’t know the real scope of the work. Sure, you can tell me the client wants a 400 word blog post, but that doesn’t let me know things like if research is needed and who will do it. It doesn’t tell me what the approval process is. And I don’t have a sense of what the client wants and chances are you can’t communicate that to me adequately.
  2. I don’t know the ‘going rate’ for many kinds of writing. Okay, I’ve convinced you I’m an expert on freelance writing. And while I reject the idea that there’s anything like a specific ‘going rate’ it’s also true that in my areas of writing I pretty much know what to charge – which says nothing about what you should charge.
  3. I don’t know how much you need to earn. Yes, what you need to earn is part of the equation when you’re figuring out what to charge. If you live in New York City or San Francisco you’ve got to earn more than if you live in less expensive areas.
  4. I don’t know how well you write. Writing talent does vary and it also tends to improve over time. I have no idea what skills you have or what level you’re at.
  5. I don’t know how fast you write. Some people write faster than others. Part of that may be typing skill, part of that may be practice and part of it may be innate. I don’t know, and I don’t know how long it will take you do do what you’re asking about.

  6. I don’t know how much you believe your worth. Yes, your view of your skill as a writer and your own self-confidence or worth is critical when it comes to setting prices – probably more critical than any other factor.

Yes, I do remember how difficult it was to price my services. It’s still not always easy. Yes, I still consult with other, but only those who know much more about my writing than I’ll ever know about yours. Being part of a Mastermind Group is a great place to talk about pricing – and you can create such a group. Yes, it can help to read Writer’s Digest – they talk pricing there and are probably as close to a ‘standard’ as we’ve got in the United States. You can google. You can ask in a writing forum.

But ultimately you’ve got to name your own number. As you price your work you’ll get some jobs, lose others, discover you underbid certain projects and gradually move toward more confidence. Working your pricing through is the only way you’ll learn to do it. Go for it.

How do you set your prices?

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Attribution Some rights reserved by Dan4th; found through Creative Common Search on flickr.com. Also see Free Photo Sites for Freelance Writers

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Hi Anne,

    I’m so happy to find your site. I’m into freelance writing for almost a year and up to now I really don’t know what’s fair or not when it comes to settling my price. There are lots of freelance writers out there who settle for very low rates yet are willing to give valuable articles. This really is a dilemma to writers who would like to raise their rate.
    Ms. Freelancer recently posted..Checklist a Freelance Writer Should KnowMy Profile

  • It really depends on YOU to decide how much you should charge. And Anne, I believe over time, every writer is able to decide his payment. It just ain’t that hard. One thing, between you and me, I am an Indian, non-native speaker and yet I charge just like the native writers, because I know my capability. That’s where you want to be.

  • I think it is great that there are some resources that give examples of what writers of varied levels charge for certain types of work. Paul Cunningham’s e-book on blogging, for example, gives the average rate of a blog post in the IT genre, and Writer’s Market’s updated How Much Should I Charge e-book gives some numbers based on research, and they give a great idea on where you might want to stand. Of course a writer shouldn’t just decide her worth based on these numbers, but it is great to have a clue about what others are doing. Especially if you just started giving quotes for your work.

    But I understand your frustration when writers ask you how much they should individually charge. It only takes a little research, and some trial and error on the writer’s part to find the perfect rate for herself.

    • You nailed it exactly… and, come to think of it, I can provide a page that links to those sources. Thanks Pinar!

  • I can’t imagine trying to help someone else figure out what to charge since I still have a hard time figuring out what I should charge.

    For years I undercharged because I didn’t feel like I had enough experience to warrant anything but rock-bottom prices. After several years of full-time writing, I finally felt comfortable charging a reasonable rate & I got better at estimating how much time a job would take me. I vowed I would no longer undersell myself.

    Then an old colleague contacted me and asked me to write a grant proposal. I was a little hesitant (internally) about the price I quoted her because I wasn’t giving away my time anymore, but she said that would be fine, that the group she was working with was happy to pay for some professional help. I was thrilled to get grant writing experience. I was also thrilled that I was spot on with my estimate of time.

    After I’d done all the work, she told me that the group I’d written the grant for didn’t want to pay me unless they received the grant, and said she’d have to pay me out of her own pocket. There was definitely that unspoken, “I wish you’d donate your time because I don’t want to pay you” in the air. I felt like you-know-what, but I really wasn’t in a position to donate that much time and work–it was a 20 hour project. She paid me, but I never found out if they got the dang grant or not!

    But I still refuse to quote people rock bottom prices, even if they are friends.
    Terrisa Meeks recently posted..10 Lessons Learned In 10 Years As A WriterMy Profile

    • Terrisa, the person who said or implied you should donate should have done it herself and not leaned on you. Glad you stuck to your guns.

  • Amen, Anne. You’re right – it’s not easy – especially in the beginning. I’m in my 3rd year as a business owner and still working out the kinks.

    I never bill hourly, but like Lori said (and Jenn, and you, and others in the know), you still need a bottom line hourly rate for your own purposes. After all, project fees start with figuring how much time is needed for the project.

    One of my 1st purchases was the Writer’s Digest to at least get some kind of idea.

    I also used the following to help figure my bottom line – 50% writing, 30% marketing and 20% Admin/Training. So, if you have a 40-hour week, it’s 20 hours/week writing, 12 hours/week marketing and 8 hours/week admin-training. Personally, I’m not good writing more than 4 hours per day.

    I find the breakdown helps keep me on track. And if you haven’t seen Jenn Mattern’s hourly rate calculator. I think it’s a simple, great tool for getting started.

    Everyone needs to figure what works for them and know you will make errors in estimations. Then you just adjust for the next time.

    Great post, Anne.
    Cathy Miller recently posted..Posts in Friday Lite ReviewMy Profile

  • THANK you, Anne. I’ve been trying to find a way to approach this topic.

    I set prices by understanding first what my hourly rate should be. I do that by setting an annual goal, a monthly goal, and then coming to that hourly rate. You can do it the other way – decide you’re going to charge say $100 an hour and see how many hours you need to work in order to reach say a $50K annual goal. Simple math works best for me. 🙂

    I look at what other writers are earning – and I ask what their hourly rates are, plus I pay attention to what guide books recommend. I won’t say I follow Writer’s Market’s guides religiously because in my opinion they undercharge in some areas, but I do use it as a basis for my fees when I quote a per-project fee.

    And one thing about per-project: That’s the price the client gets, not the hourly rate. While most clients are willing to pay for all your hours, some will watch the clock, and that’s crazy-making.
    Lori recently posted..Randomness That WorksMy Profile

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