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Add A Contingency Fee To Your Writing Proposals

When a freelance writer creates a proposal to write for a client they spell out the project and set a price.

That fee is probably based on some combination of the amount of time the writer expects to actually spend to complete all parts of the project and an hourly rate.

Smart writers add an additional ten to 20 percent to the total fee for contingencies.

If you charge charge by the hour you’ll find it’s best if your hourly fee includes that extra for the unexpected.

The contingency fee is there to cover you when the unexpected happens.

While writing projects can go as expected, they often don’t. Those changes can cost you serious time and when you lose time you lose writing time that you should be charging for. The contingency fee is sort of like your insurance policy protecting you from the unforeseen.

Here are some examples of what can throw a project off course.

The client wants just a bit more than the contract spells out. The truth is if the client wants more than the contract calls for you’re well within your rights to ask for more money. On the other hand, if it truly would be easy for you to do it, the contingency fee will usually more than cover it. You may decide to do the extra just for the good will it gets you.


The client takes more time getting revisions back to you than expected. Larger writing projects have a rhythm. You write, the client reads and gets comments back to you so you can do the revisions.  When the client breaks that flow it take you off course; when they do get back to you you will probably find it takes you longer to come back up to speed. A contingency fee helps smooth those bumps out and you from resenting the client.

The client puts the project on hold. Sometimes clients will stop a project in the middle. This is one of the most frustrating things about writing for clients and it usually is totally unpredictable and has nothing to do with you. (This is also the reason it’s best to have more than one client and to keep marketing.) If you’ve collected those contingency dollars you’ll have a bit of a financial cushion to tide you over to the next client.

Yes, most of the reasons you want to plan for the unexpected in the fees you charge are client driven. Of course, you might need to change the timing or something else. In those cases the contingency fee will also protect you.

I don’t show the contingency fee as a separate item in a proposal, I just add it to the total. I know it’s there, the client doesn’t. I suppose if someone were to ask I’d tell them it’s there, but I’ve never been asked.

How do you set contingency fees?

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{ 10 comments… add one }
  • I’m less inclined to give any work beyond the contract because too often it becomes “Oh, and one more thing…” You find yourself weeks or months later still doing freebies. If I do anything beyond the contract, I make sure they know it’s at my own discretion and not going to happen constantly. Easiest said “I’m happy to throw that in as a one-time courtesy for you.”

    I’m sitting in an on-hold situation now that’s lasted since December. I have to rattle the cage one more time – this time with the final invoice. That usually gets their attention. 🙂
    Lori recently posted..A "Sorry" StateMy Profile

  • I’ve never thought about adding a contingency fee. I think I really need to though. I mean, it’s for my benefit if I do. I think I’m going to research more about the amounts of fees typically charged for the type of work I do and try this out!
    Krysha Thayer recently posted..Managing the To-Do List as a Freelance WriterMy Profile

    • Let us know how it works for you Krysha.

  • Anne, I’ve had the client stop in the middle of the project–what do you advise as far as collecting the money you’re owed up to that point? There is no finished result, but the interviews may be done, or part of the writing completed. How do you handle the stop-in-the-middle dilemma?
    Anne Woodman recently posted..Before Match.com… How Did We Do It?My Profile

    • Anne,
      I’ve got one of those stalled projects, too. We are waiting for the web design phase before I can revise copy. I just sent the client a note and asked if we could settle up for what’s been done. I told him I was shaving X hours from the initial project because I haven’t done XYZ yet but that those hours will probably reappear when we begin again.
      He was happy to pay and we shouldn’t have any surprises when we get going again.
      Carrie Schmeck recently posted..Copywriter Value: Can’t Anyone Write?My Profile

    • Anne, the short form is I try to keep the pay coming so I’m not out much… but let me do a real article on this.

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