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How Should Freelance Writers Charge For Their Work?

freelance writers charge for their workTypically, there are three ways freelance writers charge for their work:

By the hour,

by the word, and,

by a flat fee.

Which is best? Like so many things in freelance writing, the real answer is ‘it depends.’

The first problem

Pricing your work is full of conundrums. The first is deciding how much you need to earn.

Yes, you’ve got to start there. You must to know how much money you need to pay your expenses and for at least some of your wants. And you’ve got to remember than as a freelance writer you’re paying your own taxes and for you own benefits. Everything from self-employment tax and sick leave through retirement has got to be figured in when you begin to set your rates. Once you know how much you need to earn, you can begin working out how you should charge.

Charging by the hour

I find knowing my hourly rate is critical to determining price. Yet I rarely charge by the hour.

The advantages of using an hourly rate include:

  • It’s easy for both you and the client to understand.

  • It’s seems straightforward.

The disadvantages include:

  • You’ve got to track those hours which can be a pain to do with any accuracy.
  • Hourly doesn’t allow you to charge for the instant insight that makes the project work.
  • As you get better at the work, and you will if it goes on for any length of time, you end up getting paid less even though your skills are increasing.
  • It’s tempting to slow down in order to work more hours.

Charging by the word

Charging by the word is probably the most traditional way writers get paid, or at least it used to be.

The advantages of charging by the word include:

  • It’s dirt simple these days. Word counts are pretty standard on word processing programs. Even blogging software tends to count words automatically.
  • It’s easy for the client to understand.

The disadvantages include:

  • Revisions can make it unclear. Unless you spell out the word count will be based on the final, accepted manuscript, it can get confusing as revisions cause the piece to shrink or expand or both and it’s hard to figure out what your per word rate should be if there are going to be lots of revisions.
  • It’s tempting to write more words than the piece actually needs. I understand Dickens was paid by the word and I strongly suspect that’s why some of his books are so darn long.

Charging a flat rate

When you charge a flat rate or a by the project, everyone knows exactly what’s going on. The disadvantage, of course, is you risk undercharging.

I love flat fees.

Essentially my approach is to figure out how many hours will be involved, multiplying  those hours by my hourly rate, adding a 10 percent contingency fee (for myself, the client doesn’t see this) which gives me a dollar amount. Depending on the situation, I may charge more or less, but this way I know about what I should charge.

The trick to successfully charging flat rates is to be sure you completely define the scope of work. You’ve got to nail everything down and spell it out as clearly as possible. This gets easier as your experience grows and you begin to recognize all that’s involved in the kind of writing you do.

Once you’ve got your number, you can then divide it into quarters, thirds, half’s so you get paid a reasonable amount up front. You may actually get to the place you can charge for the total project up front.

Getting paid all or a portion up front also takes some of the pressure off the fear of undercharging. You’ve got money coming in before you start. I like that.

Your choice

A case can be made for each method freelance writers charge for their work. Most of us find we use all three over our careers. Think how you charge as it applies to your situation, then go for it. Another advantage of freelancing is if you make a mistake, and you surely will, it’s pretty easy to change it as needed.

How do you charge for your work?

Write well and often,

Anne Wayman freelance writer

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