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The Biggest Problem With Charging Flat Fees Instead of Hourly

flat feeIf you follow this blog you may realize I love flat fees.

Like so many things in life, flat fees do have some potential problems.

The biggest, in my opinion, is that you may end up charging your client less, sometimes significantly less than you would have if you were charging them by the hour.

This came up in a comment to the article 4 Reasons Freelance Writers Should Always Insist on a Deposit, when Claudia, whom I know to be a dynamite editor,  said “… The difficulty comes from not being certain, even though I have established decent measures of how many pages per hour, for instance, how much work and time I’ll actually expend, because the manuscript given me to edit is still incomplete.”

In her case I suggested that instead stating the deposit required was 50 percent of the fee, she instead base her deposit on how much she expects the total to be, but only state the actual amount and not label it a percentage. Which makes sense, but doesn’t address her whole concern.

Knowing what your worth

Knowing your hourly rate is always a good idea, regardless. It’s one way I measure how much I both need and want to earn. I use mine to help me set my flat fees for various projects. But it only works for flat fee setting if you have some realistic idea of how much time the project will take. Setting a flat fee can indeed lead to under charging if there turns out to be more work needed than anticipated.

How to anticipate the time any project will take

Experience is surely one key to knowing roughly how much time a project will take, and how much to charge. If you’re brand new at writing, charging by the hour may make sense.

Timing yourself on a variety of projects as they occur will help you know how much time you spend on each one. I use the free version of Toggl which makes tracking time a snap.

Calculating flat fees

Once you know your hourly rate and you know roughly how long it will take you to do it, including revisions etc., it’s pretty simple to multiply one by the other for your flat fee. I then add at least 10 percent to the total as a cushion and to help me be sure I’m making a profit.

An increase the rate clause

Every now and again I’ll include a clause in my letter of agreement that allows me to add additional charges should either the project or revisions start to balloon. Something like this:

Both parties agree that should the project require more than two revisions or run more than 5,000 word, the client agrees to pay Anne the additional based on her normal hourly fee of $xxx per hour.

The interesting thing about this clause is I’ve never had the project run over when this is in place. In fact, I’m now thinking I should always include it.

Ultimately it’s my gut that decides

I also google up some rates to see how my proposed flat fee compares. Usually I’ll find I’m somewhere in the middle range. Not always, however. It’s happened that I’ve discovered I’m way higher than the normal, or way lower. Then I have a different decision to make. Am I willing to come down if I’m high or willing to come up if I’m low. Generally I’ll come up with little problem. Coming down, however is another story.

I recently quoted someone a flat fee price on ghostwriting a book. He told me, and I believe him, the other ghost he was talking with was going to charge half of what I was charging. Although I was willing to come down maybe 5 percent, 50 percent was out of the question for me. It’s possible he’ll get a good book, but I suspect there will be real problems. It doesn’t matter, I simply am not willing do to all it takes to get a good book ghostwritten for that little money.

The real secret is to figure out what works for you, check up on your self from time-to-time and…

Write well and often,

Anne Wayman, freelance writer


Photo by Alexander Mils on Unsplash

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Love it when I can create brain whirling! You do it often enough for me! ;- ) Let us know what you figure out.

  • Thanks, Anne — even though many of my clients’ editing jobs contain variables that your writing advice doesn’t entirely cover, aspects of everything you’ve discussed above have my brain whirling with ideas and avenues I can take to improve this aspect of my business and capture the essential elements in my contractual agreements.

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