Setting Your Freelance Rate: How to Know What to Charge Clients
Storytelling Communications

Setting Your Freelance Rate: How to Know What to Charge Clients

When you’re starting out as a freelance writer, there are lots of decisions to make. If you’re lucky, you have a mentor to help you, but you may be navigating these waters alone. Whether you’re freelancing full-time or to supplement other income, your freelance rate is an important thing to consider to ensure that you’ll be making money and steering your career in the right direction. While the thrill of seeing your name in print (digital print included) may seem like enough at first, there are some things to consider when you decide if an assignment is worth your time.

Estimate Your Rate

This figure includes all hours dedicated to the project, including research and revision. For something that requires little to no research, this number will include only your writing time. If this requires extensive research, build that into your estimates. One caveat, though: If you’re a subject-matter expert (SME), a certain bank of knowledge is going to be assumed. If you need to research information that a SME should already know, it’s unfair to take that time into account. For example, if you bill yourself as a SME on “widgets,” you should already know where widgets are manufactured, the major players in widget sales, and the types of widgets on the market.

All Indie Writers has a calculator to help you estimate your freelance rate based on your financial needs. This is a good tool for getting a sense of what you should charge, but know that it assumes you’ll be able to find jobs that pay at that rate and that you have writing jobs to fill all your designated billable hours. As most writers can attest, this isn’t always the case—especially when you’re first starting out.

Calculating Your Hourly Rate

When you set your hourly rate, you won’t literally be timing how long you spend working on the assignment. If that were true, working slowly would be too tempting, according to Lifehacker. And you should always be wary of anything that rewards working slowly and inefficiently. This is not just true for writing—it’s true for everything.

Instead, estimate the amount of time it will take you to research, write, revise, and polish an article based on the desired length and the amount of research required. Be realistic. If you’re not an expert on the best practices for safety in a widget-shipping facility, you should include the time that you’ll have to spend searching for information from reputable sources.

It’s often helpful to work backward to decide if a particular assignment is worth your time. Suppose an assignment on the history of widgets is offered at $150. Based on your previous experiences writing about this subject, you think it will take you three hours to research, write, and revise your article. Your hourly rate is $50.00 for this piece. If you get it done more quickly, that’s great. If you spend more time on it, you’ll be able to do a better estimate next time.

When to Ask for More

If you have extremely specialized knowledge, you can feel justified in setting a higher freelance rate. For example, are you one of only a handful of people who know about the maintenance of widget-manufacturing machinery? You might be able to get your client to agree to a higher rate when you write about widget production—assuming anyone wants articles about widgets, that is.

You can also command more if you’re an influencer in your field. Influencers are people whose opinion is sought by other professionals. If you have thousands of Twitter followers, a high Klout Score, and a wide social reach (all within your industry), your name and expertise may be worth a higher rate. You’ll likely be expected to promote your content to your followers—but you should be doing that anyway.

Should You Write for Free?

This is a really controversial topic. In 2011, ESPN’s Rick Reilly gave a commencement address at the University of Colorado’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication in which he suggested—nay, pleaded—nay, demanded—that graduates say “No” to writing for free. There’s a certain logic to this: You’re working. You shouldn’t give your product, skills, and time away. Some opponents also cite the idea that once enough people start writing for free, no outlets will be willing to pay for content.

Matthew Yglesias at Slate, however, takes a different approach. He encourages writers to write for free in the absence of money-making opportunities. He compares writing for free about something you are passionate about to other hobbies. But that’s the important word: hobbies. If you’re a freelance writer, this isn’t your hobby. It’s your business. You should be getting something from your writing, whether it’s monetary or otherwise. If you’re considering accepting an assignment that pays nothing, or one that pays below your freelance rate, ask yourself these questions:

  • How much do I need to get solid clips for my portfolio?
  • Is writing for this magazine (or website, brand, or other publisher) really going to give me the exposure it promises? Is that exposure worth anything to me?
  • How will writing for this outlet affect my personal brand?
  • Is this a passion project for me (meaning it’s a topic that I care about so deeply that I’m happy to donate my time and skills)?
  • Would I be better off spending my time writing for my own blog and enhancing my brand?

These questions will help you decide whether you want to take a low- or no-pay assignment. And to take your writing career to the next level, join Skyword’s community of contributing writers.

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