7 Get-Real Questions to Ask to Set Your Freelance Writing Fee

Carol Tice

It’s one of the toughest questions for new writers: What should I charge?

“What’s the going rate?” writers ask me, hoping there is a pat answer that will let them know if they’re being ripped off.

But there is no going rate, for anything in freelancing. There’s only what you’re willing to take and what the market will bear. Where those meet, you have a gig.

What really matters is your hourly rate. Time is your most precious resource, so when you’re pricing a job you want to figure as best you can how long it will take you to do the gig. Then multiply by your hourly rate to get your bid. The hourly rate you need will depend on your own circumstances — how high expenses are, how many available work hours you have, and what you consider appropriate.

As you gain experience, keep raising that hourly rate. That’s really it in a nutshell.

To help you start setting your rates, here are seven questions I ask to help me decide if a writing gig is worth taking:

  1. How bad do you need this gig? If you have open time in your schedule, it can be better to fill it with any sort of paid writing rather than simply having downtime. Getting fully booked is key to raising your rates in the long run, as once you’re fully booked you can start to be choosier about which gigs you take. If it’s a particularly interesting assignment or a high-profile client, it might even be worth doing a small free assignment from them, to get a valuable clip that could help you move up.
  2. Will this client recommend you? If rates are low, you need to know if this client is the type who would talk you up to other editors or marketing managers. I know writers who will only do pro bono works for clients who are guaranteed referrals.
  3. Does this client have more work for you? You have to do a lot less marketing when your clients have ongoing work for you, month after month. Since I enjoy writing more than marketing, I’ve been known to discount my rates a bit for clients who have steady work, while one-off projects go at my top rates.
  4. How pleasant do they seem? The longer I do this, the more I value clients with a nice personality — they’re easygoing, fun to talk to, clear about what they want, and seem to love my first drafts. The more of a pain a client is, the more you should charge.
  5. How complicated is the work? This is one of the most important factors. An offer of $50 a blog post might sound okay, but if it turns out the client wants 1,000-word blog posts with multiple interviews for each one, it’ll be disastrous on an hourly-rate basis.
  6. How sophisticated is the topic? Writing about pets for an audience with a 6th grade education is going to be easier than writing for an audience of retirement-plan managers. The more you’ll have to research an industry you don’t know well, the longer it will take, and the more you need to charge.
  7. What payment terms will they agree to? This one took me a while to catch onto, but if a client doesn’t pay for four months or more, they need to pay top rates. They’re basically using you as a short-term lender and running their business with what is rightfully your money. I hate that. You also often end up wasting time having to chase down these slow-payers, so you have to figure that into your bid. Folks that pay me the day I put in an invoice, on the other hand, deserve a discount.

How do you decide what to charge? Leave a comment let us know.

Cash register: ctechs – stock.xchng

18 Comments

  1. Bobbi helms

    Terrific discussion going on here. I am more inclined to side with Diane. My goal is to have a long-term relationship with a client. And, so far, it’s working out well. I have several builder/developer clients who feed me work weekly. I also offer more than just copywriting. When you can do more and offer more to a client, they will use you (depend upon you) for more.
    (I have an art director buddy who will freelance for me when needed).
    The best possible scenario is to never have to justify your costs. Your client should always feel that they are getting their moneysworth – and then some.

  2. Ali

    The slow payers are the biggest pain in the neck… But how would I know if a guy is going to recommend me or not? Asking for it is a bit awkward :S

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Ali —

      It starts with defining payment terms in the contract. Mine will say “net 14 days” or something along those lines. 2 weeks out, no check — boom. I’m on the phone. Where is it? I don’t feel awkward about it at all. If you didn’t pay your plumber, or any other contractor you work with, they would immediately bill you with a late fee tacked on — which I’ve done as well.

      How fast people pay is a critical component of the whole package. I learned this covering business. One of the biggest problems freelancers have isn’t pay but cash-flow problems — checks aren’t in when they need to arrive to keep the business afloat. Many businesses go bust because of it.

      I find the more aggressive you are about defining terms and collecting, the more you end up making. You spend less time chasing checks and less in bank overdrafts while you wait, and you get more writing done. If you think of all the checks that might have pushed out from December 2011 to January 2012…that’s how much more you might have earned last year if you had better payment terms.

      If you put it in the contract, you don’t usually have a problem collecting, I find. Companies know they’ve committed to 14 or 7 days, or whatever you’ve chosen.

  3. Kiran

    Thanks so much for putting up all this helpful info! It’s so helpful to me as I’m starting out. The link to Part 3 of the Setting Fees Series isn’t working for me though…thought you’d like to know. Hopefully I’ll be able to find that article soon!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Kirin —

      I’m not sure what you mean. This isn’t a series, and point 3 here doesn’t have a link. If you can give me more info about where exactly the dead link is, I’m happy to troubleshoot it.

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