Here’s the Definitive Word on What Writing Clients Usually Want

Carol Tice

Confused - ethnic - businessman - scratches - head

I dunno…this writing gig seems fishy to me…

Have you been wondering what standard practices are in the freelance writing world?

I mean…there should be a rule book somewhere you could consult, to know if you’re getting a good deal from a client. Right?

If you’re wondering what is acceptable practice in freelance writing, you are definitely in good company! I get a steady stream of questions about what norms are for a variety of freelance writing assignments.

Questions like:

“This prospective client just asked me to write three articles by 9 pm tomorrow night, and I haven’t even seen his contract yet. Is that normal?”

“My client keeps sending back my articles for rewrites…on round three now. Is this OK?”

“I get $25 for 500-word articles, and now they want me to write 900-word ones for the same price. What’s your opinion of that?”

“My client wants me to not just write their blog posts, but find photos (or maybe take them?), schedule posts, and post them in WordPress. Do clients usually make you do all that?”

Here’s what you really want to know

If you find yourself asking “Is this what writing clients usually require?” you should stop.


What’s really happening here?

You’re asking the wrong question.

There’s a reason you want to compare your gig with some standard.

It’s because you’ve got an oogy feeling in the pit of your stomach.

It’s a gut instinct you’re having – and it’s telling you you’re being exploited.

That’s a good instinct. Stick with it, and you will avoid a lot of crappy gigs.

The truth about what writing clients want

If you’re looking for the yardstick by which to compare your deal terms and deadlines and editor attitudes to get a reality check, here’s the thing:

Every writing gig is unique.

Every client wants a different thing.

And every writer is in a different place in their career, and has different goals.

Some clients are dysfunctional messes who want to IM you 24/7. Others are a joy.

Some pay low, some high.

I’ve tried suggesting that blog posts should pay at least $50, only to hear from writers who’ve told me, “I’m writing for $5. $20 would be a gold mine.”

I’ve left gigs that I thought were too lowball, or the editor was too much of a pain in the butt…and referred them to other writers who were thrilled to have them.

So stop trying to find the secret, Universal Code of Good Freelancing Rules. It doesn’t exist.

One writer’s scam is another’s opportunity. Like the writer who recently commented here on the blog that she was happy to make $200 a month on Examiner, for writing 60 articles. She said she has other income streams and does her Examiner sites mostly for fun.

Like I said…it’s all about where you’re at, and your goals as a freelancer.

Now that we’ve looked at the “is this usual?” question more closely, let’s reframe the question.

The real question to ask yourself is: Does this gig feel fair to me?

Not saying you shouldn’t run the scenario by your writers’ network…you should.

But the bottom line is, only one opinion really matters: yours.

If you think you’re getting a raw deal, ask for a raise. Or quit the gig.

Create your own standards

As you progress in freelance writing, you’ll find yourself creating your own rules. And they’ll evolve as you go.

For instance:

“No more clients that pay less than $200 $300 $500 an article.”

“No more blog clients who want two posts a day.”

“I’m not doing any more overnight rush work for peanuts!”

“No more doing tryout free samples — I have a portfolio now.”

These are the rules that matter: the boundaries you decide to draw with clients. The moment when you decide what you’re worth, and that you demand to be treated fairly.

Just keep raising that bar, and you’ll find yourself moving up to a higher-earning place as a freelance writer.

What are your rules of freelance writing? Leave a comment and let’s compare standards.








  1. Kevin Carlton


    This post was written just for me. So I wonder how many other readers will be thinking the same.

    When I get a client, who suddenly starts stamping their feet and demanding far more than the job’s worth, I usually try to meet them halfway at first – by doing a few of the things they want but not all.

    This is usually enough to show that I want to help, but that I do also actually have a living to make.

    Then it’s a process of slowly and subtly educating the client about what they can realistically expect.

    Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t.

    Then it’s a matter of what to do when it doesn’t. That, of course, comes down to the standards you mention.

    To answer that question, Carol, my standards/ground rules usually depend on the circumstances I’m in at the time.

    • Carol Tice

      Kevin, my approach is that I simply don’t allow scope creep. Once you go down that road, you’ve lost control of the situation. Give them half of what they ask for only makes them think you’re not fully competent. It often doesn’t even occur to them that they’re being boundary-pushers or doing something inappropriate. They just know what they need. They’re not pro writers — so how do they know how much more work this is?

      If you start with a well-defined contract, then the minute they say – “We’d like these blog posts to be 900 words now,” I’m right back at them with, “Great! Our current contract is $100 a post for 500 words max – would you like to make it $175? Or maybe stick with this original length, which will probably get you more signups anyway?”

      A lot of writers write without a contract…and then when clients start pushing, you don’t have a leg to stand on to renegotiate and can easily end up getting used as their requirements change.

      • Kevin Carlton

        Carol, you’ve hit the nail on the head as to why my approach doesn’t always work.

        Being a great writer and a helpful and useful resource to your clients doesn’t necessarily make you a good businessperson and people, often unwittingly, will take advantage accordingly.

        As it happens, I told a long-standing client that I was planning on introducing a proper written agreement with all my clients, i.e. including her.

        She hit the roof about it.

        Something tells me that I should’ve had agreements in place right from the very start.

        • Carol Tice

          Um…yep! Clients who freak out at the news of a contract…you’ll want to be phasing out soon. πŸ˜‰

          • Kevin Carlton

            ‘There really is no need for a contract’
            ‘You know you can trust me’
            ‘I really don’t have time for this’
            All these familiar old chestnuts would make for a very entertaining blog post don’t you think?

          • Carol Tice

            I actually Do have a ‘top lies of freelance clients’ post coming up, so thanks for those great nominees!

      • Katherine Swarts

        Good point that they aren’t necessarily trying to cheat you–just not thinking about how all those “few little corrections” add up. I think it was Thomas Jefferson who said, “When angry, count ten before you speak–if very angry, a hundred,” which is a very good principle to remember if frustrated with an existing client (or a potential one for that matter–telling off even people who deserve it tends to have worse consequences for you than them). Maybe we should add, when corresponding with them by e-mail, do write exactly what you think of them–then count to at least 500 before hitting Send.

    • Perry Gamsby

      Educating the client? Oh yeah! I had one last year who sent me 561 emails with new articles that just had to be included in the book I was ghostwriting for him… He asked me to write a second one and I insisted he send everything in the first week then after that NOTHING more was going to be added as apart from making the book a messy hodge-podge of the latest WOW! thing he had just read on the net, it was driving me nuts. He agreed and was pretty good after that. He did have a change in his fortunes mid-way along the project and came up with the brilliant idea that I would be happy to take half the agreed rate and add my name to the book and help sell it, then take half the sales revenue. I jumped at that, er… NOT!

      What clinched it for me, after full-time freelancing for several years was my dog, Maisie. A boisterous Malamute-X-Bull Arab (Aussie hunting dog), I wanted a trainer to come and sort out her jumping and digging. No problem, plenty of trainers around but all asking $200 for a two hour gig and then I’d still have to do lessons with the dog myself. Bottom line, if I wanted a dog trainer it was going to cost me $100 an hour or no trainer and no apologies for the fee. So I wizened up! Why am I, an experienced, talented and capable, creative individual with umpteen books and peer reviewed publications, a doctorate, a masters and a few other bits of wallpaper accepting rubbish rates and rubbish jobs?

      This year my rates are up, I am far more selective about the jobs I chase and accept and I have contracts. Clear, concise but fair contracts. I have had less work but enjoyed it more. I’m not too far behind in income but that will improve as the year progresses and most importantly of all, I am enjoying my business again and I know my work and rates are respected by those who use my services or decline them. I found Carol’s site after I made this decision but having her underline and support my own realisation with her no-low-ball message has helped my confidence immensely.

      • Carol Tice

        Good for you, Perry!

        I recently took a Skype meet with a prospect who was like your guy — going 100 directions! All over the place! Couldn’t outline his book for me. I finally told him for $1000 I’d be happy to help him develop the outline, and poof! Disappeared. You want to get rid of these people early…

  2. Esther

    Mine: needs to work out to a minimum hourly rate. Some kinds of assignments you can bash out with little time and effort, while others are more labour intensive.

    • Carol Tice

      That’s right Esther — in the end, it is ALL about the hourly rate you make. Because hours are our most precious and finite resource.

  3. Terri H

    Free “try outs” have been on my avoid list for while now. It is so rude and disrespectful. As soon as people ask for that try out, I know they are going to be PIA and respect my job. It always baffles me when people are bold enough to ask for that. Chances are they don’t ask their doctor or accountant for a free “try out” but they have no problem asking a writer. Writing samples and references should suffice.

    I also refuse to write about certain subjects. Not because there is anything wrong with them but because it’s just not something I feel comfortable with. One of those subjects happens to be religion.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Terri — I have quite a load of stuff I don’t want to write on — apps, the cloud, nearly everything tech is on there. I’m not a techie person and it’d be too much ramp for me to write about it knowledgeably.

      I recently had a situation where I was asked to write a tryout, by a pretty high-powered client. Told them I didn’t have time, didn’t do that anymore, and that I have an extensive online portfolio that should tell you what I can do.

      And that when I write your project, I’m in it until you’re ecstatic. I find my ‘as many rewrites as you need’ policy usually ropes them.

      In this case, they decided to hire me! Which to me showed they were the right kind of client after all. They got that the pros wouldn’t do that. Wrote a great $1500 first project for them and am continuing to roll along with them.

      I think sticking to your guns on standards can also pay off in great clients, not just help you avoid bad ones!

  4. Bex

    For me, I’ve found that my standards have a lot to do with HOW the client perceives my jobs and my skills. I’ve worked for clients who have a very different skillset than I do, and ones who have similar skillsets but not enough time. While not always a rule, I find that those in the latter category are much more likely to have the attitude that my job is so easy, it isn’t worth their time to do it themselves. When a client thinks so lowly of my vocation, they aren’t likely to be eager to pay what I know I am worth.

    Three years in to my freelancing career, I am FINALLY at the point where I feel comfortable charging a $50 minimum for blog posts…. mostly because I have finally started getting clients who come to me, instead of having to constantly bid on new projects. I sure am glad that there are folks out there like you, reminding me that less than a penny a word doesn’t have to be my standard. I wouldn’t never have made it to this point, would never have kept at it if I had let the content mills dictate my profit path as a freelance writer.

  5. Alex

    I agree with never giving out free samples. I made sure I built up a portfolio before I started writing for clients. These were on sites like Suite101, HubPages and other revenue share sites that allowed me to write on topics that interested me and showcase my writing. I rarely write on them now since I’ve created my own blogs and websites to showcase my talents. I still earn little on them but they help for much bigger projects and I’ll eventually get there with them.

    I’m always insulted to find clients expect free samples. I had one potential client who demanded that I write a free sample on a specific keyword to test my writing skills otherwise he/she would go to another writer. That gave me an insight to the type of demands I would face should I get the job if I wrote the free sample (not that I was going to write it) so I politely declined.

    I’m not at the $50 per blog post yet but a lot of the work I do doesn’t take me too long so the pay makes it worth my while when I work out my hourly rate from my day. However, I have currently doubled my wages for a couple of clients after coming back from maternity leave and they were happy to take the increases – it gave me some confidence to know that I am wanted by clients who I can easily work with and have built a friendly relationship with and not just a business one.

  6. Crystal Spraggins

    My rules, so far, are (1) no non-competes and (2) no working with clients who switch rates at the last minute. I don’t want to hear about how your project is “evolving” or how “there’s great potential for work down the line,” or how “we’ll pay less per piece than we agreed but we’ll give you more pieces.” Be professional, and don’t insult my intelligence, please! I’m sure you want the same from me.

    • Carol Tice

      You’ve spotlighted SO many classic areas of abuse there! Glad they’re all on your “won’t do” list.

  7. Walt Goshert

    No first time projects under $1000. All new clients 100% pay up front before project starts.

    No new client projects that don’t have at least an 80% chance of turning into an ongoing monthly retainer of at least $2500/month.

    I worked very hard to find three clients who were willing, need, and want ongoing content and content strategy. Now, I’m in a position to be extremely selective in who I’ll add as a client.

    • Carol Tice

      Ooh, I like how you think. Your standards are actually higher than mine, but I have another friend who only does 100% first month up front. I’ll do a $500 initial project and 50% up front.

      I love how selective you’re being there…and your orientation for ongoing clients. ALL the well-paid freelancers I know have ongoing client work. That’s where it’s at, rather than one-off projects and you keep having to find new clients every month.

    • Craig

      Walt, that’s interesting. You just motivated me.
      I’ve found that freelancers who are pretty selective with high standards get the high-paying clients. So why have a low standard. It just doesn’t help your freelancing career.

      Nice comment.

  8. Mitchell Bossart

    Thanks for your comments–very helpful!

    I recently turned down a gig that paid 25 bucks per blog. Considering the time and the subject matter (medical device and pharma) and that I knew the company inside and out, I felt that 25 bucks per blog was not acceptable.

    I counter-offered 50 bucks per blog but they pulled out of the deal.

    Already I have soured on the idea of writing blogs for other companies, since I am writing to feed my family; the going rate for blogging seems a bit too thin for me.

    • Carol Tice

      Mitchell, I’ve had quite a few small business and corporate clients at $125 a post — $500 for 4 posts a month. So there are good rates out there…but I agree with you blogging can be on the lower end of the writing pay scale. If you can position to write white papers, static landing page content, reported articles…I think nearly all pay better.

  9. Jennifer Gregory

    Great Post! I love the point about the fact that your rules evolve as you progress. I have been freelancing for 5 years now and my line in the sand has progressed as I have gotten more experience. My rules now are 1. No blog post for less than $100 2. No project that earns me less than $50 per hour 3. No free try outs

    • Carol Tice

      Good basic rules there!

      And yes, certainly the rules do evolve. Our ‘usual’ changes over time. The reason I wrote those rates crossed out was I’m showing you my OWN minimum-project evolution. A few years back it was $300, now $500.

      And that should be a rule too — keep raising your standards as your career progresses!

  10. Rebecca Lee Baisch

    Here is my checklist. If any one of these requirements is missing it is a red flag. The written agreement specifies exactly what I will provide, and if the client squirms, so do I.

    Clear parameters for deliverables – topic, length, quantity, delivery date, price.
    Written agreement in place before delivering even one word
    Contact information for client includes a physical address
    Price offered meets or exceeds my minimum payment requirements
    Rush jobs have an added premium
    No free samples or outlines

  11. Sophie Lizard

    Every single person I know who’s had a bad client experience said that at some point, they realised the project was a bit off, but they went along with it. You’re so right – instincts are there for a reason!

    My rules now are fewer and looser than they used to be, but more focused on making sure I’m enjoying my work and building my business in the right direction. For example, I’ve gone from “No jobs under $50 per hour” to “Only rewarding jobs with fair pay and good portfolio value”. So far it seems to be working out fine. πŸ™‚

  12. Catherine Lugo

    My requirements for writing are that the buyer not expect excessive work for very little money. Sometimes I’m not sure what an unreasonable price is, so I go with my gut. If I feel the price is too low, then I will attempt negotiation.

    I also won’t write any free articles.
    I won’t write about a subject that I have no knowledge of because the research will take too much time and I won’t get paid for it.

  13. Craig Martin

    Hi Carol,

    I think you said it best.. “does this gig feel fair to me?”

    There are several small businesses that deserve good content marketing material, but they don’t have the cash flow. One of my key rules is fairness for all parties, and not just in a cash-only arrangement. For example, I made a writing-for-website trade with a developer who’s working with neighborhood non-profit groups. A small community non-prof can’t afford much, but they deserve the publicity.. and that’s more than fair for everyone.

    Thanks for the reminder to keep raising the bar!

  14. Amandah


    I tell clients that I provide each client with their own personalized quote because each project is unique. If a potential client doesn’t want to pay my fees, they are not my clients. Remember, a writer is no different than any other solopreneur such as a doctor, CPA, lawyer, etc.

    It is important to figure our your hourly rate (I think Carol has a formula for this) and per word rate. For example, a client may want one article or blog post. Figure out your per word rate and prepare a quote for them. If they need more than one post or article, use your hourly rate to quote a price.

    Don’t settle for less. You are worthy of being paid for your writing services.

  15. Craig

    Did you read my mind, Carol?

    Great post. And you hit the real thing.

    As a freelance writer (in fact any professional), you’ve got to set certain rules if you must get to the top. I have a pathetic freelancing story. I started writing at an average of $3.5 per 500-word article. I think that’s more than pathetic. But the truth is, at that time, it was a gold mine for me, considering that my partner started with $1 per 500 words.

    As I learned the art of freelancing, I found that that isn’t right. So I set a standard for myself that I will not accept anything less than 1 cent per word. I thought I was doing fine until recently I found that I wasn’t really doing fine.

    Now, my rule is: I won’t accept less than 10 cents per word from anybody, except I’m writing for my church, which I’ll do for free. I’ve got several invites to jobs that pay lower than my standard. I turned them down without thinking twice. I’ll up my rate to 20 cents pretty soon.

    When I said did you read my mind, here’s what I meant. I noted in my jotter yesterday while I was in the kitchen that I’d pitch something of the sort: Why I Usually Have Issues With My Low-Paying Clients and Never With My High-Paying Clients. They pay low, yet they never appreciate you. I hope I’ll find somewhere to pitch that Idea. I think it will help many writers.

    Anyway, my take on this issue is… NO ONE SETS THE RULES FOR YOU. YOU SHOULD MAKE THEM YOURSELF.

  16. Erica

    When I started freelancing last year, I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d been a corporate copywriter for years but was brand new to freelancing. Since then, I’ve developed my own list of standards that also reflect my experience from being perceived as a “job hunter.”

    1) No free samples, no typing tests, no last-minute “interviews”
    2) My family, my health and my work/life balance take priority
    3) I will not accept being called mediocre
    4) I will be paid fairly for my work
    5) I will not commute to Narnia, especially on a regular basis
    6) If you can’t pay me for the current project, don’t EVEN try that “but we can throw more work your way” baloney (Do I look like I have the IQ of a banana peal?)

    So far, so good. My life is much better for it. πŸ™‚

    • Carol Tice

      That’s a great basic list, Erica!

      Commuting to on-sites as a freelancer to me, it really has to be a nice fat contract to have that make sense. You lose that ability to work at your optimum times and places, sleep when you’re tired eat when you’re hungry…it’s almost like you’ve got a full time job again for a while…so that needs to pay real well to compensate for the stress that creates. πŸ˜‰

      • Erica

        Thanks! And I completely agree. I’m currently working an onsite contract, but the perks are awesome. I still get to work at my own pace, on my own time, eat when I’m hungry and still take care of my other clients. Best of all, I get to ride the train with my fiance every day.

        They even support napping. (Unicorns do exist.)

        It’ll wrap up soon, so I’ll enjoy it while it lasts and then it’s back to bunny slippers. πŸ™‚

    • Katherine Swarts

      “Commute to Narnia”–in the original stories, didn’t you always get home at the same time you left?

      • Erica

        In the stories, yes. However, as a freelancer, prospects never include a wardrobe for easy travel. πŸ™‚

  17. Anne Bodee-Galivan

    I have to wonder if those questions are coming primarily from younger writers? I could be wrong, but I think that age is an advantage here. At 51 years of age, and having gone through many life experiences, I’ve learned to trust my gut better AND I’m just not willing to be abused and put up with nonsense. It’s as you say, these people are asking these questions because they know that there’s something fishy going on, but they’re afraid saying “no” will lose them work. What they aren’t figuring in the equation is the toll giving in to these demands will take on their emotional, mental, and physical health.

    Perhaps it’s better that they’re asking the questions, rather than just giving into the demands right away, but yes, part of growth in life and business is learning to trust your gut and learning to say, “No, I’m worth more than that.”

    • Carol Tice

      Right on — my thought with this post was just to help people reframe the question in a more productive way. Who cares what usual is! As my parents used to say, if all the kids are jumping off a bridge, will you do it too? What if it IS usual, but ‘usual’ is awful. What matters is to make your own standards.

  18. Diana Bisares

    Wow! This article was written for me! The best timing ever! When I read this, I was in the middle of negotiating with a client. I was so frustrated by the rate per 400-word article he wants ($2, heck!). If it wasn’t because of you, Ms. Carol, i would have said yes with that rate. But ever since I became a loyal follower of your blog, I have all the reasons to stick with higher (and fair) rate.

    Here’s my checklist:
    1. The client’s willing to pay immediately for the first assignment. Believe me, this is quite important if you’ve got a new client and you don’t know anything about him.
    2. No free writing sample!
    3. Rate’s not less than $10 (I’m planning to raise this once I have a solid portfolio. I’m not really confident about my writing yet.)
    4. Does not require more than 5 articles a day.

    If everything else fails, I rely on my instinct. πŸ™‚

    • Carol Tice

      5 articles a day for $50? That’s awful low, even still. Keep on moving up! But certainly glad to hear you’re turning down $2.

      I would think after one DAY of that, you could say, “I have a portfolio.” And move on, yes?

      A portfolio can be about 4-6 samples. That’s all you really need to start pitching to better clients.

      • Diana Bisares

        Thanks, Ms. Carol. I will get there one day… and soon. πŸ™‚

  19. LindaH

    Your post reflects to me how much I’ve grown over the past year in freelancing and other work. Now I always required a contract FIRST that outlines the expectations of the client and what I’ll do in response. This prevents scope creep, keeps me sane, and keeps the client in check. This has proven very helpful with many gigs, and some have paid as much as $1,000 for a few hours work.

    Clients who offer $25 for a 500 word blog or demand 25 blogs per week for $150 are not even on my “consider this” list. I work for food too.

    I’m surprised at how often I read about writers who complain about low pay, not making it, and that the industry is dying. Since I’m aware that the industry is thriving if you know what you’re doing I see beyond the facade and get to the gist of the problem.

    That inspires me.

    It’s also opened my eyes to what I need to do to market and find paying gigs that matter. Get my blog going and stop talking about it. Research and call contacts to build my lists and create my income streams. And stop getting sucked into low-paying jobs that go nowhere that offer “the experience or exposure” as payment. It’s like being drawn into a fist fight and wondering why I always walk out beat up and sore.

    Great post. Excellent points. Food for thought. Good reminder for seasoned writers and reflective post for newbies who need to really look at what they’re doing and revamp to make a successful living writing for good money. Thanks Carol.

  20. Darnell Jackson

    Good one Carol,

    My thought on the negotiation thing is:

    “If you sell yourself cheap don’t be surprised when people won’t buy without a discount”

    I think most writers can’t see the forest for the trees.
    You have to see value in what you are creating for your client. If you can’t see that then you will get took.


    Everybody gets took.

  21. Laura Davis

    I spent some time before I began marketing hard writing for Examiner. I did this with the expectation of little to no pay, just to build some additional portfolio pieces, and to make some contacts in a specific niche. It served those purposes well, and now I’ve moved on.

    My father gave me some very good advice when I graduated college. He said that people value what is costly, and this applies to work, as well. Your rate contributes to your perceived value. If you price yourself cheaply, you will be treated like junk.

    I am barraged by negative commentary from people who do not understand this principle. Yes, I could have more contracts if I were willing to work at bargain basement rates, but I would be working with unsophisticated consumers making unreasonable demands and I’d be working my tail off, yet constantly struggling to stay afloat. I am an educated, experienced professional. If you want my work, you need to pay accordingly. My usual reply to lowball offers is, “I’m sorry we have had a misunderstanding; I thought you were looking for a professional.”

    • Craig Martin

      “Your rate contributes to your perceived value. If you price yourself cheaply, you will be treated like junk.”

      Wise advice. Somewhat similar to that line about dressing for the job you want, not the one you got.

      When you’re working for cheap to fill the portfolio, gain footing and get to a point of self-realization, go for it. When it’s time to move on, just go. Don’t start climbing down the ladder.

    • Carol Tice

      Well that’s a little snide – I like “I’m sorry your rates are below my current floor; if things change in future for you, I’d be happy to talk again.” Leave those bridges standing…

      • Katherine Swarts

        I actually used almost that same line–hopefully modified enough to be tactful–on a potential client who wanted to pay me not only at $10-20/post rates, but wanted to adjust the rates according to the amount of editing SHE had to do on whatever I handed her–so apparently she not only didn’t want someone professional enough to be worth high rates, but didn’t trust whomever she DID hire to get it right on their own or even with mere suggestions for guidance. Would any sane person go to an auto mechanic and say, “I’ll pay you after I’m *sure* it runs right–and if it doesn’t, I won’t bring it back to you, I’ll just finish the repair myself and pay you a smaller amount”?

      • Laura Davis

        It is a bit snide, but I only say this to people who are expecting to pay me content mill rates. People who have wasted my time, and who are unlikely to ever become clients I want to work with. It’s a broom. Obviously, I would handle someone who is a bit low, but not ridiculously so, with more tact.

    • Perry Gamsby

      The guy who invented Reebok shoes couldn’t sell a shoe to save his life as back then they were a new style and concept. So when he was about to go broke and with nothing left to lose… he tripled the price. The rest is history. I agree re the ‘snide’ remark. You want to say it but don’t get mad, don’t even get even. Get the work and charge appropriately. When I was in sales (and aren’t we all still in sales?) I would grin and cop the rude customers and let them have their moment. Then upsell them as much as I could, usually far more than they ever intended buying. Many really rude ones later apologised and said how they appreciated my professionalism etc. I just smiled, let them say their piece, then asked them for a referral! hahahahah

      • Laura Davis

        Perry, great story about Reebok; i had no idea! And I agree completely, upselling the crud out of an annoying or rude client is a smart way to “get even.”

  22. Bakari Chavanu

    Carol, this post really got me to thinking about my own business standards. Though I mostly work for one site, I still should be developing some standards for the freelance jobs I occasionally do. I’ve been caught unprepared to provide a potential client a solid quote for often common jobs. I guess the hard part for me though is knowing what the industry standard is. I hate to think I’m getting paid a lot less than I should be. Perhaps I should really consider joining your writing community.

    • Carol Tice

      You might want to! I find writers contextualize from the crowd they hang with, and hanging with a better crowd helps you draw the line and charge more. πŸ˜‰

  23. Ron Isaacson

    Great information. I would also be interested in hearing thoughts on calculating payment rec’d allowing for:
    β€’ Factoring in research time for posts, assuming added knowledge enables you to offer multiple posts on the topic or adding a new group of clients.
    β€’ Factoring in ability to resell or repost the original w/minimal changes
    β€’ Factoring in short and long range goals.

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Ron — I guess we’re assuming you’re factoring in how long it will take you to do the work…that’s a given.

      Most clients I work with, I have no ability to resell or repost. They own the work. I think the way Google is going, reprints online are quickly going the way of the dinosaur anyway.

      And yes, we should always be thinking about our own goals when we contemplate taking a client — is this in keeping with the direction I want to go, or does it take me off course?

  24. Carrie Schmeck

    Great discussion on standards. Over the past few years, I’ve learned a few also:

    1) Always ask small business clients about their marketing strategy. If they don’t have one, I’ll never please them. A current client, from whom I am firing myself, can’t give me more than two sentences to describe his services, for which he wants me to write about 19 different pages. He wants to be everything to everybody. My writing is strong because I understand marketing but I am not interested in being a marketing consultant.

    2) Contracts are queen and scope creeps are court jesters. “I wonder if you’d like to review this draft…,” wrote another client. Is this my privilege? I’ve learned to say, “I’d be happy to take this on. Based on what you’ve provided, I would charge $xx. If that works for you, please let me know and I’ll get started.”

    3) Avoid tech. I’m with you, Carol. Can’t get my head around it and, frankly, don’t want to. I’m learning when to say a job isn’t for me.

    • Carol Tice

      I love your #1. I’ve been involved in too many projects where you’re set running, but the client can’t answer your strategic questions….and the whole shebang is doomed from the start.

      I did one large blogging project for a major company at good rates, but where I knew from the start it was going to be a flameout, because they could not answer strategic questions. “I’m writing a blog on college issues…is it for an audience of students, or parents?” No answer. And so on.

      Sure enough, 3 months in they freaked out and pulled the plug on everything and switched to the model of “We encourage you to continue posting without pay for the awesome exposure!” Yeah…buh-bye.

      Once you get past the level where you’re fully booked, it’s about improving your portfolio and being associated with winning projects where you can show success metrics…so you have to be careful that there’s a chance of a win when you sign on. Lotta doomed marketing efforts out there, and I’m getting better at steering clear of them!

      • Perry Gamsby

        I, too am getting better at picking the ‘shooting stars’ as I call them. I remember getting that icky feeling when I met a guy in a hardware store who started chatting to me. Then when I told him I was a writer his eyes lit up and he said “We gotta talk! Have I got the opportunity for you, man it is tailor made for a writer!” I knew then I needed to be anywhere else. Turned out he wanted me to write all the marketing stuff, web site content and instruction manual for his brilliant new product. So brilliant nobody appreciated how revolutionary it was etc. He wasn’t going to pay me, he was going to let me in on the ground floor and I could invest some ‘sweat equity’. I said that is fantastic and thankyou but I never discuss business when shopping and I charge $100 an hour for consultations at my office and that plus $50 for travel time if I come to him, Would he prefer my offices or …. he was already backing out of there! Now, whenever I get that feeling that I am being let in on a ground floor opportunity, awesome exposure and so on…. Cheers Perry

  25. Angie Yoder

    I have been very strict with not working for peanuts. I think that writers who are willing to accept $10 for an article are devaluing the work we all do. I have hustled for my clients, of course, but only if they are willing to pay me a fair rate.

    • Carol Tice

      Good for you, Angie! I totally agree. Every writer willing to work for these ridiculous rates reinforces a norm that that’s the ‘going rate,’ at least for low-quality SEO articles.

  26. Mike McCallister

    While anyone whose gone through the comments probably knows this already, I want to talk to the writers for whom “$20 (per blog post?) would be a gold mine.”

    Certainly, when you’re starting out, any credit is a good credit. I started out (25+ years ago) writing for the college paper, and then the local alternative weekly. I’m proud of those clips, and even the pittance I was paid for them. But sooner or later, you figure out that putting sentences together in a coherent, informative and entertaining way is a powerful skill that not everyone has. That’s when you become serious about writing professionally. Professionally in both senses: you take greater care in getting better at your craft, and you recognize that your skill and time has value.

    So, those of you who do accept a low-to-nonexistent rate, don’t think that’s the best you can do. Value your skill, your time, and your talent. It’s true, not everyone wants to be a full-time writer, but if you do, demand more!

    BTW, I do take on tech topics (almost entirely), in case someone needs something. πŸ˜‰

  27. Techboy Rocky

    I always provide writing service at a very affordable price and that’s why I never thought about raising the price that I charge….You are giving writers very good advice of having a standard price for all clients and not charging anything below it..All the writers should do this so that they will get paid enough for their hard work….

  28. Alexis

    I love this blog!

    I’m struggling with feeling confident enough to have high rates. I know I am intelligent and a good writer, but what qualifies me to be a good writer for whatever project? I never went to writing school and am still finishing my b.a. (with a baby, no less)…at what point does one become allowed to say, “I am a qualified writer.” Plus, not wanting to scare away potential projects with a too high rate because, you know, I really need the money- yet, also highly valuing my time… that kind of thing. I mean is $15 for 500 words really so cheap? It is a bit more than I would make waiting tables, but a lot easier in my opinion. Guess I’m just struggling to know my value. Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Carol Tice

      Yes, Alexis, $15 for 500 words is… appalling. Not a rate for any writer who’s trying to earn their living from their craft. I get $500. I’m sure you can see the difference that makes to your lifestyle.

      And by the way, I never went to writing school. And didn’t ever finish my BA. Nine months into freelancing, I was writing $500 features for the Los Angeles Times. The need for some kind of formal legitimacy is between your ears.

      Here’s the point where you are allowed to say it.

      Look in the mirror and say: “I am a qualified writer.” And…presto!

      If you can write, you can write. No one cares where you learned it.

      This post may help: How Aspiring Writers Can Become Legit.

      • Alexis

        Sigh, you and your cute curlies are simply dreamy. Thank you for challenging me to charge what I know I am worth! I just decided to be a writer a few months ago, and this is by far the best resource I have come across in all my research. I am using Elance, but you are inspiring me to go even beyond that. Thanks!

        • Carol Tice

          There’s a whole big world of professional rates out there once you get off the race-to-the-bottom bid sites, Alexis…so definitely go beyond that!

      • Perry Gamsby

        I’ve worked for less than $15/500 words and was glad to get the work and the money. I confess $1/word is great but I’m not there yet! Still, I know which I would prefer to chase. I do have a D.Lit, and MA(Writing) and a Dip.Business and while they offer some clients some sense of value or what have you, Carol is correct. 100% correct. You don’t need any of that to be a freelance writer. All you need is the ability to write, the belief in yourself and your writing and of course the get up and go to get up and go for it. The first thing I do in my writing classes is to write out my name and degrees, then I wipe them off and say you don’t need any of these to write! Having said that, finish your B.A. as if you go for teaching jobs or salaried positions and it is a toss up between someone with a degree who can write and someone without one who can also write, they will choose the degree holder if only because should they not work out HR have plausible deniability! If you are freelancing, you are only as good as your last piece and the post nominal letters don’t matter a great deal to most clients anyway and once they know you can write they matter not a jot!

        • Carol Tice

          I think you’re so right, Perry. I had a mentee recently and when I reviewed her website she had headlined it “Cindy Writersmith, MBA.” And first thing I told her to do was take the degree notation off. Just comes off pretentious.

          The only way a degree might help you is if your professor has editor connections. Otherwise, what matters is if you can write. An amazing number of people with journalism degrees can’t — or can’t crank it out reliably on deadline. And a bunch of us without degrees end up editing their work!


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