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How to Set Rates for Freelance Writing

For many people, working as a freelance writer is the dream.

The perks are numerous: Working from home (pants not required), setting your own hours, using an aptitude for words as a legitimate form of bread-winning, etc. Freelance writing is also becoming a more common field of employment as increasing numbers of companies outsource their work to independent contractors. For writers just starting out in the freelance field, however, one of the most pressing questions is this: What do I charge? Although projects may vary and, thus, require rate adjustments, there are online resources abound for pricing your freelance writing work.

Decide on hourly vs. per project rates

One of the questions a freelancer should consider first is whether to price by the hour or price by the project. There are good arguments for both angles. Pricing by the hour eliminates one of the downsides of pricing per project, which is that freelancers might end up putting in more hours than the project is financially worth. Per-hour rates are often safest when a writer is negotiating an assignment and uncertain of the net workload involved. On the other hand, per-project rates—if set high enough—allow the freelance writer to dedicate an unlimited amount of hours to a project without needing to log a timesheet each week. Caron Beesely, from the U.S. Small Business Administration, has some useful tips on the SBA website for calculating both kinds of rates.

Use a rate calculator

All Indie Writers, a community for freelancers, publishers and bloggers, offers a helpful hourly rate calculator for writers looking to work out the minimum rate they need to charge to achieve their ideal yearly salary. Users simply fill in a number of fields—ranging from weekly billable hours to sick days and desired income—and receive a calculation; there is also an advanced option for writers wanting to figure out the minimum rate required for covering expenses. For freelancers who don’t charge per hour, the site includes a section for converting hourly rates into different forms, such as per word, per page and per project rates.

Consult the Writer’s Market

The Writer’s Market is probably best known to aspiring authors and screenwriters, given its reputation as a valuable resource for finding agents and publishing houses, but buying the most recent edition of this textbook is just as helpful for freelancers. Lynn Wasnak, who pens the “How Much Should I Charge?” section, offers both tips for calculating your rate and—even more helpful—a comprehensive chart that states the high and low average rates for an wide range of freelance occupations.

Know your worth

This is another important question to consider, particularly when a writer is just starting out: How much are your services worth? Taking a look at what other professional freelance writers charge—either by blog post, project, etc.—can help a writer get a feel for the market and what she or he can realistically charge. Scott Sterling, for example, is a full-service copywriter with an expansive portfolio; he charges $100/hr for articles. Have you been in the business long enough to offer work that will be equally professional and satisfy the client? If so, you also can consider charging $100/hr.

Freelance writing is developing into an exciting field, particularly as more companies look to hire out contracted project work. If you’re serious about pursing freelance writing as a career—and there are many benefits to doing so—do your research and take a chance at it. At best, you’ll have a fun and rewarding career with flexible hours and the option to work in your pajamas.


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