How to Set Rates as a Freelance Writer

Freelance writer keeping track of projects and finances

Ask any freelance writer what the toughest part of their job is, and they are likely to all give the same answer: setting their rates. It’s hard to know exactly what you should charge for your writing work, especially since there is not a lot of information out there about how other people are doing it. For new freelance writers in particular, it can be scary to set rates, because you may worry that you will scare away clients by charging too much. As anxious as setting your rates may make you, however, it’s important to know what they are before a client asks. Not being able to be clear and upfront about how much you expect to be paid reflects poorly on you as a business owner and a professional writer. So, it’s time to bite the bullet and set your freelance writing rates. These steps will help you get it right.

Understand the Different Ways to Charge for Your Work

Ilustration of a woman using a calculator in front of a laptop.There are a few ways to charge for freelance writing work: by the hour, by the word, by the page, and by the project. There are pros and cons to each formula, so ultimately, you have to choose the one that makes the most sense to you and that you think best maximizes your earning potential.

When you charge by the hour, sometimes, you get paid for the actual time you put into a project. That’s the good news. The bad news is that raising your rates when you charge by the hour can be challenging, since even a modest increase can feel like a substantial change to your clients. As you progress as a freelance writer and become more in-demand, you may begin to feel like you aren’t earning your full potential because you’re charging an hourly rate.

Charging by the word—or by the page—can work in your favor in some cases, and you probably see a lot of freelance writing jobs being advertised in this format. To find out if charging by the word or page really works in your best interests, figure out how much time it actually takes you to write pieces of various lengths. You can divide the per-word or per-page charge by the the time you spent on the job to see what your hourly rate is. You’ll find that charging per word or page gives you the biggest bang for your buck if you write quickly and the jobs you take don’t involve intensive research.

A large number of freelance writers charge by the project. This simplifies things, because it allows you to charge one price for SEO articles, another for magazine pieces, and so on. Clients understand this kind of pricing well, which is another bonus. However, if you choose to charge by the project, make sure you leave yourself an out for charging extra for research-heavy projects, excessive edits, and other things that will eat up time, making the project less profitable.

Most freelancers end up charging by the hour or by the project, but it’s OK to try one format and switch later if it doesn’t feel right once the money starts coming in.

Browse the Marketplace

Photo of a woman browsing on her laptop while holding a cup of coffee.Although there isn’t a vast amount of information available on freelance writing standard rates, you can discover what a lot of other writers are doing by visiting their websites. Many professional freelancers have rate sheets on their websites, which will offer invaluable insight on what the market looks like. Don’t forget to factor in variables that can account for wide differences in rates, such as writing for a niche market, advanced degrees or certifications in a specific field, and of course, experience.

You can also check freelance writing job ads to see what is being offered, but do so with caution. Some advertising may for content-mill style clients who offer low pay for high quantities of pieces. By doing so, they often draw in new freelance writers who aren’t aware of their earning potential. You don’t have to set your rates to match substandard wages, but it can be helpful to see what reputable companies are offering freelancers for projects.

Keep in mind that rates are always changing as the marketplace shifts. Make sure the information you research is as current as possible.

Forget Trying To Be the Cheapest

Photo of a woman using a laptop while nervously chewing a pencil.The temptation to try to attract freelance writing clients by being the cheapest writer out there is strong, but you actually do not want to fill the spot of the least expensive on the market. You will find that many people who hire freelance writers overlook the cheapest writer, because they believe that you get what you pay for. They see a writer whose rates are lower than the rest of the market as a subpar writer, and they are willing to pay more for quality.

Experience matters in freelance writing, and if you’re new to the business, then you should charge less than more experienced writers. However, charging less than more seasoned writers while still asking for reasonable compensation for your work will position you to attract clients while actually earning a living.

Account for the Real Cost of Doing Business

Photo of a laptop in a home office.So you’ve found out the current market rates for the kinds of writing you will be doing, considered how you want to charge, and come up with some standard rates for your work. You’re not done. Now, you want to add on an additional percentage to those rates for the cost of doing business as a freelancer.

When you work for a company, you get things like health insurance and retirement matching that now you will have to provide for yourself. You will also have to deal with self-employment tax, since no one is deducting payroll tax from your pay. You can’t cover these costs out of your basic rates for your work, or you will always be behind.

Add at least 10% but up to 25% to all of your base fees to cover these costs. All businesses have overhead that is accounted for in their pricing. You should do the same for your freelance writing business, so that you can continue focusing on building your client base.

If you want help navigating all of the ins and outs of life as a freelance writer, join Writers Work. Our community of freelance writers is a great place to bounce ideas around and talk shop with people in the field. We offer online portfolio space and of course, connections with clients who are looking for writers like you! Start your membership today to start building your career as a freelance writer.

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