How Should Freelance Writers Determine What Price to Charge?
Posted June 29, 2010 in Getting Started, How-To
One of the hardest things that any freelancer has to do is determine what to charge for his or her services.
If you’re a freelance writer (or if you hire freelance writers), then you may have a difficult time determining what the market price for writing is. Of course, your lowballing client would have you believe that nearly all writers work for practically nothing all–but, don’t you believe them.
A time-honored method of determining rates is to look at the averages of what other writers charge. When setting your freelance writing rates it’s also important to consider the amount that you need to earn for your business to stay afloat. In this post, I’ll link to some surveys that provide average writing rates and salaries. I’ll also look at some expenses that most freelancers have.
Why I Think Surveys Are Helpful
Income/rate surveys are helpful, regardless of your freelancing field, because the average tends to balance out the extremely high and extremely low figures.
I particularly like surveys from professional societies because the members tend to be more serious about their profession. Many professional societies charge for membership, so only those who are serious about networking and improving their skills tend to join.
Of course, not all professional writing societies make their rates public. Most rate studies are only available to paid members, but joining the right society will also help you to network with your peers and give you access to any job leads that are only available to members. For example, I am a member of the Society for Technical Communication (STC), which publishes an annual salary survey that is available to members.
Many governments also conduct income data on various professions. In the United States, the data is collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Other countries likely have their own statistics on income by profession.
Writing Income Surveys and Other Resources
Here is a list of six rate studies with a link to each study. Some are specific to freelancers. Others include data from freelancers and employees. I’ve also included a sentence describing the source of each study.
- The American Society of Journalists and Authors. This professional society is made up of independent nonfiction writers.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S. Government). Government study based on actual income reported by various types of writers and authors in the United States.
- Editorial Freelancers Association. This professional society includes a wide variety of writers including copy editors, project managers, translators, and writers.
- Media Bistro Salary Survey. Media Bistro is an organization for a wide range of writing professions across many different industries.
- Professional Writers Association of Canada. This writing society for freelance writers is based in Canada.
- The Writers Market also provides some helpful information about rates for freelance writers (available to members only).
Whenever you review a rate survey or salary study, be sure to consider the source of the information. Often, it’s best to look at several sources to get a true picture of the freelance writing market.
A few questions to consider when reviewing a study or survey include:
- How was the study conducted?
- Who were the participants in the study?
- How close are the jobs described in the survey to what I actually do?
- How recent is the study?
- Does the sponsor of the survey have an ulterior motive?
Setting Your Rates Based on Your Needs
The goal of any business, including freelancing businesses, is to earn money.
When you set your freelance writing rates, it’s important to remember that your fees need to cover your expenses. You should also earn plan to earn a profit after your expenses are met.
Some expenses that most freelancers have include:
- Internet fees
- Insurance costs
- Computer equipment
- Telephone service
- Office supplies
- Training expenses
- Personal (your living expenses such as housing, food, transportation, etc.)
You may be able to think of other expenses not listed above.
Don’t to forget to consider your administrative tasks, such as accounting, marketing, and collections. Often freelancers fail to think about this time when they quote a price for a project.
Setting Your Rates Based on Your Experience
Writers who have more experience are typically able to charge more for their services. In addition writers who have specialized knowledge about a particular topic can command a higher rate.
Before you decide what to charge take a good, hard look at your writing history and ask yourself the following questions:
- How long have I been writing professionally?
- Do I have specialized knowledge in a particular field?
- How extensive is my writing portfolio?
- Have my clients given me good referrals?
- What can I do for a client that my competitors can’t?
What If You’re Not a Writer?
This post is geared primarily towards writers because that’s where most of my own experience lies.
However, much of this information can be adopted and used by a wide variety of freelance professionals. Government salary statistics, for example, are not just limited to writers.
A Few Additional Points
Ultimately, your rates should reflect the value that you provide to your clients. Remember that survey figures and statistics are averages.
If you have more experience than the average freelance writer, it is likely that you will be able to charge a little bit more. Likewise, if a project is extremely detailed or time-consuming you should plan on charging more for your services.
In most cases, you will be charging your client by the project and not by the hour. But, you should have an hourly rate in your own mind based on what you believe that your services are worth and what is competitive in your field.
What Do You Think
How do you determine what to charge?
Are you aware of any other salary/rate surveys for freelancers (in any field)? If so, what are they?
Are you a member of a professional society? Which one?
Leave your answers in the comments.
Image by dolfi
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