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“What’s your rate?” How to answer the trickiest question in freelance writing

By June 21, 2017 June 29th, 2019 No Comments

It’s the one question that I dread. Sometimes when you’re asked “What’s your rate?” it feels like a game where you have to weigh up lots of different information before you answer. How much was I paid for similar work? How much can the client afford? How much is my work worth? 

“What’s your rate?” How to answer the trickiest question in freelance writing

There are four things I’ve found to be super helpful to think about before taking a deep breath and answering this question.

1. Your rate can vary

If you are writing feature articles for magazines, newspapers and websites, most likely there will be a set figure. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be a range, but generally the range will be pretty fixed.

I write regularly for a publication where I know different freelancers are on rates ranging from 65c/word to $1/word. It’s not clear to me how this gets decided – it doesn’t seem to be based on a writer’s level of experience or the length of time writing for the publication. For me, I started writing for the publication for 80c/word and a few years ago the editor told me my rate was increasing to 85c/word. That’s still currently what I’m receiving, despite having asked for an increase in January.

Recently I’ve had quite a few editors ask, “How much would you expect for this piece of work?”

Just last week I had an editor ask me what I would expect to get paid for a particular article. I said that for similar articles I am usually paid between 65 – 85c/word. She replied and offered me 75c/word.

A range can work if you like to hedge your bets. You can always push back and ask what an editor had in mind, but I prefer to get these discussions out in the open, and over and done with as soon as possible.

It doesn’t always work though – I did give a similar range to another editor who replied saying she had a flat $200 rate for all articles. I declined to write the story, and to be honest I felt frustrated – I wished there was more transparency from the start.

[There are so many publications that you can pitch to that offer good word rates – here are 10 great food publications you can write for and that pay well too] 

But what if you’re not writing for magazines and newspapers?

Just as my rate varies for freelance writing for magazines and newspapers, it also differs for other writing I do. I currently have about five different hourly rates depending on whom I’m working with. My rates range from $45/hour to $140/hour.

So, why the difference? Because some rates are set by a university (hello $45/hour), with others my rate was lower when I started working for a particular organisation years ago, I have a rate for writing content for non-profits, and my rates at the higher end are for corporate clients who have the capacity to pay me more (and because I set my hourly rate higher for well-resourced organisations).

While an hourly rate of $140 might seem great, there is lots of talk in freelance circles that pricing your services by hour or by word might not be the most business-savvy decision. There’s an idea that freelancers should use value-based pricing, which basically means that you stop charging based on the time it takes you and start charging based on the value of the result it gets for your clients. Of course, this is really only relevant to copywriting or content marketing work, rather than feature writing.

If you’re interested in reading more about about value-based pricing, here’s a great article to read as an introduction.

While I can see the huge benefit in value-pricing my services –  I am currently paid by the word, by the hour and by the project depending on whom I am writing for. 

2. You can still work with clients who “don’t have a budget in mind”

How many times have you heard this one?

This really relates to when you are writing content for businesses and organisations, rather than publications.

If people tell me they don’t have a budget in mind or are being coy about how much they can pay for a certain piece of work or a project, I usually do one of two things:

·      I can give a quote based on exact specifications (e.g. I will write a 500 word blog post where I interview one case study where the contact details will be provided by the client, one round of edits, two social media snippets and one headline for $400)

OR

·      I can give a range (e.g. $400 – $600 for a 500 word blog post depending on the number of interviews, depth of research required, background information provided, number of rounds of edits and social media snippets)

It’s always a bit of a balancing act trying to make sure you have enough information from the client in order to make an informed decision about the amount of work that will be involved so that you can quote accurately, but ensuring that you don’t spend too much time doing work that you are not getting paid for.

If people are not sure of their budget or what it might cost for you to create content for them, you can always meet them halfway.

I was recently working with a non-profit organisation who told me they didn’t have a budget in mind for a piece of content they wanted created. They did, however, have a sense of how long it would take for me to research, interview, write and edit the article (based on similar content that had been created by staff members in the past).

They told me the hours they thought it would take. I took this number of hours and multiplied it by my hourly rate for non-profits and came up with a project rate.

The great thing about this was, that regardless of the number of hours I took (which was a fair bit less than originally anticipated), I got paid the full project rate, which ended up coming out at $2/word. This is the benefit of value-based pricing, which I mentioned earlier. 

3. Think about if you’re prepared to walk away

Sometimes I’ve quoted rates and people have said it’s more than they were expecting. I usually ask them what they were hoping to pay and we’ve been able to meet in the middle. Other times, I’ve just left it. As you get busier as a freelance writer and content creator, you’ll have more of a sense of what you’re prepared to accept and what your going rate will be for any particular piece of content.

4. It’s up to you to decide what to charge

Sure, there are lots of rate calculators and guides out there, but ultimately only you know what you want to charge. If you earn a living from freelance writing, then it’s likely you know how much money you need to bring in each week or month. If you are dabbling or doing this part time, there may be more room to move with your rates.

I know some freelance writers say that if what you’re asking doesn’t make you uncomfortable then you’re not asking for enough. But I’m not sure about that one!

One of the best things is that much of the time as a freelance writer you get to decide your rate, and if you don’t get to quote a price, then you still get to decide whether or not you want to do the work. And to me, the value of that is priceless.

How do you answer the “What’s your rate” question? Do you have any suggestions for negotiating rates?

No Comments

  • Michaela Fox says:

    This is such an interesting piece, Lindy. And you give some great tips on how to set rates and manage expectations. I like the idea of value-pricing in certain scenarios. But first I need to get better at understanding my value 🙂

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      I’m a big fan of the concept of value-pricing, but for the past couple of months most of my work has come from feature writing so it doesn’t translate.
      I think it’s less about understanding your value and more about understanding the value you bring for clients. It’s a fascinating idea and one that I think has real potential if you have a strong niche.

  • CJ says:

    As a newbie my rates are low, no doubt far too low in reality. But slowly I am feeling that I might be worth a little more, and letting small jobs for almost nothing go. I know it’s better to look for higher paying jobs, but I’m at the stage where I’m still thrilled if anyone will pay me anything! At least I’ve stopped doing free stuff now though, that’s progress.

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      It’s a tricky one CJ and I think lots of people start out charging only a little or working for free. Many people have an expectation that writers, artists etc will work for the love of it and it’s a trope we have to challenge. Good for you from moving on from working for free – sometimes it’s good to get clips or your foot in the door, but your time and work is valuable – you should be getting paid for what you do.

  • So nice to hear of someone else who doesn’t always charge the same rate. To me, in a sense, the variation in hourly rate or per word rate is "value pricing" too. Trade magazines will usually place a higher value on your words than a local lifestyle magazine. The same writer might write medical articles and also pet articles. They aren’t likely to get paid the same rate for both. Your writing skills and amount of research required figure into the equation as well.

  • Jack Vawdrey says:

    I only freelance on occasion as I’m working on some personal writing projects for now. But because any time I spend freelancing takes me away from my own projects, it’s that much more important to me that I make what I’m worth. Thanks for the thoughts, Lindy!

  • Chris says:

    This is such a useful article – and blog which I’ve just discovered. So many people offering ‘advice’ speak in vague generalities which doesn’t help much. And you’ve got me seriously considering enrolling for the Australian Writers’ Centre travel writing course … Christine

    • Lindy Alexander says:

      Thanks so much Christine. The travel writing course is fantastic – can’t recommend it enough!

  • Lauren says:

    I have a hypothetical question. Let’s say I ‘ve been charging my current clients one rate and I realize that rate may not be enough. So I decide to charge my new clients a higher rate while having my current ones pay the original rate we agreed to. Can I do that?

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