Last year, I wrote a blog for Parentwin about my experiences as a freelance writer. Looking back on it, it's still a good post with some useful information in it, but it barely scratches the surface on what freelancers really need to know to make a living. And for new freelancers, it likely didn't help as much as I'd intended. Sure, you know where I go to look for jobs, you have some tips for maneuvering around Elance (which will soon be UpWork). But beyond that, it doesn't even begin to answer the number one question many freelancers have: How much do I get paid?
When you work for someone else, they usually give you a salary range. It makes it easy. Company advertises that they pay $50,000 a year and as long as you go to work every day and do your job, you get $50,000 per year.
But as a freelancer, you don't work for any one company. You work for a variety of individual clients. And many of them have an idea of what they want to pay, but good luck getting them to name a price when you first start negotiating your rates. They usually ask you to name your price.
And you're faced with a serious issues. You don't want to go too high and have them scoff at your price and walk away, but you also don't want to work for peanuts. Because chances are, once you set your rate with them, there's no moving it up. It's easier to get a new client at a higher rate than ask for an existing client to increase your pay by a lot. Even if the new rate is actually the fair, going rate for whatever it is you're doing.
This right here scares the hell out of freelancers. I've spent countless hours trying to figure out how much I'm worth. And that's the other issue here. Many freelancers have no idea what they're worth, or they lack the confidence to believe their skills are worth the price they've come up with. Especially when clients shoot back asking you to lower that rate, and well, if you're desperate for work... Chances are, you take what they give you.
But listen up. It doesn't have to be that way. I've been doing this for just over a year and I know what to charge when it comes to ghostwriting. I have “What I'd like to make” and “The bottom dollar I'm willing to take” quotes. If I'm desperate for work, I'll offer the lower rate, but I never go beyond the lowest rate I'm willing to take. If I'm busy but a client approaches me, I usually quote the higher rate. And I'm always surprised when I get that higher rate, but so far, I've managed to get it about 75% of the time.
Pretty nice, huh?
You're probably thinking to yourself that this is all fine and dandy, but it doesn't help if you have no freaking clue where to start with pricing yourself.
There are two common approaches to paying freelancers. Some clients prefer to pay an hourly rate while others pay an upfront rate (for writers, this may also be a per word rate). I prefer the second method because I write insanely fast. However, I do consider my hourly rate when coming up with my price.
Here's an example:
I list my hourly rate as $50 an hour on my Elance profile. I could probably go higher, but I mainly write fiction because it's more fun for me. But fiction writing doesn't pay nearly as much as copywriting or business writing. But for me, it's faster to write a fictional story than it is to research a boring topic, so it pans out.
I can easily write 10,000 words in about four hours. So I ask for $200 for 10,000 words and I make $50 an hour. Easy peasy. I also look at it per word. I generally charge $2 per 100 words. However, my old rate is still one I accept from time to time and it's no my bottom dollar rate - $1 per 100 words or about $25 an hour. From here, I plan on branching out and offering my services to higher end clients eventually. You never know, I may write the next James Patterson novel. Probably not, but it's not out of the question for me.
I will make a confession, however. My first 10,000 word short story only paid me $35. I did it for feedback. I don't regret that one bit. Mainly because I never had to take that rate again. Generally, I encourage new writers to take one small, short project to get some sort of feedback, but to aim for no less than $1 per 100 words. If you can't write fast, no, ghostwriting probably won't pay enough for you to quit your day job.
Again, this is only for ghostwriting. When it comes to copywriting, well, be prepared to ask for more. A lot more. $50 an hour is a good starting rate, but if you have experience, skills, or a useful degree, you can easily ask for $100 an hour, and even more. I'm just getting my feet wet in the world of copywriting, but check out freelancetowin.com for some tips on making money in that arena. While yes, he does offer a course, I've found his free e-mail tips are extremely helpful in getting started. There are also several free blogs on bidding for copywriting jobs that can also apply to any freelancing.
And no, I'm not getting paid to promote the blog. It's just one of the best resources I've found, and his method is exactly the same as my method. He just explains it better than I can (which is why he makes $100,000 a year on Elance and I make much less than that).
Also, the reason copywriting often pays more is because you're usually working for a business, and businesses budget for marketing and whatnot. They consider it an investment and likely get a decent return on that investment. But clients seeking fiction are often individuals out to make a quick buck. They rarely make as much as a big corporation, and that's just a reality us fiction writers have to face. At least in the beginning.
The best piece of advice I can give you when dealing with a client is this: Remember that you're offering a service to the client. The client isn't doing you a favor by hiring you. It's a mutually beneficial partnership. You do work they obviously need. They pay you. You both get something from it.
When writing your proposal, feel free to mention your hourly rate to explain how you came to your pricing. It's always helpful for a client to see the justification opposed to a random number thrown up there. For instance, you can explain that your rate is $50 an hour and that 10,000 words takes you four hours to write. For that reason, your for X project would be X amount.
One final tip that has less to do with pricing and more to do with getting the job. Always attach a sample that's similar to what the project is asking for. Don't have a sample? Write something up that's similar. If it's a job that you truly want and you believe they're offering a fair rate, having a sample will set you apart from those who don't.
And I'm going to say it. Many of the freelance writers on Elance aren't very good. Many of them can offer bottom dollar prices for shitty quality work. Don't let that discourage you. In fact, it's a good thing. I find that I get almost 100% of the jobs I apply for even when I'm not the lowest bidder on a job. And my clients continually come back to me again and again, often raising my rates and paying me bonuses. So when there is someone with talent or at least the ability to write somewhat well, they stand out.
Which is exactly what I am doing right now.
Almost makes me not want to share my secret with the rest of you, but too late now, huh?
I just wanted to throw in a quick note here that pricing very much depends on the work you are doing, your experience, and the clients you're working with.
I don't know anything about ghostwriting, but I know as a freelancer for national and local publications, I started by gratefully accepting $50 for an essay or article of about 800 words. Now I won't touch a project like that for less than $150, and I strive to average at least $300 a piece. I am trying to work myself up to $800 - $1,000 a piece. And if you're doing content marketing for a large, money-making business, you can charge even more.
On the other hand, I edited novels for three years for a small publisher for $25 for 20,000 words.
I don't know. Pricing is hard, but never underestimate yourself.
Kristen Duvall is a writer of tales both real and make-believe. A Midwestern girl at heart, she now resides in Southern California with her boyfriend, Great Dane, and a rescued calico kitty she lovingly calls the Kiki Monster. She's a full- time writer with one book out now titled Femmes du Chaos.