How to Set Your Rates as a Freelance Writer

Every freelancer has to decide for themselves what they want to charge, but this post is a good place to start your thinking process.

going rates

Illustration by Ramiro Roman

Let’s get one thing out of the way before we start: Rate setting is going to vary depending on who you are and what you do. What works for me may not work for you. But, that said, here’s what works for me:

How to Figure Out the “Going Rate”

You always want to be fair to your clients as well as yourself. And one of the best ways to do that is to figure out the “going rate” for the services you’re providing. I figure out these rates by combining two sources:

  1. I check The Writer’s Market rates guide. (You can also check other sources like The Editorial Freelancers Association’s rate guide).
  2. I ask fellow freelance writers what they charged for a similar project. (Note: It’s important to ask successful freelance writers what they charged… Asking someone who’s plateau’d their career on Fiverr won’t do you much good).

From there, I use the numbers I got back — and combine them mentally with what I’d like to charge to earn a living wage — and come up with a price that I think will be fair for both my client and myself.

Making Adjustments to Your Rates

I’m about to show you something that no one has ever seen before. My rates:

RatesChart

I think the image is pretty self-explanatory, but I’m going to explain it anyway just so we’re clear (or for those of you who can’t see the picture).

There are a few things you should notice right off the bat:

  • I charge by the word, not by the hour. This is a personal preference that works for me. I will, on occasion, work by the hour — if the pay is worth my while — but I vastly prefer flat rates.
  • I judge gigs by how “easy” or “hard” they’re going to be for me to complete. I factor in several things to figure this out: How much research is going to be involved, how needy the client is, etc.
  • I charge double for ghostwriting gigs. When the money is all you’re getting out of a project, then you should make the money worth it. It’s more than fair to charge extra when you don’t get a byline (and that’s not just my opinion: The rates guides say so too!).

Those are the adjustments I make to my rates for each gig that comes my way. The adjustments you make might be different, but that should give you a good idea of the adjustments you can be making per project.

4 Reasons to Never Lower Your Rates for a Cheap Client

1. There’s No Such Thing as an “Easy” Gig

If the client describes the work they’re offering you as “easy”, you’re already off to a bad start. It’s a signal that they either don’t understand or don’t value the work you do. It’s also a good tip-off that they think the pennies they’re offering you are actually more than fair  – and that they should therefore strive to “get their money’s worth.”

Cheap freelance clients will scope-creep you to death if you give them the chance.

And while it might be easy to recognize – and put your foot down – when they pull out the “Can you do just one more thing…?” shenanigans, it can be a little harder to put a stop to general neediness.

Cheap clients tend to fall into three categories:

  1. They’re con-artists who know they should be paying you more, but they’ve tricked you into settling for less.
  2. They’re out-of-touch/ignorant to the “going rate”, as well as what it is they’ve truly hired you to do. They need a lot of hand-holding.
  3. A little of both. (AKA: They’re fully aware they’ve convinced you to give them a great rate, but they’re unsure of what it is they’re paying for and thus need a lot of hand-holding).

Solution: If a client comes to you with an “easy” gig, tell them to do it themselves! After all, it’s “easy”; right?

2. The Project Management Triangle Goes to Hell…and so Does Your Self-Worth

“Good, Fast, or Cheap: Pick Two.” These are words to live by if you’re a freelancer.

But, if you’re already working for cheap, that means that you’ll have to sacrifice “Good” or “Fast.” And there’s no freakin’ way you’re going to sacrifice “Good!” Good writing is the backbone of your career. You should always do your best work, even if it’s for crummy rates.

That leaves speed as the trait you sacrifice. If your client is willing to wait a little (or a lot!) longer to get the finished project from you, then great! But usually, your client is going to want their cheap, quality writing right now.

So what do you actually end up sacrificing? Your self-worth.

According to career coach and “money mindset” expert Annemarie Cross:

“Offering discounts … can establish a disempowering precedent or business standard that will only serve to block you from achieving your income goals, because of the negative impact it can have on your self-worth and subsequently your income.”

When you work so hard for so little it starts to get to you. You start to believe that you deserve to suffer; and that the measly pay you’ve been offered is all you’re worth.

Solution: Pick two. Seriously. If you really must work for cheap, then make sure the client is lax about deadlines. If they want the project finished immediately? Pass on it! Never compromise on quality, or your sanity.

3. Your Clients Are NOT Your Friends

Even though it’s a good idea to nurture relationships with your former clients, don’t get too close. Professional boundaries are essential to a good freelancer/client relationship and it’s important to know the difference between “friends” and “friendly.”

If you feel like your client is your “friend,” you’re going to want to give them your friend rates (don’t lie; we all have friend rates). But, would your friends try to rip you off? Or run you into the ground with their unceasing demands? Or emotionally manipulate you into doing more work? Of course not.

The moment you feel your client is taking advantage of you, it’ll hit home just how not your friend they really are. By then it’s far too late. Don’t get in that position in the first place – set up boundaries between you and your clients, and stick to them.

Solution: If you’re looking for friends, try talking to fellow writers instead! Join groups or forums or interact via social media. Or, rearrange your schedule and make time for your “real life” friends and family! (You’re a freelancer – being in control of your work schedule is one of the perks!)

4. You’ll Sacrifice Time You Could Be Using to Find Better Clients

This is by far the worst consequence of taking on a cheap client.

While you’re toiling away trying to meet the demands of cheap freelance clients, clients that would be willing to pay you top dollar are slipping away. Opportunity is knocking and you’re tied up in the basement, unable to answer the door!

And no matter how many years of experience you have under your belt – you may find yourself tempted to take a step backwards in order to make ends meet. And you might not even realize you’re doing so!

Stand your ground and keep marketing yourself. Even if you’re going through a period of decreased income, don’t settle. Someone better is right around the corner and you are worth it.

Set your rates and stick to them! Good luck out there!

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