Freelancing is not always an easy way to earn a living. One of the reasons I work by an hourly rate is that it’s easier for me to figure out what to quote people. If someone asks me, “What would you charge for a single article?” I’m not nearly that smart. I don’t have a lot of experience with the matter, and quite frankly it’s a much harder way to do business because you usually have to write more individual pieces–and work longer hours–to pay the bills than you would if you’re on some sort of contract basis.
Still, I thought I’d share my latest “Lesson learned the hard way” so that maybe you might avoid an issue I created for myself.
Recently I put in for a writing job that involved writing several articles. The customer wanted a quote per article. Confessing that I wasn’t terribly experienced in such things (I am nothing if not painfully honest), I told the customer I’d get back with her. So I checked with a couple friends and they both had the same thought I did: “Figure out how much time you think it would take to do the work and then multiply that by your hourly rate.” I felt better that I wasn’t the only one who thought along these lines, and then went to work figuring out a variety of scenarios: how many hours it would take for research, how many hours to write, how many to edit, and so forth.
I also had to take into account my current hourly rate, how much other work was on my plate, and what I was willing to part with in terms of time and effort. Taking a deep breath, I sent off my quote. The next day, I got a very polite refusal, indicating my quote was too high.
When I showed the correspondence to my mentor, she commented, “I think your quote came in at $6/word — which is pretty steep.” I went back, looked at the numbers, and smacked my forehead. Duh! That is a pretty steep rate, when you look at it from that metric. The best piece of advice/information my mentor provided for me was a Writers Digest article by Lynn Wasnak on typical per-piece rates for writers. I have no idea how these are calculated, but I’m willing to bet others in the field do. So if you get anything out of this blog, let it be these two things:
- Before you try a time-based charge for your set-piece items, see if the numbers still make sense if you divide your quote by the number of words requested.
- Read the Wasnak article. I really don’t have any brighter ideas.
Though it’s been “awhile” since I’ve written for publication, writers have been traditionally paid “by the word,” as well as “by piece.” I was actually surprised to find such a comprehensive rate sheet, comparing different rate structures for different industries and categories of writing: Wasnak’s article is quite a handy tool for benchmarking piece rates, with consideration to when (how recently?) were her data developed. Thus, I would add to your post that it’s always wise to try to benchmark rates, even with Wanak’s grid as a guideline – whether piecework, hourly, project-based, etc. for your market, and try to stay current (Wasnak cited sources for the rates she quotes, many being professional associations related to each category’s discpline[s]). Also, keep in mind when “benching” peers, their level of experience (in the discipline and in the specific writer’s market) and their client history may translate into a higher (or lower, entry level) tier than yours, so it’s key to then carefully, realistically place yourself in the range of “reasonable and customary.”
Another piece of guidance: While it’s ok to be “aspirational” in your rate-quotes, you may want to consider how you would discount your rate to introduce yourself to a new client who shows promise for return business. Thus, you have to weigh your “investment” in that client, and its potential to bring you future volume that makes that discount sensible and worthwhile.
Writers don’t typically get freelancer flat rate deals like: ‘My day rate is_____ ; I don’t ‘do’ half-days; OT kicks in after 10 hours at 1.5X; and 2X if I don’t get a base 6 hours for turnaround.”
Good to know, thanks, D2! There’s a reason I usually work as a contract (hourly) tech writer rather than a piece writer. It’s much easier to pay the bills that way!