How do freelance writers charge for their work

How do freelance writers charge for their work

I have spent the last decade either asking or being asked how freelance writers charge for their work. While I’d love to present a formulaic solution to this great, big inquiry, that’s not yet possible – nor will it ever be because freelancers are as varied as the work they produce. However, just because there are really no hard and fast rules about pricing, in the spirit of my aptitude for unsolicited advice, I still feel entitled to provide my thoughts on the matter.

The point of this article is multi-fold:
  • Help businesses better understand what they can expect when working with a freelancer
  • Empower beginner freelancers to choose whichever cost structure best aligns with their business goals
  • Grapple with my own sense of “ick” surrounding money
  • Air my grievances about some of the eyebrow-raising conversations I’ve had surrounding this topic
  • Reiterate the importance of focusing on “value exchange” rather than dollar signs in establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial partnerships

Charging per word for freelance work

When I began my freelancing career, I did a ton of research about how best to charge for my work. I remember coming across the concept of billing clients per word and I immediately began cackling like Gru from Minions thinking about what a millionaire I would be, considering I tend to type upwards of 500 thoughtful words per hour.

But after a very little reflection, this way of billing clients never seemed either feasible or fair. I mean, I am good, but am I Golden Goose good? Also yes, but I truly believe this method of billing must only be used in far-off lands where the rent for a one-bedroom apartment would necessitate such an outlandish thing.

My sense that per-word-billing was the 8th wonder of the world only lasted until I started looking to hire freelance writers within my various full-time positions. I will never forget receiving not one, but several proposals from copywriters proposing they would bill me $0.75-$1.25 per word for non-technical, non-research-based blogs. Perhaps if they were offering to blog for Elon Musk and their articles automatically converted readers into Tesla owners, I would understand their per-word budgets. However, that was not the case and so those particular collaborations were never realized.

If you are not currently the richest person in the world, may I suggest choosing one of the following pricing alternatives when choosing your freelancer...

Hourly billing – usually a good bang for your buck for one-off and shorter-term projects

Hourly billing makes a lot of sense to a lot of people because that’s how many of us get paid. Typically, hourly rates for freelance writers range from $50-$150 per hour, usually dependent on their level of experience. Obviously, $50 sounds much more appealing, but the thing is you have no idea how much your writer intends to produce in those sweet 60 minutes - and what quality you'll be receiving at that lower price point.

Prior to agreeing upon an hourly rate, your freelancer should be able to give you an idea of what they can achieve. Of course, it won’t be exact because your work is original. But, there is no reason they can’t provide you with a few work samples and share how long they took to create. That way, you should have a pretty solid idea surrounding your spending.

If you’re wondering what I think is reasonable for something like a lifestyle blog that is light on research and involves more fluff than technical stuff, it should not take your blogger any more than an hour to produce and edit a 500ish word piece. For website pages, research articles, and thought-provoking pages, you may be looking at closer to two hours for the same length.

Just a tip: find out if your freelancer's hourly rate includes your communications. If so, be careful to put all your edits, questions, and comments into one email/phone call, so you’re not being triple billed for the ticking away of their time.

Project-based pricing – a great idea for larger-scale collaborations

If you are about to tackle creating a whole website, writing your Annual Report, or generating the world’s greatest marketing and communications campaign, you may want to consider a project-based pricing model when working with your freelancer. This will help you reduce the likelihood of any surprises at the end of the project and will likely also offer a better bang for your buck than hourly pricing.

When a freelancer provides a cost per project, they will usually factor in the following:
  • How many stakeholders are involved: i.e. how many people am I going to interview, seek approval from, and work with throughout the process
  • Approximately how many hours the project will take and the number of pages it will consist of
  • The number of edits anticipated (this one can be tricky, so they may only include one round of revisions and then charge you for each additional)
  • Whether search engine optimization, technical research, or novel ideas are required
  • How much they like you (I’m joking, except honestly, if you’re really easy to work with, you will probably get a more flattering quote because you don’t fill their creative spirit with existential dread)

As you can see from the above, there’s a lot that goes into determining how much of an investment your freelance writer will be. But, at the end of the day, what will most benefit both of you is having a very honest conversation upfront and, if possible, maintaining a long-term relationship with a reliable writer.

In some cases, I have been working with my clients for five+ years on hundreds of articles or a series of huge projects. This creates such a smooth system because they know my writing style, I understand their expectations and we can flex on pricing and schedules because we share a huge amount of trust and mutual respect.

This is one of the many, MANY reasons I strongly urge people to reconsider hiring from freelancing agencies that shop their work out to someone in a faraway land. Not only is there a very large chance you will actually receive content that has been copied from their previous work, but you will also never get to truly collaborate or develop the kind of relationship that is necessary for supporting engaging, innovative, and vibrant content.

I hope all the above has been helpful. If you have any questions about navigating your relationship with a freelancer, please don’t hesitate to reach out and I’ll be happy to share my thoughts. In keeping with the theme of preparing you to have more effective engagements with freelance writers, I’ll continue this train of thought next week with a blog about the importance of establishing payment & project terms upfront.
Geoffrey Nevine — IT Services and IT Consulting

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