How to Set Freelance Writing Rates — A Guide

As a freelance writer, you're probably trying to figure out the best way to set rates. Here's how to set freelance writing rates.

Trying to figure out how to set freelance writing rates is one of the most difficult aspects of doing this thing. It's the wild west out there. Pretty much you get what someone is willing to pay you. However, there are some things you can consider as you move forward.

Here's what you need to know as you decide how much to charge clients.

Factors that Go Into Your Freelance Writing Rates

1. Experience

Start with your experience. How long have you been writing? Beginners usually charge less than more experienced writers. One of the reasons I charge much more than I used to is that I've been doing this for 15 years. That makes a difference. An experienced freelance writer is presumed to have various levels of competence and expertise that can lead to higher-quality work. While there are many things you can do to improve your writing, practice is one of the best ways. And that comes with experience.

2. Expertise and/or credentials

Your credentials and area of expertise can also go a long way toward helping you set higher rates. If you're a nurse, you can probably charge more as a freelance writer, even if you're a relative newcomer. I know people who started out getting paid more than me when they switched to freelancing because of their CFP or MBA credentials. In fact, I already have clients willing to give me a pay bump as soon as my own MBA becomes official.

3. Niche

When deciding how to set freelance writing rates, your niche can make a big difference. Some subject areas come with higher pay than others. For example, I write about money on the internet. Writing about money pays much more than writing for fiction websites. I know freelancers that get paid less per article for writing travel stories, but they are compensated in other ways — like free trips. I'd gladly take a lower fee on an article if someone else was paying for all the other aspects of a trip.

Carefully think about which niche makes the most sense for you, and then set your rates based on what you can expect from that niche.

4. Type of work

The type of work you do matters as well. Are you ghostwriting a book or creating posts for a blog? Are you writing for a long-form magazine or creating copy for a sales landing page. All of these different types of work pay different rates. You might be surprised to learn how much a good grant writer can make when compared to someone who (like me) just cranks out blog posts for websites that mainly make their money from affiliate programs.

5. What others make

Now we're really getting into it. Take the time to speak with other freelancers in your niche. How much are they making? How did they arrive at that number? Getting to know other freelancers is a great way to learn more about how to set freelance writing rates and make new friends. Plus, we often pass work off to each other.

6. How much, well, work you're doing

Recently, I started figuring various other factors into setting my freelance writing rates. I no longer simply quote a per-article rate. I make it clear that I have one rate for writing basic pieces that don't require much research or any interviewing and another rate when I have to put forth more effort. I've also started charging clients more if they have onerous fact-checking link requirements. I mean, if you're a site that publishes financial content, you should have editors that don't need me to hunt up an definition of “stocks.”

7. Who you're writing for

Don't forget to consider who you're writing for. Right now, I've pretty much stopped writing for independent bloggers, but in the past, I've charged them less than I charge big brands. A non-profit whose mission you believe in might not have the same budget as a bigger website that makes millions of dollars per month. Depending on the situation, I'm willing to charge less if I believe in what I'm writing.

8. Frequency of assignments

Is this a one-off? Or is it on-going? One thing I've done is focused my career on clients that offer regular work. I prefer to work with someone who might pay a little less, but that I can count on to assign me four to six articles per month. That regular cash flow means a lot when you're working on an irregular income.

Weighing the factors

There's no one right way to weigh these factors. The best you can do is get a pretty good idea of what each factor means to you, and how you want to weigh it. I don't make as much money as some of my fellow freelance writers on a per-article basis, mainly because I prefer clients that are low-maintenance and don't make a lot of demands.

So, while I could go after clients that pay half again as much, I just want to be able to do my thing and make a higher hourly rate. I might not make as much in the sheer amount of money, but my hourly rate is often higher — and I work a lot less. To me, that's more valuable than a higher per-article or per-word rate.

Deciding How to Charge — The Eternal Debate Between Per-Word and Per-Article

One of the biggest issues associated with how to set freelance writing rates is whether to charge on a per-article or per-word basis. Some even try to figure out how to charge hourly, but that's not my cup of tea.

I'm not even fond of charging per-word. I like charging on a per-article basis, just because it makes things easy. I can say I charge $X for an article of between 800 and 1,000 words. The per-word rate usually comes out pretty decent. However, I don't have to worry about counting words exactly, and I don't have to worry about whether we're talking about “submitted” word count or “published” word count.

You might have submitted 1,000 words, but if an editor shops off 150 words, you might only get paid for the 850 words that were published. I negotiate longer pay for longer articles since they require more work. With a word count range, it's easier for me to stay on course and avoid the pitfalls of published word counts. Besides, when you rely on published word counts, you can't invoice until after the article is published. Most of the time, I invoice based on when I submit. I did the work, you should pay me for it. When you publish is your problem.

Both approaches to setting freelance writing rates have their advantages and disadvantages. It comes down to what you're most interested in. Whatever you do, though, don't accept an hourly rate. Most freelance writers can make much more when charging per-word or per-article. Charging hourly limits you to how much you can make regularly and it's a nightmare. You'll never make more than your hourly rate, and you have to keep working those hours.

When you charge per-word or per-article, you have an easier time raising your rates and as you get better at your craft, you can work less and still earn more.

Other Considerations When Deciding How to Set Freelance Writing Rates

Here are a few other things to keep in mind when setting your freelance writing rates:

  • When you get paid: Some clients have regular, set schedules, such as net 30 or net 45. However, you can figure out what makes the most sense for you when asked. For example, I just invoice everyone at the end of the month for the work done that month. Most people pay within 14 – 30 days.
  • How you get paid: Think about how you want to receive your money. Luckily, there are a number of platforms now that help clients manage freelance writers. Most of them allow you to just receive a direct deposit. This is a definite upgrade from the days of paying PayPal fees. And if you're still paying me via PayPal, there's a good chance you're paying a slightly higher rate to offset my fees.
  • Level of annoyance with the work: A few months ago, a potential client approached me with a project that looked really annoying. Lots of work, lots of footnotes, and a subject that didn't really interest me. I quoted a rate twice as high as I would normally. They hired me anyway. I did the work, but next time I'll quote an even higher rate. As a beginner, you might have to just take what work you can get, but as you grow your freelance business and charge more, you have additional options.
  • Clear expectations: Set clear expectations. This includes the length of the articles and how many rounds of revisions are included. Don't let a client take advantage of you by agreeing to a smaller word count for a lower rate and then asking for “more detail” as a sneaky way to get a beefier article at a discount. Also, be clear about how many interviews you're willing to do if they ask for them. If you're expected to interview more than two sources, there's a good case for charging more.
  • Discounts: Sometimes discounts make sense. If someone is promising an extended project, a break on price can make be a fair exchange for security. Just make sure you'll get paid.
  • Big project pricing: When doing a big, long-term project, whether I offer a discount or not, I use different pricing. For example, when I ghostwrite a book, I require 1/3 of the total upfront, 1/3 at the halfway point of the manuscript, and 1/3 upon delivery of the completed manuscript. Normally, I get feedback throughout, so there should only be one round of revisions after I receive the final payment. When you block out a large chunk of time for a project, you want to make sure you have money coming in.
  • Different rates for different projects: Don't publish your rate card online. While you might have a basic idea of what to charge, you want the freedom and flexibility to change things up a bit. You want to be able to raise rates on new clients or charge a higher per-word rate when you write a press release or create a marketing plan. Realize that each potential client is a new quote and a different rate. Just devise a way to keep track of who owes you what.
  • Watch out for the cheapskate: One thing I've learned is that the most demanding clients are the ones that negotiate the hardest and try to get the biggest discounts. Higher paying clients are more likely to recognize your value — and give you less grief.

Bottom Line

In the end, when you decide how to set freelance writing rates, you're trying to decide how much you're worth. Your worth depends on a number of factors, including your competence, knowledge, and professionalism. Additionally, setting freelance writing rates is about balancing what you want to be paid with what the client values.

After you've been at it for a while, you get a feel for how much to charge for different projects. You also get an idea of what you're willing to do — and how much money it will take you to do stuff you're not as interested in. Understanding this becomes second nature, and crafting your quote becomes easier over time.

Just like anything else, learning how to set freelance writing rates takes practice.

2 thoughts on “How to Set Freelance Writing Rates — A Guide”

  1. Interesting…I too have written an article to guide and aid freelance translators, interpreters, editors, writers, reviewers and all related sectors in this cut-throat but interesting field in my beloved country Kenya.
    I actually echo your sentiments and I am glad that someone has also through about the same topic as I did about 3-4 years ago when I wrote my Guidelines

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