Setting Freelance Rates: Hourly or Per-Project?

One of the most difficult aspects of freelancing is trying to put a dollar amount on what you're worth. Here are some thoughts on setting freelance rates.

Note: This was one of my earliest posts on this site. I've had a few people recently ask questions, so I've decided to dust it off, update it, and republish. I hope it helps you!

Setting freelance rates is probably one of the most frustrating tasks associated with providing your for-hire services. Whether you offer your services as a staff writer, designing logos, or coding software, you need to put a price on how much your services are “worth.”

There are two main models of setting freelance rates: Hourly and per-project. What you choose depends on your own situation, as well as what your clients are used to paying.

Charging By the Hour

One of the biggest advantages to charging by the hour is that you are paid a regular “wage” for the work you do. You work a certain number of hours, you're paid a certain amount. Where things get sticky, though, is when you and the client have to agree on what constitutes a “work hour.”

Setting an hourly rate can also help you draw a clear line based on your expertise. As a beginner, you might charge between $15 and $20 an hour, depending on the services. However, as you become more experienced and build your portfolio, you might be able to bill $100 hour an hour — or more.

Problems with Setting Freelance Rates by the Hour

Think about it: If you work a salaried or hourly job in a more traditional, on-site setting, you're paid for the amount of time you are at work. It's pretty straightforward.

When you are billing hours as a freelancer, though, things are a little fuzzier. Do you count your brief lunch break? What about the small talk you engage in before you get down to brass tacks with someone? And, is there a way to honestly ensure that you aren't surfing the web when you should be working on a freelance project for a client?

There are software programs that track this information and then help you invoice clients later, making the process easier.




If you do decide to charge by the hour, you need to consider what seems a reasonable hourly rate. One of the downsides to charging hourly is that a client may balk at a high hourly rate.

Yes, it's common for a freelance graphic designer to be paid between $75 and $150 an hour. But when you tell a client that rate, it seems awfully high. And writers can't even begin to think about charging that much.

Sure, if you quote someone $300 for an article and it takes you two hours to write it, you've made $150 per hour. But the client doesn't think like that. They get what they paid for — an article that costs $300. It doesn't matter how long it took you.

Personally, I Hate Setting Rates by the Hour

My biggest problem with setting freelance rates by the hour is the fact that it's much harder to get paid more. If you perform the work quickly and competently, you're not going to get paid more. In fact, working quicker amounts to a penalty.

I'd much rather charge on a per-project basis. If I get done sooner, it's like getting an automatic raise — at least when I break it down to an hourly rate. While I might evaluate whether a project is worth my time in terms of hours, the price I quote my client is per-article or per-project.

Charging on a Per-Project Basis

For me, it's easier to set a base freelancing rate for each post, for developing web content, and for completing a project.

It's not all sunshine and rainbows when setting freelance rates this way, though. You have to be able to accurately estimate how much time it will take you to do something, and then translate it into a quote for the finished project. If you're wrong, and it takes you longer than expected to complete the project, you're out of luck.

Another issue, especially if you are working with someone long term, is that of raised rates. If you decide to raise your rates, it can be difficult to explain the situation. You might need to change the way you accept freelance jobs or quit working with clients who won't pay your higher rates.

The upside to charging on a per-project basis, though, is that you are paid for the project (or the article). You don't have to worry about what constitutes a “work hour.” Instead, you are paid for what you actually do. I like this since it is fairly cut and dry.

I don't have to worry about which client I should be billing for which hours, and it's easy to switch back and forth between projects without worrying about whether or not I'm keeping track of how many minutes or hours have been spent.

Freelance Writers — Charging by the Word

Freelance writers often look at rates on a per-word basis as well. However, very few of my clients are looking for a set per-word quote (although there are some out there). Here are some issues to consider when charging by the word:

  • Clients might restrict your word count: In order to keep you from overrunning the budget, you might be restricted — and have a hard time doing the subject justice.
  • It's tempting to write fluff: We're all professionals. But the temptation is still there.
  • You might be paid based on the final word count: Perhaps you wrote a 1,200-word article. But after edits, the article is only 1,050 words. You might not be paid for the words you turned in, and instead compensated for the final word count.

When negotiating a per-word rate, be aware of the issues, and address them with the client — and get your agreement in writing.

At the low end, you might accept 10 to 15 cents per word. But those are very low rates. They might be worth it if you're fast, and can whip out an article in a short amount of time. For the most part, though, you want to get a little more for your effort.

However, as you write different types of articles and gain more experience, you could be paid more than $1 per word.

Most of my clients pay what works out to be between 35 and 70 cents per word. It's the wild west out there, so talk to other freelancers to see what they're being paid.

Freelance Editors — Charging by the Page

Similar to freelance writers, editors have their own version of per-project issues. It's very common to set freelance editing rates on a per-page basis. In general, a manuscript page is considered to be 250 words. So you can look at a 50,000-word document and estimate that you'll be editing what amounts to 200 pages.

Carefully think about what makes sense for you. Considerations when editing include:

  • Type of work you're doing (line editing, copy editing, content editing)
  • How complex the subject matter is
  • Your expertise and experience
  • Other services you're offering, like formatting

While you might expect to get paid right around $6 a page, it's possible that you warrant being paid $10 or more per page.

What Works Best for You?

Weigh your options, and decide which method of setting freelance rates works best for your situation. For many freelance projects (especially writing projects), it is fairly easy to have a set price for certain types of work.

In some cases, though, if it's a large project that could take months, and require research, it might be a good idea to charge on an hourly basis, to make sure you are compensated for your time.

You can also create a hybrid method of charging, setting a base price and then letting the client know that you will charge a specific hourly rate for research or interviewing.

How I Decide if a Project is Worth My Time

When evaluating my own rates, I sometimes think about how my article translates on a per-word basis. My rate might start at $500 for an article of 1,000 to 1,200 words. If I get it done in 1,000 words, that's 50 cents a word. If I hit the 1,200 marks, it's about 42 cents per word.

But that small wobble between 42 and 50 cents per word isn't what matters to me. Instead, I translate my projects to an hourly rate. I know exactly how much I want to be paid in hourly terms to make something worth my time.

Even if I'm getting paid 60 cents per word, if something takes up enough time that it dips below my minimum hourly preference, I'll not accept a similar assignment next time. So, even though I don't quote hourly rates, I do use hours spent as a measure of what's a worthwhile endeavor.

Over time, you get a feel for the types of articles that take you a long time, and it's easier to set freelance rates that work for you. Figure out what you're comfortable with, and what keeps you happy and fed and reaching your goals.

Charge that.



23 thoughts on “Setting Freelance Rates: Hourly or Per-Project?”

  1. I prefer charging on a per-project basis whether I’m doing the freelance work or paying for it. It’s less ambiguous that way, and everyone knows up-front what the total cost will come to.

    It also depends on the client and the type of project. Media companies can pay a lot more than most bloggers can afford.

    1. Miranda Marquit

      I have a base rate that I charge for certain types of work, but I try to be flexible, based on the client. Like you said, many PF bloggers can’t afford to pay the same rate that bigger companies can.

  2. Hey Miranda, one of the struggles of freelancers that many full timers don’t understand is that rates need to be higher to make up for all the work you do that is not tied to an hourly rate (like accounting and marketing for the next gig).

    Most freelancers (other than you :)) don’t always know when the next job is coming and have to add in a little extra margin to support the risk and potential down time between jobs. A very hard concept for people to understand that have never been in that position.

    BTW- thanks for the link!

    1. Good point, Geoff. Many people don’t realize that it does, even for freelances, take some money to make money. There is some outlay, and if you don’t know where the next gig is coming from, there could be some real financial trouble. Higher rates are a part of that. Of course, even with the higher rates, a freelancer can often cost less than paying a full-time person to do the same job, since with a full-timer you are paying for benefits, and the overhead associated with the workspace. So, really, when that is factored in, it can be a win-win.

  3. Per project for sure. Hourly rates equates cans of worms in too many cases. That said, it may work but after you’ve established a solid freelance track record. This may just work for you especially when you have enough experience to know how long the project will take to complete.

  4. I am just entering into a business deal that would require me to input data to be used as a catalog. I am not sure what a fare hourly rate would be, I am totally new to this type of work and don’t want to over or under charge. Do you have any advice.
    Sincerely

    1. Miranda Marquit

      I’m not sure about data entry. You might want to consider where you live, and the going rate there. You can use a site like PayScale.com to check average hourly rates for data entry to get a basic idea of what you should charge.

  5. I’ve definitely come to realise that per project is where the real money and potential lies. It also is a good incentive to work more efficiently…

    1. Miranda Marquit

      For sure! I was staggered the other day when I figured my hourly rate. If you can work efficiently at a per-project rate, your hourly rate skyrockets.

  6. I have been offered an opportunity to reformat booklets and materials for a company. I won’t be re-writing their content, so much as I will be formatting their content into a more cohesive look so that all their materials have a uniform and professional appearance. There will be some editing to remove typos and errors.

    I have experience doing this type of work as part of a previous position I held, but I have never done this freelance. I am struggling to decide on a quote for them. I want a fair compensation, but I don’t want to price myself out of this opportunity either.

    Do you have any suggestions?

    Thanks!

    1. That’s always a tough line to walk. You don’t want to scare away a client, but you also don’t want to sell yourself short. One thing you can do is start with your hourly pay at your previous position. Since you’ve done this work before, you should be able to gauge approximately how long it will take, and then you can quote based on that. So, if you think the project will take 10 hours, and you are used to earning $15/hour at your previous job, you could charge $150. Or, if you want to build in a buffer, you could charge $200. Another tack is to consider this as a graphic design job. If that is the case, you might be able to charge $70/hour, which would mean a quote of $700. If you think that $200 is too low, and $700 to high, now you have a range. In the end, you need to decide how much you think your time is worth, and how long it will take to complete the project. I’ve also, to signal to the potential client that I’m willing to negotiate, occasionally given my quote and then added, “Does that seem reasonable?” This invites a counter-offer if the client thinks you are asking too much. Then, you can decide if the counter-offer is too low. This is one way to see if you can get a little more while still not pricing yourself out of the opportunity.

      1. Thanks for the quick reply and suggestions. I gave them a couple of different scenarios with options…a price range for an hourly rate and a price range for a per page rate. I explained that since I am not a “professional” in this, but have a knack for it and some experience, that I would take a pay in the lower range as that seemed fair. In the end, they were extremely generous and we decided to barter some time to help each other. We negotiated one booklet to begin with and will re-negotiate going forward after this one is complete.
        Thanks for your blog! It proved most helpful to me!!

  7. how much should i charge for 1000 emails with name company and tittle i have a week how much should i charge the client thanks

    1. Miranda Marquit

      That’s a tough one. Are you sending out the emails? Is this more of a VA type job? Depending on your location and what-not, VAs are paid anywhere between $5 and $30 an hour (or even more). It’s hard to nail down a true price point for a lot of this online work. It’s the Wild, Wild West out here in Internet land.

    2. I am deciding whether or not to accept a copy writing project for a former colleague. It is for an academic book. I know I can do the job; I have a PhD in the content area, and I am a writing coach / teacher. I have a deadline of 2 weeks, and the book has 18 chapters. I plan on charging per page, but I have no idea what to charge. It seems as if I should charge on the higher end of the per page rate, but I don’t know what that would be. I am not a professional copy editor — this would be my first job. However, I am confident that I can do it, and so is my former colleague.

      1. Miranda Marquit

        Yes, for a rush job I would definitely charge a little on the higher end, especially since you have a PhD as well. Best of luck to you!

  8. Hi! I’ve loved the information your blog has provided so far! I’m a freelance writer/editor who is gaining quite a bit of new clientele recently. I’m excited about the opportunities but am also a bit in the dark as far as pricing since all my projects are so different.

    Currently, I’ve been offered an editing project for a foodie type blog. My client has just about 40 posts (maybe 500 words each post) and she would like me to edit them all for grammar, punctuation, and mild content touch-ups. I’d like to charge a flat rate for the entire project. How should I figure the rates?

    1. Miranda Marquit

      Do what you can to estimate how long it will take, and then charge a flat rate based on your desired hourly plus how long it will take. This can be tricky, though, because if you underestimate your time commitment you are stuck with what you asked for.

  9. I hope you’re able to help me. I love graphic design, but not experienced in all graphic programs, but I can put together something with the programs I do know and it comes out just as good. Right now my friend is doing event planning and I assist with the graphic paper part of the events i.e. chip bags, water labels, invitations, thank you cards, selfie frames, etc. She continues to tell me to look at the prices that people on Esty’s charges. But she fails to understand that the people on that site create one design and charge you for a PDF download; whereas I create, print and assemble the same designs. I broke down the Esty price and how much it cost to print, and when I mentioned that it did not include labor she thought I was kidding. I feel like I am being played because I don’t feel I am getting paid what I feel I am worth. How do I handle this situation, without losing a friend.

  10. I am considering a freelance research assignment for an author. In Minnesota, I don’t know what the rate is for historic research. Being new to paid freelance research, I would really appreciate an idea of what I should charge. Thanks.

  11. I don’t know if this post is still accepting comments, but here we go: I am doing a research project and survey for a retail client. I usually charge a flat monthly retainer between 3600 and 5000k depending on the project. They are not comfortable with monthly retainer and suggested a project fee or hourly. My hourly is between 125 and 150.00. What is the best way to present this?

  12. I’m a VA and I remotely log into VP’s computer, and I help him with his emails (typing, sometimes it involves creating, editing, and proofing). I used to work at least 10-15 hours a week–I’m lucky if it is 10-15 a month (he was doing different work when I was first hired). I know what I do is important to him since his grammar and punctuation isn’t great, but I cannot afford to work 15 minutes here, 15 minutes there. The other evening, he called me while I was at a store (that isn’t a problem), but after coming home, the work amounted to proofing but took me less than 10 minutes. It was a Friday and after 5:00, I am charging him $20. Since then, I’ve been seriously considering charging him per email, editing or proofing job. Does that sound right? How do I present this to him?

  13. And yet I can find no where how much to charge – just “high end” or “low end.” I am editing for free now to get experience but have been offered a paying client only no clue what to charge and I have to come up with some number by Friday!

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