Valuing my Work – Pricing my Time and Effort as a Freelance Writer
By Paul Deines
When considering how to value your work as a freelancer, it’s worth first thinking about how salaried employees are compensated.
There is undoubtedly something comforting about signing a contract and moving forward at a set annual rate. You know what your biweekly paycheck will be, what time off you can expect, whether you can expect a year-end bonus. You know that, once a year, there will be some type of review when you can plead your case for a raise. Everything is set. You don’t have to worry about negotiating.
You are locked in with your employer, though. They expect you on call (maybe twenty-four hours a day, in our current remote work environment) and, often, the terms of your job description can change with their whims. You might find that the wage you were guaranteed can’t come close to matching the hours you’re logging.
In that sense, the freedom and project-driven focus of freelance writing offers an attractive opportunity to work in the field you love, on your terms. But you have to properly value your work.
Setting Your Rate and Sticking to It
Valuing your work monetarily is a balancing act. You don’t want the bottom-paying clients setting your rate. However, you have to be realistic about what the market will bear.
Since I’m normally taking work on a per-deliverable basis, I think in terms of price per word. It can be difficult to settle on a competitive-but-adequate rate, especially when clients vary so much in their budgets.
I have social media copywriting work that pays about around twelve cents per word. I have commercial blogging work that pays two to three cents per word. I would not go lower than that. It’s important not to negotiate with yourself when looking for work. Pitch at the rate you want, then see what response you get.
Clarity of Terms
I pitch on words-written, but you can’t measure your work exclusively by word-count. It’s extremely important to set your parameters and terms with a client before signing a contract.
First, make sure you and the employer are speaking the same language. I’ve had many clients frame jobs to me by page count, but there’s a lot of ambiguity there. I always confirm their formatting concept, then convert it into an anticipated word-count. Once we all agree, I can proceed knowing they don’t intend to squeeze extra words out of me for free.
Obviously, any serious writer expects to provide revisions. You have to agree on how many revised drafts you’ll provide ahead of time. To minimize the number of changes on the tail-end, I always send a detailed outline upfront. For longer commissions, I insist the client approve the first chapter before proceeding with the remainder of the piece.
Finally, you need to be honest with yourself about your ability to provide the kind of work the employer wants. Does it require you to do a lot of research? To read a book or multiple articles in advance? Does it involve jargon you are not personally familiar with? Remember that writing a thousand words of high-research prose takes a lot longer than a thousand words originating entirely from your imagination.
Choosing Exceptions and Walking Away
There are times I have accepted lower-paying commissions to gain some experience in particular industries or genres. Building a portfolio and a couple of good testimonials can help to secure better-paid work down the line. However, if you are going to make an exception in terms of your compensation, be sure it provides some non-tangible benefit for you and that the project is short-term. You don’t want to sink days on end into a commission that pays less than your standard rate.
Importantly, I do not recommend taking low-paying work just to establish a relationship. If a client wants to establish a long-term working relationship with you, they should be willing to pay fairly from the start.
Let’s Wrap This Up:
You need to follow your nose. A client whose rate seems too low is generally what they seem: someone trying to get work for next to nothing. They aren’t worth your time. Walk away.
We writers always contend with people offering work for sub-standard rates or, worse, the promise of “exposure.” It’s easy to convince yourself that you can’t demand a fair wage for your labor, but you need to have faith in your abilities. Your words have value. Demand that clients compensate you accordingly.
About Paul Deines:
Paul Deines is a New York-based writer focusing on beer and culture, sometimes together and sometimes separately. His work has appeared recently in SR-Mag, Brew Studs, and Hop Culture.
As a freelancer for hire, he ghostwrites novels, crafts marketing copy and contributes dialogue for video games and other digital content.
An occasional playwright, Paul’s plays have been performed both online and on stage around the country. In his spare time, he enjoys experimental cooking, classic cinema, watching football, attending the theatre, and constructing playthings for his daughter.
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