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The Essential Guide to Setting Your Freelance Writing Rates as a Beginner in Three Simple Steps (Backed by Data and Statistics)

by | Nov 15, 2018 | Pricing | 0 comments

Imagine searching for hours for good freelance writing opportunities, finding a gig you like, and applying. At first, you hear nothing and mentally put that gig in the “no” pile. But, then you get an email.

It’s the potential client for that job, and they’re interested! You start reading the email, and then the dreaded question pops up, “What’s your rate?”A little bit of fear sets in and you start to get confused. If you quote too high, you’ll scare the client off. But, if you quote too low, you’ll end up working for pennies and dread every minute of it.

When you’re getting started, one of the most confusing things can be setting a rate for your work. Wouldn’t it be nice to handle this problem once and for all by setting a rate and getting gigs that you enjoy? This blog post will give you a step-by-step method for finding your freelance writing rate.


The Reason It’s Difficult to Set Your Rate


Setting your rates as a freelance writer can be tough because there are so many different factors to consider

  • Do you charge per word, project, or hourly?
  • What if you have X number of years of experience?
  • What are the standard, market rates? i.e., what others are getting paid
  • Should you offer volume discounts, rush orders, or upgrades?

As a freelancer, you want to identify a good starting point for your rate and learn how you can increase it over time. The last thing you want to do is get stuck in a hamster wheel of low-paying gigs for months or even years.

There are a lot of different directions you can take when it comes to setting your freelance writing rates, but if you’re looking for a step by step method to work with, this article should be helpful. There’s a simple framework we can follow:

  • Identify the factors that contribute to your pricing
  • Use those factors to find out where you stand
  • Find a number you feel comfortable with to start

Now, we’ll walk right into the different factors to consider and then we’ll relate them to how you can set your freelance writing rates.


Factors to Consider When Setting Your Rate


1. Positioning


Entrepreneur defines positioning as “how you differentiate your product or service from that of your competitors and then determine which market niche to fill.”

This may sound like an afterthought and you may be tempted to tell yourself, “I’m just a writer”, but I want to impress upon you that you’re not “just a writer” and that positioning is a crucial first step when it comes to not only setting your rates but operating in the market as a whole.

It’s essential to start with positioning because it is the cornerstone that determines how much money you can charge.

Dan Kennedy is a world-renowned direct marketing consultant and copywriting expert. If there’s one person who knows how to get customers for any business, it’s him. One principle that he talks about is that there is a hierarchy of value that exists within any service industry that goes as follows:

  • Generalist – Someone who does a little bit of everything
  • Specialist – Someone who specializes in a narrow discipline
  • Authority – The leader in that discipline
  • Celebrity – A famous person or someone who trades their status for money
  • Celebrity-Authority – A famous person who is an authority in their field


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The higher you go up the pyramid, the more you make, the more attention you gain in your niche, and the more your competition diminishes.

Think about it like this – let’s say you’re looking for advice on how to lose weight and you start seeking out experts for more information.


Generalist 

Your Primary Care Physician is a generalist. This doctor does a little bit of everything and can give you some general advice on how to lose weight. – Average Salary $205,873

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Specialist

A General Surgeon is a specialist. This doctor has more knowledge about “morbidly obese patients, surgical and non-surgical interventions for weight loss (bariatrics); and counseling of patient and families” than a garden variety doctor and can give you more nuanced information based on your situation – Average Salary $266,666

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Authority

The Surgeon General is an authority because he/she is head of the U.S. Public Health Service and is the leading spokesperson on matters of public health. – Average Salary $254,309

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Celebrity

Charles Barkley isn’t a generalist, specialist, or authority on weight loss but he is a celebrity who has star power. He became a spokesperson for Weight Watchers and he wouldn’t be hired if he didn’t influence sales. – Estimated $1.98 Million for His Endorsement

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Celebrity Authority 

Dr. Oz is a celebrity-authority because he’s the best of both worlds – He’s a doctor by trade and an authority in his field. He’s also a celebrity that has a T.V. show, podcast, several books, etc. which allow him to command more attention from the market. – Estimated Annual Income $4 Million

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Notice that the higher you go up the pyramid, the more you are paid for who you are instead of the work that you do. This is a significant aspect of positioning.

Note: There’s a small dip in compensation between the specialist (General Surgeon) and the authority (Surgeon General) but that has more to do with market forces – one is a government employee and the other is in the private sector.

I can guarantee that once a Surgeon General decides to enter private practice, he/she would command a higher compensation than the vast majority of doctors who don’t have that credential.


2. The Market Rate and Your Experience


The next thing we’ll want to look at is market data. According to ZipRecruiter, the average freelance writer salary in the U.S. is $63,254. The bottom 25% of jobs pay $26,000/yr, and the top 25% of jobs pay $69,500. Here they are in monthly, weekly, and hourly.

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Here they are broken down by state.


According to PayScale, here’s how much freelancer’s make based on their experience level.

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Note: Sorry international folks, I couldn’t find salary and hiring data outside of the U.S. If you come across that data, please let me know, and I will add it to the article.


3. What You’re Writing and Your Industry


The type of writing you do and your industry can affect your rate a lot. This can be tough to figure out. So, in the beginning, it’s better to get a rough baseline and take it from there. Writer’s Market, a publication for writers that promotes different writing opportunities, has an excellent article on how much freelancers should charge based on what they are writing. You can find it in the slideshow below.


As you can see, each writing assignment is broken down by project/hour/other and rates for the bottom, average, and the top of each range are given.


What Several Experts Think


Here’s what several experts have to say about setting your freelance rates.

Brennan Dunn, Double Your Freelancing

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Don’t base your rate off your previous salary. There have been dozens of formulas that take your last job’s salary, multiply it by something, divide it by something else, and end up with a rate. Don’t do this. While your expenses probably haven’t changed that dramatically since going solo (most of these calculators base their formulas off stabilizing your cost of living), your income potential has – if you know what you’re doing.”


Bamidele Onibalusi, Writer’s in Charge

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“The more people are interested in a personality, the more they get paid. Freelance writers should take advantage of this principle, whether you’re pitching clients directly or clients are reaching out to you. If you can get several people at once to be interested in your services, and there’s only so much time to serve them all, then by all means charge more. Keep increasing your rates again and again and again until no one is willing to pay you; and I bet that won’t happen.”


Elna Cain, elnacain.com

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“Once you have a handle on freelance writing, you soon start to realize where the money is. And that is with your niche. From the one-off pieces you learn which topics you enjoy writing about and which ones give you the most income. You also learn what type of clients you enjoy working with. At this point you can be a bit choosy on which freelance writing jobs you pick.”


Holly Reisman, The Work at Home Woman

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In business, it is always a wise idea to keep an eye on the competition. Not only does this let you know the types of services you are competing with, but it also helps you determine how much you should charge for your services…Keep the competition in mind when setting your rates, but remember that you want to show your worth and actually make money from your business.


Kat Boogard, katboogard.com

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“When setting your freelance rates, start with an income goal.”


Andrea Emerson, andreaemerson.com

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“As your business and skills evolve, you should re-evaluate the worth of your work in the marketplace from time to time, and adjust your rates accordingly.”


Chloe Brooks, Chloe Brooks Marketing

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A 40-hour week doesn’t necessarily mean a 40-hour paycheck, so your freelance rate will need to cover the cost of that time.


Kristin Wong, kristinwong.com

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Flexibility and resourcefulness are crucial if you want to earn a high income as a writer. Sometimes that means bending your own rules to get what you want. Ultimately, you have to do what works for you.


Lauren Shin, Forbes.com

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Time is the most fixed variable: you can always drastically cut your costs or improve your skills and so earn more, but increasing the amount of time you can devote to work isn’t easy unless you are already limiting your work time due to easily changed outside factors.


Sarah Greesonbach, Five Figure Writer

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“One of the deepest issues writers have with charging a high rate is confidence in what you do. You naturally love to write, after all, so who are you to charge for something that comes easily to you?…Listen: Businesses make money selling ideas to their customers. Those ideas are expressed in words on their marketing material, websites, blogs, and product descriptions. Therefore, the only way any of these businesses ever makes money is…You got it. Through the words they use.”


Keep It Super Simple (in the Beginning)

As you progress you may want to get more creative with how you set up your pricing and offers. Don’t feel pressured to do this in the beginning though. If you’re trying to get your business off the ground, keep it simple in the beginning. As you start to learn more about what your target market wants and how you prefer to operate your business, you can begin to add more offers and pricing modifications.


A Step-By-Step Example


Now, let’s go through the framework step-by-step and come up with a baseline rate. Let’s assume that Gayle Ghostwriter is a freelance business writer based in Michigan and has been running her business for almost a year. She’s in the financial services industry so she typically writes for investment publications.

  • The market rate for her area is $21.45/hr or $44,619/yr.
  • Based on her work experience her market rate would be around $40,000/yr or $20/hr. But, since she specializes in financial services she knows that she can raise her rates closer to $40/hr.
  • A typical trade publication article is roughly 500 words and takes her about 5 hours so she rounds up to $250 for an article.


Gayle’s Rate: She charges $40/hr, $250 an article or $.50/word for her work


When you’re starting, $.50/word may seem very high to you but what you will come to realize is that through proper niche/market selection and positioning, you can command rates of $.50/word or more. Defining a niche and properly positioning yourself within it will allow you to rise above the “race to the bottom” price wars with other freelancers and get paid what you’re worth.


There are several things Gayle can do if she wants to raise her rates from here:


  • Improve her positioning by growing her personal brand
  • Gather more testimonials and case studies from clients
  • Go even deeper into her niche
  • Pitch clients who can get more value out of her work which will allow her to charge more
  • Write more valuable pieces content like sales letters and direct mail pieces


Wrapping Up


This is by no means an end all be all. It’s a formulaic approach and a starting point. In the end, it’s up to you and what the market will support.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the steps again:

  1. Determine your positioning
  2. Start with the market rate for your area and your experience
  3. Compare that with what you’re writing and the going rate in your industry

The most important thing to remember is that you have to find out what works for you and your particular situation.

What’s your method for setting your freelance writing rate?

Leave a comment below!


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